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Reflections for Oct. 3, 2021

Feast Day of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

Leading up to the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, one of my overriding memories is that we Sisters of Providence said that we wanted to share her with the world.

General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski during the Feast Day Mass with Father Terry Johnson.

Throughout our history, Sisters of Providence had recognized that Mother Theodore was a saint — now it was time to let that story be known more fully — to allow her life to be a special source of courage and inspiration for people everywhere.

So, as part of this celebration of her feast today, I have asked three persons to share with us how Mother Theodore has touched their hearts. What difference has it made to them to know her story? How does her being a saint impact their own journey to holiness and wholeness?

Sister Jan Craven, our director of the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore, was an obvious choice to share reflections. Jan hears almost daily from people around the world about Mother Theodore, and her own work and reflection have led many people to a deeper understanding of “our” saint.

I also wanted us to experience the perspective of one of our associates. So, I invited Brad Crites to offer his thoughts. Brad, a life-time educator,  made his first commitment about a year ago.

And, of course, I wanted us to hear from someone at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, because we share Mother Theodore with the college in a very special way. How has she inspired someone from that world? So, I asked Dee Reed, a graduate of the college as well as someone who has been on staff there for more than 10 years. Currently she is the associate vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion.    

Thanks to all three of you for accepting my invitation. I have asked Brad to begin followed by Dee, then Sister Jan.

It was St. Patrick’s Day; they had corned beef and cabbage.

It was March 17, 1996 when I first visited the Woods with a handful of others.  I was preparing to be received into the Church that Easter and knew nothing about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the Sisters of Providence, or Mother Theodore.  But I’m standing here today because of that visit.

Part of the trip included visiting our parish priest’s sister in the infirmary. One of the other Sisters in the room that day kept the refrain in our conversation going every few minutes:

“It’s St. Patrick’s Day; we had corned beef and cabbage.”

It’s funny what sticks in our memories, but that has become a beloved “slogan” of my first experience of the hospitality here; Sisters eagerly stopped by, said hello, asked who we were, or shared something with us. To this day, I can tell my cousin who was also on that trip, “I’m off to have corned beef and cabbage,” and she knows I’m visiting the Woods.   

Brad Crites

On St. Patrick’s Day, 2005, I was becoming a new employee at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.  Not a goal I had set for myself, but it was a blessing when it was most needed. People would talk of their “Avenue moment” when they passed through the gates, and I have, too, but I didn’t immediately connect that with being on holy ground. I just knew something was special and different here.  I was especially blessed to celebrate Mother Theodore’s canonization here in this very Church, and though I still didn’t know much about her, I was learning, and the concept of ‘Providence’ was taking root.

St. Patrick’s Day, 2010 my wife, Tiffany, and I were in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Tiffany had endured a traumatic week of illness, there was the emergency delivery of our daughter born far too early, and when she was just 10 days old, we anxiously awaited news of her heart surgery.  Our finances were almost as bleak.  Placing ourselves into the hands of Providence was the only option we had and was indeed what got us through.  Family and friends were very supportive, but I was shocked and humbled by the abundance of blessings from strangers: praying in the NICU and elsewhere; stopping me in the halls with words of encouragement; cards of care and small gifts came from all over to keep us fed and give us a place to sleep.  Providence, indeed.

St. Patrick’s Day, 2016.  My grandmother’s funeral was six weeks earlier. She had spent her last few years living with dementia, much like that Sister from our first visit here years before. I found myself returning to my slogan, but this time as a prayer, and Providence once again brought “everyday miracles”, even in sorrowful times.

On March 17, 2020, I was halfway through my Providence Associate Candidate year.  We actually did have corned beef and cabbage at my orientation the previous October, and it was on the menu again for the next visit, but the pandemic brought it all to a halt.  But Providence to the rescue once more! Meetings and events continued by phone and internet, and I was able to be more involved in Community activities than the commute would have allowed me otherwise.  And, I had more time to get to know Mother Theodore better through her journals and letters as well as through other Sisters.

