Journals and Letters week 20: Drama with the bishop continues
[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” page 181 Part V: A Record of Difficulties to page 190 bottom. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore’s writings every week in the coming year.]
Just when we thought things were going well for Mother Theodore “Back Home in Indiana,” things turn sour again with the bishop. I cannot imagine living with that tense and volatile relationship day after day. It must have been disheartening to say the least! Not only for Mother Theodore and the sisters, but, as we learned, even for the diocese and the priests the bishop governed.
And evidently for the bishop himself! I found poignant Alerding’s description of the bishop on p. 182: “He [the bishop] saw it [the loud dissatisfaction around him]. He felt it. He reproached himself for it. Yet his ardent and lofty spirit could not well check itself.” He, too, must have suffered from the mental and emotional illness that gripped him.
Difficulties all around
Father Corbe, appointed the ecclesiastical superior of the community, also experienced his ups and downs, as stated to the Vicar General Father Martin whom he had just visited: (p. 184) “I was tired, depressed, isolated at St. Mary’s, feeling there was no longer anyone in the world who would interest himself in me … ” But, luckily, he had a visit which “filled his heart with true joy.”
Bishop Bouvier of Le Mans listened to de la Hailandiere’s complaints about Mother Theodore and must have agonized about how to advise her. He finally landed on giving them the go ahead to return to France or to look elsewhere in the States to establish the mission.
Both Bouvier and Corbe felt convinced that the mission could not go on if Mother Theodore were not the superior (she had offered to resign), nor could they imagine the mission succeeding elsewhere. Father Corbe, as ecclesiastical superior, was desperate for Father Martin to weigh in as well on the decision that was his to make. He wrote, “I ask you as a friend. Oh, tell me frankly what you think. You know that by a single word I can decide the fate of the community at this moment.” The thought of making that decision must have weighed heavily on him.
From working in a marriage tribunal (which investigates marriage validity when couples pursue a marriage annulment) for a year, I’ve always felt that soap operas have nothing on real life! This section reminded me of the daily traumas of a soap opera, and so, we await the next episode!
Your turn to share:
What touched you as you read this section?
Is there anything that gives you courage as you experience your own daily ups and downs?
Next week > page 190 bottom to page 199
Well, I was struck by something I think was another bit of Mother Theodore’s humor. Maybe I’m misreading it, but it made me smile. In that January 10, 1845 letter to Rev. Martin – after apologizing for her “indescribable scribbling” of the previous day, she says that Fr. Corbe will bring him news that will make everyone rejoice, except perhaps Fr. Martin himself. So, she doesn’t want to impart that news because: “I do not want to be responsible for paining you unnecessarily. It will be time enough later.” Isn’t she saying, tongue in cheek, that there will be plenty of time for her to be a pain to him in the future? That’s how I read it, and I laughed. I do wonder, though, just what that news was.
BTW, I love t hat picture of our beloved’s statue in the foggy day!
Jeannie, I love that you found some humor in this drama! I do not know what the news was that Mother Theodore delayed in delivering. Sorry!
I loved that photo in the fog, too. Perhaps because I oten find myself in another kind of fog …
Jeannie, I had the pleasure of writing next week’s installment. I used a quote of MTG’s part of which I thought quite humorous. I know you will spot it.
Thank you for writing your review of events from these pages. When I first learned of the mistreatment and abuse that Mother Theodore endured from this Bishop, I couldn’t believe it! First, that it occurred, and second that it was allowed to occur and continue! I feel a lot of anger in regards to this. And here I read on at the bottom of page 185 and into page 186 that the Pope, rather than accepting this Bishop’s resignation, he urges him on, complements him, and bestows “several valuable presents.”
I was not aware that Mother Theodore was considering and was even given the option/permission to move the Community from St. Mary-of-the-Woods to another diocese? Is that correct Sister Ann?
“What touched you as you read this section?” I was so thankful that Mother Theodore had the support of other priests. I also see at a deeper level the depth of her sacrifice and suffering and courage in forming the Community in the midst of abuse.
“Is there anything that gives you courage as you experience daily ups and downs?” That I have friends and family who support me and encourage me. I know they are always there for me to share the daily ups and downs. Also, self-talk. What is it that I tell myself regarding the daily ups and downs. I often journal these ups and downs and take it to prayer and I find that encouraging and positive and productive for me.
I’m not S. Ann, but I can tell you a few things I know. Mother Theodore talked to the bishop of New Orleans about the possibility of a move before she returned to Indiana after the voyage. Also, in June of ’44 she wrote to Bishop Bouvier in France about her thoughts of moving the community to the newly split-off Chicago diocese. She thought they could establish on the site of S. Mary Cecilia’s family land, some of which came to her on her father’s death. (she was the “Indian Princess” we learned about a few weeks ago, the one who went to France with Mother.) But turns out that was still in Vincennes diocese. The letter in this reading to the Bishop of Detroit was in December of ’44, soon after Bishop de la Hailandière left for France. The sticking point was that her Bishop kept interfering with the Rule – forbidding her to visit missions (that’s in the Rule), and also establishing missions against her will as well as dictating all sorts of daily routines and many other infractions. At this time, though she’d tried to close the boarding school in Vincennes, he re-opened it and assigned S. St. Vincent Ferrer to it and waylaid a couple of girls on their way to SMW to stay there instead. Mother didn’t think they could sustain two boarding schools, not to mention his interference in their governance. Seems she was getting quite desperate with the situation. No wonder many, many priests were leaving the diocese at the same time.
As always, Cathy, thanks for your comments and applications of the reading to your own life.
To answer your question, YES, it’s correct! Mother Theodore and her community came very close to leaving Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and establishing the community in the diocese of Detroit. She had also considered other places. In fact, there are several chapters devoted to this situation in Vol. 1 of the History of the Sisters of Providence. Chapter 18 is titled: Plans to Escape Indiana; the next Chapter: Further Efforts to Escape Indiana and then Chapter 21, The Crisis.
I could not find the reference, but I have always heard that the gardener had even dug up several trees and had them in the back of the wagon along with the sisters’ trunks. So, they were that close to leaving their beloved Woods.
To think from the day the Sisters arrived that the Bishop began to raise obstacles to their way of life as women religious and as educators. S. Ann does call attention to what a cross he must have been to himself; I try to empathize. Thanks, S. Ann.
Wow! I had no idea! The story about the gardener digging up a few trees for the move is something. I look forward to reading on beyond the journal and letters.
Thank you Sister Ann for starting off this week with your reflections and comments. And you are right, we thought everything was finally getting better for Mother Theodore and her mission.
When reading about the treatment she was receiving from this Bishop, the word ‘toxic’ came to my mind.
His control, intimidation, hurtful behavior -a poison to all around him.
However, what I also thought about when I read this section was the overwhelming loving support that Mother Theodore received from the Sisters and from other priests. ! especially like the words that Father Corbe wrote in a letter to Mother Theodore. “Have courage. Pray, pray much, and God in strengthening you will enlighten you and will inspire you as to the manner in which He wishes you to succeed in this work, which is His own.”
I found these words to be very moving and encouraging to me. Words that can provide strength and inspiration during my daily ups and downs.