Journals and Letters week 21: The cross awaits
Whenever the words “the bishop” occur in “Journals and Letters,” we can expect the worst. In the pages we’ve read for this week, events justify our expectations.
For five long years, over and over again, Mother Theodore confronted the bishop to do what he had promised to do: approve the Rule of the Sisters of Providence in the United States and deed the property of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods over to the Sisters of Providence.
During the course of those five years, the bishop evaded, avoided and ignored the representations made by Mother Theodore. He tried to have her released from her vows, removed as superior general. He wrote a ten-page letter “full of accusations and reproaches which are personal, three-fourths of which are palpably untrue.”
Responsibility and leadership
What does Mother Theodore do? She takes responsibility. Mother Theodore leads; she crafts letters to the bishop that are assertive, clear and calm. She lives her deep and abiding trust in Providence and her acknowledgement of the Cross. … and she mails a shopping list to the retired vicar general of Vincennes, Father Martin, who had relocated to New Orleans.
She takes responsibility, leads, writes. Leading and taking responsibility for what must be done, she writes to the sisters. “The moment has come in which we must leave the distressing state in which we have been for such a long time.” She writes a letter, an ultimatum to the bishop. Approve our Rule; deed us the property of Saint Mary’s or we “will take a definitive resolution, and that with very little delay.” The sisters would accept the invitation of the bishop of Detroit to relocate in Michigan.
When the bishop replies to the ultimatum, demanding an “Act of Reparation” from the sisters, Mother Theodore responds in a letter worthy of a Supreme Court judge. I’ve read and re-read that letter, pages 194-196. Would that the political discourse in our nation were as respectful of one’s opponent, as even and calm in laying out the request and the consequences of the final decision.
Twists and turns
It is clear in the pages we read that Mother Theodore’s words to her sisters were painfully accurate. “Let us take courage, my very dear Sisters, the Cross, it is true, awaits us at every turn, but it is the way to heaven.”
The cross did await Mother Theodore and her sisters “at every turn.” The conflict with the bishop took many more twists and turns before the Rule was approved and the land deeded over. Yet she persisted.
Oh — the shopping list! She asks Father Martin, the former vicar general of the diocese of Vincennes, now living in New Orleans: “If you would have the goodness to buy the altar wine for us, and if it has not yet been sent, put it in care of Mr. John Crawford of Terre Haute. … Pardon me the liberty I take of giving you so much to do on the eve of a voyage. That is what one gets by being so good.”
The Sisters of Providence and Providence Associates hosted a webinar called “Facing challenges with Saint Mother Theodore” on 2/4/21. Sister Jan Craven, SP, focused on the struggles and challenges Mother Theodore faced with the bishop. A participant posed this thought-provoking question. “Did Mother Theodore respect the bishop or did she show respect for the bishop?” What do you think?
Next week > page 200 to page 209 mid-page