To be part of Mother Theodore’s Community is a true blessing for me, and really, for my family, too. Mother Theodore, truly a Valiant Woman of God, is a teacher for me as much as she was for girls in the Academy 180 years ago.  Leaning on Providence, as she often did, hasn’t been about a new way of life for me so much as a new lens through which to view our lives.  Through her example, I reflect on my role in Creation and the value of others.   Her Sainthood calls more well-deserved attention to who she was, how she lived, and the community she founded that is still living out the same mission and charism today.  She is a testament of hope for all people, even those of us like me who have to “grope along slowly” the path traced out for us.  I have learned to be more gentle with myself and others, and I have a renewed understanding of what it really means to love God.

That’s the greatest gift of her Sainthood: finding God in common acts of love, mercy, and justice.  “What have we to do in order to be saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than we do every day. Only do it for God’s love…”  Mother Theodore says.  How fitting that her earthly rest is at the heart of campus in a shrine below with the chapel of Jesus above.  It truly is holiness – both the God of Providence and Mother Theodore’s spirit that we sense in the Avenue moment. 

It’s not St. Patrick’s Day today. It’s even better – It’s St. Mother Theodore’s Day.  Let’s have corned beef and cabbage!

I first met Saint Mother Theodore Guerin in a theology course at SMWC, in 2006. Yes. 2006. The year she was canonized.

Dee Reed

I was a wife, mother, marketing professional and student, who was two years from completing my degree at the college. With many demands for my time, I often questioned whether I had what it took to finish my degree. With thoughts of in-adequacy and just weeks before the canonization, the class read a book about Saint Mother Theodore. Our class discussions focused on her faith and courage.

On a chilly fall afternoon, the class walked to the “arrival rock” near Hulman Hall, marking the location where she and her 5 companions first stepped off the coach onto dry land. Our professor read passages from Saint Mother Theodore’s journal detailing the occasion and to my surprise, tears streamed down my face. In that moment, I fully realized the magnitude of this incredible woman, who was obedient to the will of God.

You see, through the account of her extraordinary life, I discovered a significant deficiency in my relationship with Christ – trust. Too often, I relinquished God’s hand and direction to chase the next shiny thing in my line of sight thinking that I knew best.

I’m embarrassed to say that I put my trust in lesser things every day – like weather forecasts and anti-aging serums.  Yet, in my human arrogance, I failed to trust the God of the universe.

Let’s be honest. We have all had thoughts or fears that God may ask of us what we are not ready to give.  We are taught to believe that God’s plan is good and right, but it’s difficult when life is hard and takes unexpected turns.

Saint Mother Theodore is an invaluable example of placing one’s life completely in God’s hands. This woman of virtue and knowledge showed me how to live with uncertainty. Through the witness of her daily life, the choices she made, her willingness to sacrifice for the sake of others, she displayed her devotion to God.

In an unfamiliar country, Saint Mother Theodor faced with language barriers, continuous ill health, financial insecurity and more. Yet, she never gave up. For her, doing God’s will was paramount.

Even with her unlimited confidence in God, she often wrestled with confidence in her own ability to provide the wisdom and leadership necessary for the many daunting challenges at hand. This skilled communicator, holistic thinker and community builder, against all odds, remained steadfast in God’s love. She did not reveal her despair. She told the sisters in the face of difficulties, “Courage, hope and pray.”

I relate to her so well because she did wrestle with her abilities. I learned from her perseverance to meet challenges with faith and a spirit of prayer. She trusted God’s plan – a plan that she could not fully imagine nor could anyone have anticipated the impact.

You see, I believe I cried that day at the “arrival rock” because I felt the impact of her life. I realized am part of her legacy. I, along with generations of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College graduates benefit from her every prayer, decision, sacrifice and triumph. Our lives are forever enriched by and intertwined with hers.

