Journals and Letters week 35: Letter of instruction, letter of prayer
(Today we are discussing “Journals and Letters” pages 317 to 322. Join us in reading a portion of Saint Mother Theodore’s writings every week in the coming year.)
Our journey with Mother Theodore this week covers the period from July 4 through Sept. 8, 1851, as reflected in two Letters Circular and one letter to Bishop Bouvier. We are not short-changed, however, by the limited period of time and written material for our conversation and reflection this week. There is much to mine from our readings. Mother Theodore is open to sharing many aspects of her wisdom, love, care, concerns, spirituality and business acumen with the recipients of these 1851 writings, and, with us, the 2021 recipients.
Instruction to the sisters
In this week’s first Letter Circular (an open letter circulated to the entire Congregation), Mother Theodore speaks with maternal concern for her Daughters. She calls them home for a time of retreat, renewal and fellowship. She calls them home also for discernment in the election of an assistant and of a mistress of novices. And, like any good mother, she provides them practical spiritual and travel guidance: to (be) “models of prudence and modesty.” Her maternal love also reflects the reality of death and loss within the community. She reminds them of Sister Marie Joseph. This sister had come home to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods the previous year for the 1850 retreat and the company of her sisters. She is now home with her Provident God.
Mother Theodore’s letter to Bishop Bouvier struck me as a type of prayer. It included praise of Providence, thanksgiving for favors received, petitions of need and a prayer of lamentation. She acknowledged those whose spirituality and actions were Providence for the Saint Mary-of-the-Woods community: Bishops Bouvier, Bazin and De Saint Palais. For their pastoral concern, she offered heartfelt thanksgiving. Her prayers of petition included the need for more Sisters of Providence with a variety of gifts, talents and formation skills. She addressed the required funding needed for the construction of a Motherhouse. And, she addressed the oppressive summer heat. It was especially burdensome with the sisters’ overcrowded living accommodations, and the plague of destructive locusts … certainly, these qualify as lamentations!
Mother Theodore’s Letter Circular of Sept. 8, 1851, again offers us an expression of sorrow experienced by the community upon the death of Sister Angelina. As we read of this young sister’s call to religious life and her dying and death, Mother Theodore’s choice of words to inform and to comfort the sisters in the missions speaks to us of her own sense of loss and of her tender consolation of her Daughters.
For Your Reflection
Have you written or received a letter that touched you as being a prayer?
What brings you consolation in times of sorrow?
Next week > page 323 to page 331 mid-page
During the early days of COVID I, like many, decided to clean out my “stuff.” In particular, I decided to go through a box of letters I had saved and not read for years and years. To my delight, most of the letters were from my mother. Most spanned the time between my postulant year and my first two years “on mission.” Some made me laugh; they all made me cry. Yes – they were prayer. Of course, I threw none of them away. I’ll leave to another.
Thanks for bringing the experience of the letters to the forefront of my mind.
Dear Linda and Denise – I, too, have a box up in a closet with correspondence between my Mom and me dating through the Aspirancy and Novitiate and beyond. Precious things, though (unlike Mother Theodore’s letters) these would probably be terminally boring to anyone else. It’s a pity that letters are so rare now – that is really quite a loss. And I give thanks that our Mother Theodore was such a prolific and gifted writer, and that so many of those have been saved. What a gift it is that we have, a means to know so much about who she was, and to hear her counsels. It’s no wonder she is so real to her children of the forest that observers sometimes don’t realize she lived a century and a half in the past. Thanks, Linda, for that reflection about letters as prayer.