Journals and Letters week 23: Clash of the bishop and the saint
What a perfect time to highlight the strength and courage of Mother Theodore as March is Women’s History Month, this past week we celebrated International Women’s Day and we are presently celebrating Catholic Sisters Week. How fortunate was I to get this section of the reading? My head is spinning with all the trials and tribulations Mother Theodore faced. It honestly felt like I was reading a script from a daytime drama. I could almost hear the ominous music in my head with each twist and turn. (Cue dun dun dun sound effect.) Here are my humble observations on these jam-packed ten pages of the reading.
Mother Theodore was a fierce woman
Fierce was not my first choice of the adjective I want to use here. The kids (that’s the way I refer to anyone 30 or under) have a term that I would love to use to describe our beloved Mother Theodore. Sadly, I cannot as it does not sound very nice and there are some who would be offended. But it truly is a high compliment. The definition of this self-censored slang word I did not use is “a strong, confident, bold woman who knows her own mind.” I’ll let your imagination fill in the rest.
Our fierce French female (thank you Sister Barbara Batista for alliteration suggestion) finally met with the bishop at his house to discuss his desire for her removal as Superior. Mother Theodore held her ground and instead proposed an election of a new Superior to the Community. If the sisters accepted it she would then step down freely. Until then she would not leave. I think she was pretty confident they wanted her to stay. This idea was not acceptable to the overbearing and controlling Bishop de la Hailandière. Because she did not immediately submit to his will, he actually locked her in a room. (dun dun dun) LOCKED HER IN A ROOM! This actually made my blood boil. To me the bishop was acting like a toddler who throws a temper tantrum when they don’t get their own way.
The Community stepped up
The other thing that impressed me was the commitment of the women in the Community. (I believe the kids may call these women her “squad” or “posse.”) When the Bishop (dun dun dun) basically kicks her out of the Sisters of Providence, Mother Theodore was prepared to leave. Before she could go illness struck. While she was bedridden and fighting for her life the other sisters decided that if Mother Theodore was leaving then they were following. Even the postulants (women who had not yet taken vows) and the workmen (staff members) decided to go with them. This really showed me how respected and loved Mother Theodore was. During this time the sisters were busy arranging their exodus from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Trunks were packed, apple trees were being prepared to be moved and Sister Basilide was even selling the cows so they could buy horses for their anticipated journey. Sister St. Francis Xavier was also busy fervently corresponding with everyone what was happening. Fortunately for us all, the trip never transpired. Months earlier, the bishop had submitted his resignation. It was finally accepted by Pope Pius IX just in the nick of time. (Yay!) The new bishop had no desire to give Mother Theodore the boot. Providence prevailed and Mother Theodore could go back to her work.
A few good men
Another thing that touched me was the men who rallied around her. Despite the bad behavior from the bishop, there were those who ardently supported Mother Theodore. (The kids might call them peeps but this could also be a term I learned in 1999.) Many of these good people stuck up for Mother Theodore even though they were clearly scared of the bishop and what he could do to them. Father Corbe (we have a building named for him) even resigned in a seeming protest. It’s nice to see the respect Mother Theodore garnered from these men at a time when women were not treated equally. And even though Bishop de la Hailandière’s behavior was cruel and misogynistic, I do wonder what was going on with him that he could not see all the good Mother Theodore was trying to do. Was it his ego? Was he jealous? Was it a mental health issue? As mad as I am at him, I also do feel a bit sorry for him.
How did this passage make you feel? Have you ever had to stand up for yourself or others against someone in a position of power or authority?
Imagine what it would be like if Mother Theodore had been supported by Bishop de la Hailandière. What do you think might have changed?