When we entrust ourselves to Christ and do good for others, we take our focus from ourselves and our circumstances. We become a blessing through our challenges.

I still find inspiration in Saint Mother Theodore’s dog-eared journal on my nightstand especially when the road ahead is not clear. And, the sweet, enduring message remains the same – trust.

Thank you, Dawn, for inviting me to share in this wonderful feast day celebration. It is a celebration of a beautiful Saint of God who walked here on these sacred grounds.

Sister Jan Craven.

As director of the Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore I have the awesome privilege of sharing her life and legacy with so many people throughout the day’s months and years since her canonization.  I wish to concentrate on one story. Dawn, you said I had 3 maybe 4 hours soooo …

The theme is one of her most famous phrases … Love the children first and then teach them. And so, one day, about 10 years ago, I had a group of ninth graders, freshman … Catholic students. From our very own school Guerin Prep, in Chicago … they were here in the church. It was before we moved Mother Theodore into the shrine. The shrine had not yet been finished and if you recall there beside her coffin was a first-class relic. 

I began to talk about this relic and I recall saying to them that I was not sure if those 3 finger bones came from her right or her left hand. 

Suddenly, I see one freshman boy take out his cell phone. Then, he took my picture…I thought, how nice.  But … then he started fidgeting with his phone … I knew right then and there I had lost him … he was probably texting his girlfriend or looking up some game he could play instead of learning about the woman whose school was named after her. I did not want to embarrass him in front of his classmates. So I continued with my story. All of the sudden the young man raises his hand … really excited and he says, ‘Sister, those bones are from her right hand.’ And I looked at him and said excuse me, ‘How do you know that?’ And he said, ‘Well, I want to become a forensic scientist and I know all the sights and apps to go to. I took a picture of the relic and sent it into the site. That is her right hand.’

Whether it is true or not, that was not the most important lesson of the day for me. I would love to know if it is her right hand which was her writing hand where she wrote all of her letters and journals … that would be beautiful to know. Why should I disbelieve him?  But, what is more important is the beautiful mind of this young man and his intellect and interest.

And so, Mother Theodore … what I learned that day is, ‘yes, not to judge others … but more importantly is to love the children first, and then let them teach me!

Thank you Brad, Dee and Jan.

I suspect that I could have asked any number of people who are in this church today or watching via livestream and closed circuit to share how Mother Theodore has touched you. How have you as a Sister of Providence, Providence Associate, ministry partner or co-worker been inspired by Mother Theodore in your own efforts to live a life worthy of the Gospel. I invite you, then, later today to recall the stories you have just heard from Jan, Brad and Dee. But then find your way to your own story. Sit awhile or walk this beautiful campus for a bit and let her spirit animate you again and fill you with hope.

Just prior to the canonization in 2006, then General Superior Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara, compiled an article based on responses from other Sisters of Providence, in which she lifted up our hoped-for effects from the canonization of Mother Theodore.

Among them, and I quote: “Mother Theodore’s canonization calls us to be more passionate about mission and boldly to proclaim God’s loving Providence with our lives. Mother Theodore’s extraordinary giving of herself to mission motivates us to bring love, mercy and justice to wherever we are… and… to see where we are needed most so that our individual mission is congruent with God’s mission … .” (end quote)

May this be OUR story of how Saint Mother Theodore animates the life of the collective Providence Community today. May this be the treasure we seek — passion for God’s mission, extraordinary giving of self, and a bold proclamation of God’s loving Providence through the witness of our lives.

May we so mirror her indomitable trust in Providence that it will be recognizable to others. Then the world will know, in paraphrased words of Mother Theodore, that “There is a Providence and we are truly its daughters … and sons.”

Saint Mother Theodore, pray for us.

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Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski

Sister Dawn Tomaszewski was elected General Superior of the Sisters of Providence in 2016. She has been a Sister of Providence since 1975. Previously she ministered as a teacher, as communication and development director for the sisters and their ministries and as a member of elected leadership on the general council of the Sisters of Providence.

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