Home » Blog » Journals and Letters week 17: Mother Theodore’s own words

Journals and Letters week 17: Mother Theodore’s own words

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” Third Journal of Travel: page 146 to page 160 mid-page. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin‘s writings every week in the coming year.]

The sisters (almost) missed the boat (ship). Oftentimes during their perilous ocean crossing they probably wished they had.

Reading these pages from the Third Journal of Travel immersed me (not a good choice of word given the events described) in Mother Theodore’s consistent response to all perils. Prayer. Mother Theodore’s own words best convey these perils and her prayer response. No one else’s words would do justice to her description of the 129-day journey aboard the Nashville from Havre, France, to New Orleans, United States.

In Mother Theodore’s words:


“Scarcely were we on the main when the rolling of the ship increased and again we were paying our tribute to the ocean.

(After the captain’s fight with a drunken sailor) … the captain had fallen. He lay stretched out, motionless. … You cannot imagine how distressed I was. … We were beginning a long voyage at the worst season of the year, and he was the only one capable of managing our vessel.

The waves broke over our heads with a frightful roar. We thought each moment would be our last.

Those ocean heaps (waves) had something in them something so awful. …

One cannot conceive how frightful it is to see nothing between oneself and eternity but a few planks that have been nailed together. …

… we were covered in perspiration from the tossing of the ship, which trembled like a person in a nervous attack. …

For some minutes there was absolute silence, then suddenly it was broken by an extraordinary crash as if the vessel had been completely broken asunder. The ship had, in fact, been thrown upon the beam end and was completely under water. The keel was above the water and the tops of the sails below.”

Yet, no matter how frightening the weather or terrifying an incident, Mother Theodore could and did pray.


“I need not tell you we did not sleep (death seemed too near), we prayed. … We then began prayers in common, offering to God the sacrifice of our lives with all the earnestness in our power.

But ‘they who go down to the sea in ships, doing business in the great waters; these have seen the works of the Lord and His wonders in the deep’ [Psalm 106: 23 – 24], and it is their duty to tell His wonderful works to the children of men.

I do not know how long the Way of the Cross lasted; but the storm raged terribly the whole time; nevertheless, when we followed Jesus to Calvary and thought upon His sorrows, our own became less. … What strength the soul draws from prayer.

I prayed Him to give me some token of hope. Opening a book of devotion, I lighted upon this passage from the 106th Psalm. ‘They cried to the Lord in their affliction and He brought them out of their distresses. He turned the storm into a breeze; and its waves were still.’

Happy are those who are able to pray!”

Prayer of Praise

When the Nashville reached the warmth and safety of the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Mother Theodore once again turns to prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving.

“Every evening at the same hour when the weather was calm, I used to go the deck and praise God for all the wonders of His creation. I loved to consider the care of God’s Providence which extends even to the little fishes.”

Your thoughts?

Share below in the comments.

Next week > page 160 mid-page to page 168

View the complete reading series.

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Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise Wilkinson

Sister Denise was the general superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods from 2006-2016. She previously served as a high school teacher, college administrator, postulant/novice director and director of advancement and communications for the Congregation. Currently, Sister Denise serves the Congregation in various volunteer positions.

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  1. Avatar Marsha Speth on January 30, 2021 at 9:07 am

    Thank you for lifting up these passages. How terrified they must have been! And prayer, uniting themselves to God, was their constant throughout all. We are called to do the same today, it seems.

    • Avatar Denise on February 1, 2021 at 11:16 am

      How many times I’ve said, thought “happy are those who are able to pray.” Never until this reading did it challenge me, make me pause as it does this time. The sentence keeps going through my head. Hope it reaches my heart soon.

  2. Avatar Cathy Dearing on February 1, 2021 at 7:38 am

    Sister Denise,

    Thank you for your review and lifting directly off the pages Mother Theodore’s own words. She did certainly demonstrate a consistent response of prayer in every perilous situation. Clearly, she and the other Sisters thought they were going to die!

    I took note of Mother Theodore’s praying of Psalm passages(specifically Chapter 106: 23-24, 25-26; 28-29) on multiple occasions. Jesus did that often too! It reminded me how rich the Psalms are and how comforting it can be praying the Psalms daily. It is a rich spiritual practice. “Happy those who are able to pray!” Amen to that!

    I also reflected on the marked contrast in the waves and the sea. “The fury of the sea” to “a calm had succeeded the storm.” and “Nothing so lifts the soul to God as a beautiful night on the ocean. ” to “So violent was the storm….” and “The waves broke over our heads with a frightful roar.” Mother Theodore was vastly aware of it all; of the vast range of nature, of people, and the human experience; and she entrusted it all to God in prayer, in word, and in action.

    • Avatar Sister Denise on February 1, 2021 at 11:20 am

      As yo u say, Cathy, MTG always notices everything, everyone and learns a lesson or gives a lesson. She is so open to how the Holy One lives in all of us, all creation – in everything.

  3. Avatar PAULA DAMIANO, SP on February 2, 2021 at 5:40 pm

    Such a good reminder that everything is better with prayer…..I need that right now.

  4. Avatar Madonna Wilson on February 3, 2021 at 1:05 pm

    Sister Denise,

    What first struck me in your introduction were the words, 129-day journey on a boat. One-hundred and twenty- nine! I couldn’t wrap my head around that length of time. I started thinking of other events that take about 4 months: Like one academic semester (about 3.5 months), the Spring season (3 months). and the gestation period of a lion (about 110 days-according to my latest Animal Planet episode).

    Sister Denise, I thoroughly enjoyed reading all of your Mother Theodore quotes that you included: “From Perils to Prayer.”

    And through all of the perils, Mother Theodore each and every time turned to prayer.

    I especially like the section on page 159. Mother Theodore says, “It was always with regret that I left the deck, for to me the whole world presents no more admirable scene than the setting sun at the tropics. It pours forth streams of pure and soft light, coloring the sky and the waves with a thousand tints, ravishing in beauty. One evening I noticed a long wave of light coming to us from this luminary. It seemed to trace by its splendor a path all sprinkled with diamonds and other precious stones.”

    I find such beauty and comfort in these words. . Especially in those times when it feels as if “the waves break over our heads with a frightful roar.” It reminds me of those places that I can think about and go to that can provide me with solace and peace!

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