A legacy of love, prayer and service
Sister Joseph Eleanor Ryan (RIP) was faced with the task of showing Mother Theodore Guerin worthy of being named an official Catholic saint. She based her description on the observations of sisters who knew Mother Theodore well. The sisters related that Mother Theodore was devoted to contemplative and common prayer, to the teachings and rituals of the Church, to the Blessed Virgin Mary, to the guardian angels and to the Eucharist.
These traditional values certainly are still an integral part of the history and daily life of the Sisters of Providence. But when today’s Sisters of Providence describe the spirituality of Mother Theodore, they speak of her deep, joyous love of God. Of her warm affection for her sisters. Her abiding trust in Providence. Of her resilience. Her passion for the mission. And her practical piety.
Present in the moment
Sister Marie McCarthy says, “I think there are two spiritual practices that grounded her life and that are part of our DNA as Sisters of Providence. The first is ‘The Sacrament of the Present Moment.’ Mother Theodore was present in the moment, whatever the moment was. She gave herself fully to it knowing that it was where Providence was for her. The other is the Divine Indwelling. She was aware of and communed with the God who dwelt within her. These two practices were the source of her ability to live each moment with love and to receive each person with love.”
Sister Ellen Kehoe says, “Her spirituality of remaining true to God, her true self, and the common good is rooted deep in Providence Spirituality. I like to think her ability to bounce back, to keep going, to be resilient as she faced one trial after another is a valued legacy she has given to us.”
Sister Eileen Dede echoes this sentiment. “Mother Theodore was so accepting of the trials and tribulations that came to her each day. I wish I were like her!”
Another trait often noted by today’s sisters is Mother Theodore’s affectionate honesty with those under her care. Sister Eileen Dede says that although she clearly loved every sister, she “did not hesitate in correcting a mistake, but did so in a loving way.” Or as Sister Alice Ann Rhinesmith put it: “She could tell a sister what she did was dim-witted in a nice way.”
Sister Mary Mark Dede says Mother Theodore “recognized and respected those who did not agree with her. She could find peace in adversity. Despite her discord with the bishop, her relationship with local clergy was not tainted.”
Sister Eileen says, “She wrote to each sister welcoming them home for retreat. And to this day we always refer to ‘going home’ to the Woods.” Those who work in the teaching profession often recall Mother Theodore’s admonition to “love the children and then teach them.” Sister Eileen remembers: “At the end of the year I didn’t want any class to leave because I didn’t think I’d loved them as I did the last one. But I always did.”
Listening to Mother Theodore
Sister Mary Mundy tells of an experience she had that gave her a deeper understanding of Mother Theodore’s love for her sisters. “I was most significantly impacted by Mother Theodore’s spirituality when I was director of novices. One particular morning I asked God for guidance in dealing with a concern I had with a novice. Suddenly I felt the presence of a third person — Mother Theodore!
I turned to her with these words: ‘Mother Theodore, this is your novice, too. Help me figure out what to do.’ She asked two important questions of me: ‘Do you love this novice? Does she know you love her?’ With my reply of ‘yes’ to the first question and ‘I hope so’ to the second, she left quickly with the wisdom of her final words: ‘Then you can say about anything to her.’ I moved into the day with great confidence, feeling the great love of God and Mother Theodore for both the novice and myself. Truly, it was a Providence moment that has continued to make a difference in my life, even today!”
Chatting with Mother Theodore
And Sister Mary Mundy is not the only Sister of Providence who has conversations with the foundress. Since the Beatification, Sister Alice Ann, whose ministry is limited by failing eyesight, spends a great portion of her morning prayers chatting with Mother Theodore. Sister Eileen Dede isn’t having conversations with the foundress yet. But she has a story she is ready to tell her: “About ten years ago I was very ill. My stomach was not functioning. A feeding tube was inserted and I thought I would be on it for the rest of my life. We prayed to Mother Theodore. And there is no doubt in my mind that I am one of her unpublished miracles. My main surgeon was Dr. Theodore Small and his address was 1840! I can’t wait to thank her personally!”
Sister Alice Ann also noted that many of the sisters’ devotions that were begun by Mother Theodore, such as the annual procession to the Chapel of Saint Anne, continue to this day. And even though the Rosary is no longer a required part of common prayer, the residents of Lourdes Hall and Mother Theodore Hall meet in the health care chapel every morning to recite this traditional prayer.
Woman of prayer and action
Although all recognize that Mother Theodore was deeply prayerful, it is also clear that her love of God propelled her into action. “Through her resiliency, prayer, faith and belief that Providence would lead her, she changed lives, took care of the sick, built schools and communities to spread God’s love and care to others,” Sister Ellen notes.
Sister Mary Mark echoes these thoughts. “From the beginning, Mother Theodore practiced justice for all — reaching out and helping the poor, uneducated people who could not afford formal education.”
Sister Ellen reflects that “Mother Theodore taught each of us to continue to believe, to hope, to keep going.” She is our guide today “in encouraging others to face personal and communal problems with hope and faith in God’s Providential care.”
Or, as Mother Theodore herself put it: “Whatever may be, I leave the future of our little mission, and my own, in the hands of God.”
Originally published in the fall 2021 issue of HOPE magazine.
God bless Sr. Ellen Kehoe, one of my teachers at St. Angela!
Renata (Daroszewski) Rafferty