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Journals and Letters week 15: Stuck in New Orleans

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” page 123 to page 132 mid-page. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

After a horrendous eight-week journey by sea, Mother Theodore returns from France only to find herself stuck in New Orleans, too ill to continue traveling. How frustrating it must have been for her to delay still further her arrival at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods when there was so much to be done!

No time to rest

Bishop Celestine de la Hailandière

From her sickbed, Mother Theodore still had to keep watch over what was going on back at the Woods. While she was away Bishop de la Hailandière had created havoc for the community, demanding that he be obeyed despite legitimate objections to his requests. Sister St. Francis Xavier tried to gently push back, but her opinion did not seem to matter to him. The Bishop of Le Mans even sent a letter to Bishop de la Hailandière, reminding him that he was overstepping his role and that he should only serve as the sisters’ “guardian and protector.” I was really happy to read how the Bishop of Le Mans defended the right of the sisters’ community to manage themselves.

I’m sure in light of all that was happening, Mother Theodore felt helpless. She was surely ready to return to the Woods so she could sort this all out. Not only did she need to deal with the Bishop’s shenanigans in her absence, she also had the solemn task of comforting and assuring the sisters as they prepared for their split from their beloved Ruillé. This impending separation was causing a great deal of anxiety and insecurity in the community. It was her job to lead them through it.

Away so long

Mother Theodore had been gone for an extended time from her rural life at the Woods. During her time in a more developed France, she clearly led a much different life. Upon her return she asked for a “special grace” to bring herself “back to recollection of spirit and become a true Religious” after so much “activity and dissipation.” Even though she loved her Indiana home, how difficult that must have been to adjust back to such a different lifestyle.

She’s just like us

Sister St. Francis Xavier Le Fer

I absolutely loved Mother Theodore’s comment comparing herself to Sister St. Francis Xavier in a letter to Reverend A. Martin. “She (Sister Francis) is a good daughter of Providence. Really. I am humiliated in seeing her run in the way of perfection while I just drag along.” I feel like we all have that one friend we absolutely adore who at the same time makes us feel a little bit like we can’t ever keep up with them. It was such a funny comment from a woman who is admired and respected by so many people.

Your turn!

Why do you think Bishop de la Hailandière wanted to interfere with the Community? How would it have been different if Mother Theodore was not away?

How do you think Saint Mother Mother Theodore would react to how much she is admired?

Next week > page 132 to page 145

View the complete reading schedule.

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley

Mary Riley is director of operations for White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Prior to her current role, she served as the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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  1. Avatar Cathy Dearing on January 19, 2021 at 1:48 pm

    Thank you Mary for your review. When I first learned of this Bishop de la Hailandiere and the terrible and unacceptable way he treated Mother Theodore, I was appalled and disturbed by it. I think about the sacrifice she made by coming to Terre Haute and all her hard work and then for her to have tolerated this Bishop’s behavior. It seems he had a need for control and power. I wonder too if there were issues with his having to work with women, women religious. He clearly was a man of arrogance and ego; and so unChristian.

    As to how Mother Theodore would react to how much she is admired, I’m pretty certain she would deflect the accolades and attention. She would attribute it all to the Providence of God and to the prayers and hard work of her community and to all the faithful.

  2. Avatar Madonna Wilson on January 21, 2021 at 2:18 pm

    I enjoyed reading your review Mary for this week’s reading.

    What a difference one week made from our previous blog. I remember writing words such as “kindness and benevolence and tender sympathy”–words that Mother Theodore used to describe Queen Amelia. And now, this week I read about the Bishop de la Hailandiere and his unacceptable and controlling behavior, “all without the advice or consent of the sisters.” Cathy, I agree with your assessment of the Bishop.

    As I was listening to the inauguration speech yesterday, I was contemplating on what was said. I was thinking about how it applied to this week’s reading about Mother Theodore’s challenge. And the word that struck me was UNITY. “That to overcome these challenges, to restore the soul … requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things … Unity. Unity.” And ” With unity, we can do great things, important things.”

    If only the Bishop would have used his energy to unite with Mother Theodore and the Sisters goals and efforts.

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