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Will you listen to your heart: A foundation day reflection

At a recent retreat in Connecticut, I spent many reflective moments overlooking Long Island Sound. As I sat there looking at the water, I wondered how I would feel if I had to leave my homeland via sailing ship, knowing I might never return or even make it to the other side of the ocean. Could I put myself in Saint Mother Theodore’s place or that of one of her five companions? Would I have the courage to answer the call to leave all that I knew to spread the Gospel message to those living in the wilderness of southwest Indiana?

On this day in 1840, Saint Mother Theodore and the founding sisters arrived in the wilderness at their new home at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

Following Mother Theodore

So how does one put oneself gently into the hands of Providence? How do you know you are answering a call to a mission to serve God’s people? I sat quietly on the bench, asking Mother Theodore how she had felt. How she had handled the sorrow of leaving France, her family, her Sisters of Providence. How she had helped her five companions overcome their grief at departing their home. Was she excited to see what Providence had in store for her? How did she know her choice was the right one?

I reread her “Journals and Letters”, searching for an answer to her feelings. As I sat with her on the bench, I asked her to share her deepest feelings. I sat there quietly, waiting, wondering. 

As I sat on the bench, Mother Theodore shared that she had been afraid. She had not had the health needed to make such a journey, but the call was strong. She grieved as they left France, “Oh my dear friends! O, my Country! How much it costs to give you up! And you, my sister, the only one left of my family, I did not see before my departure, but you were not forgotten. … ” 

Overcoming grief and fear

The replica of the log cabin chapel at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods today

Yes, the grief and fear had been there, but as Mother Theodore came to know America and the people of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, her heart was filled with new joy. She planted the seed for a rich community of sisters, students, associates and ministry partners. Though she did not live to see the fullness of her sacrifice, she saw the saplings begin to grow and flourish through the toil, hardships and joys of leading a community of women dedicated to sharing the Gospel with others. 

It is said that when the bells tolled announcing Saint Mother Theodore’s death, many working at the Woods fell to their knees in honor of this great woman who touched so many lives then and continues to do so yet today.

What about you?

On this foundation day we mark the arrival of Saint Mother Theodore and her companions at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. As we celebrate the hope-filled beginnings and sacrifices offered to create this Providence community, I ask: What about you? Will you listen to your heart? Will you answer the call? Are you willing to give what it takes to sacrifice, to plant the seed of the Gospel in a world in much need of this seed? Sit on a bench or in a quiet space to have a conversation with Saint Mother Theodore. Ask her the questions you have in your heart and quietly listen for her answer.

Her “Journals and Letters” tell us, “When one has nothing more to lose, the heart is inaccessible to fear.” 

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Debbie Dillow

Debbie Dillow

Providence Associate Debbie Dillow is the co-director of the Providence Associate relationship. She is the mother of two grown children and grandmother to four. Debbie holds holds bachelor's and master's degrees in media arts and science from Indiana University and a certificate in applied computer science from Purdue University. She also has a master’s in pastoral theology from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. She and her husband, Bob, live in Pittsboro, Indiana.

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  1. Avatar Rosaline Secrest PA on October 22, 2021 at 6:36 am

    What a beautiful and thoughtful reflection, Debbie. I will take your suggestion to sit quietly and have this conversation with our Mother Theodore.

  2. Avatar Sister Connie Kramer on October 22, 2021 at 7:16 am

    Thanks Debbie for the invitation to sit with Saint Mother Theodore and let her speak to my heart.

  3. Avatar Brad Crites on October 22, 2021 at 8:52 am

    A beautiful tribute, Debbie, and an inspiring invitation.

  4. Avatar connie schnapf on October 22, 2021 at 4:06 pm

    Your reflection came at just the right time. This is what I needed to nudge me into a deeper converstion with her. Thank you

  5. Avatar Paula Modaff on October 22, 2021 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you, Debbie, for this providential opportunity to know our beloved Mother Theodore from the heart.

  6. Avatar Gill on October 23, 2021 at 1:33 pm

    A very beautiful reflection Debbie.
    It is just where my heart and mind is as I am in Brittany in France close to the home of Mother Theodore!

  7. Avatar Jeanne Hagelskamp, SP on October 26, 2021 at 1:12 pm

    I got chills as I read your reflection, Debbie! Thank you for this inspirational invitation!

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