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Journals and Letters week 25: Making fair progress

[Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” page 228 to page 236 mid-page. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore’s writings every week in the coming year.]

Vicissitude. Now that’s a word not heard in ordinary conversation. Perhaps the reason the word is seldom used and rarely heard has to do with its definition.

Vicissitude: a difficulty, a hardship attendant on a way of life, a career, or a course of action and usually outside of one’s control (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

The end of sorrow-burdened years

An illustration of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin overseeing three young students from the Academy a their desks.
Establishing the Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was just one of the many accomplishments of the the founding sisters. From the children’s book “Saint Theodora and her Promise to God

Why spend time with the word vicissitude? The portion of the “Journals and Letters” we’ve read together for this week begins: “Given the vicissitudes of the sorrow-burdened years, the institution at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods had been making fair progress.”

The difficulties of “the sorrow-burdened” years often seemed insurmountable, overwhelmingly discouraging and disheartening, endless. Yet, our Mother Theodore accepted the vagaries of the bishop as “hardship attendant” given her role as a woman dedicated to creating a religious congregation and bringing education to the forests of Indiana. Finally, after years of wrangling with a bishop, the “sorrow-burdened years” came to an end.

Mother Theodore’s attention can return to ensuring the “fair progress” of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, and the sisters’ establishing missions across Indiana — Terre Haute,  Jasper, Fort Wayne, Madison — to name only a few.

Put on your heavy underwear

We once again encounter Mother Theodore’s practicality. She’s very clear with Father Kundek on the financial arrangement for the sisters ministering in the Jasper grade school. Writing to the sisters at Saint Mary’s, she asks Sister Olympiade to “send a boy on horseback” to pick up butter; reminds the sisters to pen up the hogs and to send the empty flour sacks to the mill “sooner rather than later.” She’s very clear that “all who have not put on their heavy underwear do so at once.”

We encounter her tender heart as well. “I pray Sister Olympiade to be so kind as to see that our good Father Corbe has all his winter clothes in good condition.”

In good times and in bad

An illustration of three of the founding sisters on the ship laughing after Sister Mary Liguori fell on Mother Theodore.
Happier times. This illustration depicts Sister Mary Ligouri falling upon Mother Theodore as they traveled by ship from France to their new ministry. From the children’s book “Saint Theodora and her Promise to God

Yet we know life is never without vicissitudes. Sister Mary Liguori, one of the original foundresses, much loved by Mother Theodore, fell gravely ill. Sister Mary Liguori came from France with Mother Theodore. She had been at Mother Theodore’s side in good times and in bad. Sister Liguori was so ill that Mother Theodore wanted this “beloved daughter” home at Saint Mary’s. The Journal describes the perils of her journey from Madison, Indiana, to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

The description of bringing the frail sister across the frozen Wabash leaves no doubt of Mother Theodore’s deep and abiding love for this sister so close to her heart.

“Less than two weeks had passed after Sister Mary Liguori was brought home when, at the early age of twenty-nine years, she was called by the Master to the reward of her brief but fervent labors.”  To understand the magnitude of her loss to the young Community, read pages xxiv – xxv in the historical sketch at the beginning of the book. It must have been with a very heavy heart that Mother Theodore wrote a letter to the sisters away from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods bearing the news of the death of Sister Mary Liguori.   

Your turn

We are reflecting on the portion of Journals and Letters as we begin Holy Week. Do we see any connection(s) between the events related in the Journals and Letters and those of Holy Week?


Next week > page 236 to page 244

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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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