Home » Blog » Journals and Letters week 32: Death, taxes and inconsiderate ladies

Journals and Letters week 32: Death, taxes and inconsiderate ladies

(Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” page 290 bottom to 299 bottom. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore’s writings every week in the coming year.)

I found it oddly comforting that in this week’s reading, Mother Theodore writes mostly about ordinary things you might find in any letter to a friend or loved one.  In the very first letter, she complains about the high property taxes and gives updates on Sister Mary Therese’s deafness and the health of several other sisters. She later writes about planting trees and walks in the woods. Mother Theodore has had so many big struggles on her journey, it’s actually a relief for me that the issues she’s finally dealing with are more commonplace. It makes me happy that things seemed to have finally settled down a bit.

Just say no

When Mother Theodore adamantly insisted that Sister Basilide did not have permission to have “meetings of ladies of the world” at her house “not under any pretext whatsoever” I chuckled. I could almost hear the sarcasm when she points out that although these ladies have large and comfortable houses they want to “take our poor cottages the only day of the week that we are free and able to hold together our innocent recreations.”

I love that Mother Theodore shows her frustration and then insists that Sister Basilide put her needs above these ladies. She even told Sister Basilide she could place the blame on her if necessary. I find Mother Theodore’s behavior totally relatable. The way she looks after her sisters is inspiring. I love that she also recognizes the need to disconnect, recharge and enjoy life. What a good mother she was! Mother Theodore was advocating for self-care before it was even a thing!

And I don’t know if people rolled their eyes when they were annoyed back in the 1800’s, but Mother Theodore may have invented the eyeroll at this very moment when writing about these inconsiderate ladies. You can see it, can’t you?

‘Man proposes and God disposes’

Mother Theodore later writes to Sister Basilide that illness prevented her from traveling to Madison as she had planned. I forget that she often had to deal with a chronic stomach ailment for most of her life. In fact, it seems that Mother Theodore and many of the other sisters frequently had health concerns. The stress they all had been through, combined with the massive amount of work they were doing, surely played a factor in this.

I also found that although Mother Theodore was compassionate and tender-hearted, she also approached illness and death with practicality and acceptance. When she wrote that Sister Angelina “will probably not last much longer” it made me wonder if her directness was more about her faith in God or the time in which she lived. I suppose it was both. Plus, having lost her father and two brothers as a young girl, she was very familiar with death.

‘I love our woods …’

I particularly loved Mother Theodore’s instructions to Sister Basilide to have trees planted. She even went so far as to tell her to plant some faster-growing but common locusts between the slower-growing trees. I assume this was so they would be more aesthetically pleasing. She then said they could later be cut away when the trees got bigger.

Later on, she writes lovingly about Indiana. “In each excursion we discover something marvelous, beautiful, and useful in the magnificent forests of Indiana. At each step we can admire the grandeur, the power, the goodness of God. How bountifully He provides for all our wants — I would even say, for our pleasures!” When you visit Saint Mary-of-the-Woods you can certainly see and understand why she felt this way. It is such a beautiful and peaceful place.

Your turn

Have you ever had a friend or relative encourage you to say no when someone was trying to take advantage of you? How did that make you feel?

What would Mother Theodore say if she visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods today?

Next week > page 299 to page 307 mid-page

View the complete reading series.

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Mary Riley

Mary Riley

Mary Riley is director of operations for White Violet Center for Eco-Justice, a ministry of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Prior to her current role, she served as the marketing manager for some ministries of the Sisters of Providence including White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and the Volunteer Services.

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  1. Avatar Barbara Bluntzer SP on May 15, 2021 at 11:23 am

    I always read your blogs with a happy heart because your stories are uplifting even when Mother Theodore has “problems” and tells what is going on in the difficult early days. You bring it to us in such a way that we can find similar ways of handling “the hard things” as she did…with patience and trust in God’s time. Thank you for sharing your skill, Mary!

  2. Avatar Jeannie Smith on May 15, 2021 at 5:10 pm

    Thanks, Mary – how fun to hear so many people’s take on these writings. My favorite part this week was Mother’s typical humor in her description of the stage ride from Indianapolis to Terre Haute. (How many times have all of us done that route, more or less, though not in such body-bruising circumstances.) She claims a miracle that they arrived safe, if not sound, and describes how she was seated in a corner by a pile of big registers which caused her to arrive half dead like a drenched chicken! And though they arrive with “all our members”, only after a rest did they regain the use of them. This reminds me of the story of the ocean voyage where one of the sisters fell on Mother, again leaving her “almost dead”! What a funny woman she was – these letters sure make me wish I’d known her living. And aren’t we all just so very lucky to have such a vivid description of this woman we all have come to love so much.

  3. Avatar Judy Copeland on May 19, 2021 at 3:28 pm

    I noticed in her writings that it appeared to be unusual to have music during Mass and other religious services. In America. Was the use of Music not a thing in France? She remarked her dislike for this.

  4. Avatar Cathy Dearing on May 20, 2021 at 6:47 am


    I really enjoyed your summary! I agree that Mother Theodore was such a practical woman. She did such a good job assessing what needed to be addressed both in the short term (now) and in the long term (future). And she did what was needed! She really exemplifies so many gifts of the Spirit!

    If Mother Theodore visited the Woods today, she would be pleased to see how her Daughters have met and are meeting the needs of both present and future.

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