Reflection for the Feast of Saint Mother Theodore
Note: The following is the reflection our General Superior Sister Dawn Tomaszewski offered during the 2022 Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Feast Day Liturgy.
As we Sisters of Providence like to say, “Happy Feast!”
In 2006, the year Saint Mother Theodore was canonized, I was on the administrative team of Guerin College Prep High School in River Grove, Illinois. Certainly, as we made plans for that year, we knew that the school named for Mother Theodore needed to do something very special, not only to mark the canonization event, but also to make sure the event left a mark on us.
So, we had T-shirts waiting for all the faculty and staff when that school year opened. Printed on the front of the shirt was the theme for the year: “We’re walking in the footsteps of a Saint.”
As we gather this morning as the extended Providence Community to celebrate once again that the church has lifted up Anne Therese Guerin as a Saint of God, I find myself thinking less about her and more about US. The WE who are walking in the footsteps of that Saint. The WE who are becoming known as the Providence Community.
Many of you are with us in church this morning – Sisters and Providence Associates; are SP co-workers; partners in mission from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Providence Health Care and Saint Mary’s Senior Living; students, residents! On a daily basis, many of you are literally walking where Saint Mother Theodore walked.
And we know we have sisters, associates, so many friends, family members, benefactors, joining via livestream this morning – all united by the charism of Providence, all walking in the footsteps of this beloved of God.
How are WE walking in the footsteps of this saint? What does that even mean for us?
Sister Ann Cecilia, a novice who knew Mother Theodore at the end of her life and gave testimony on behalf of her cause for sainthood, has provided a meaningful way for me to think about how we might walk in the footsteps of this saint. Sister Ann Cecilia wrote:
“I have been accustomed to tell my impression of Mother Theodore by saying, ‘Whenever Mother Theodore passed me, I felt that a blessing had fallen on me.’”
“Whenever Mother Theodore passed me, I felt that a blessing had fallen on me.”
I would like to take time this morning to recount some of the blessings that have both fallen on us or have fallen on others because of WHO we are, or, at the very least, because of WHO we are trying to be as a Providence Community.
The most recent example is the decision the Sisters of Providence made to enter into a special relationship – a covenant relationship – with the Our Lady of Victory Noll Sisters of Huntington, IN. Because of their small numbers that community of women religious needed someone to provide leadership for them. We agreed to provide that someone.
A blessing has fallen upon them in the person of our Sister Jenny Howard. We offered and they have accepted Sister Jenny as their congregation leader. I’m grateful to Jenny and also appreciative of all the Sisters of Providence who have made a commitment to be a prayer partner with a Victory Noll sister.
We Are Following
How is this following in Mother Theodore’s footsteps?
In 1848, Mother Mary Cenacle, the superior of the Holy Cross Sisters in South Bend, asked hospitality of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Augustine’s in Fort Wayne. We had a school there. Mother Mary Cenacle needed a few weeks of medical care. Volume I of the community history tells us that Mother Mary Cenacle arrived in February and was cared for devotedly by our sisters during many weeks. Farm from improving, however, she grew steadily worse and died on April 28.
Mother Theodore visited the Sisters of Holy Cross at Notre Dame following Mary Cenacle’s death to offer her condolences to them and to Father Sorin, their founder. He begged Mother Theodore to remain at South Bend indefinitely or at least to give him one of her sisters to form his little band. Mother Theodore was unable to fulfill his request. What a blessing that all these years later we would receive a similar request from a religious community and be able to say yes.
I can only believe that untold blessings are already on their way to us because of this decision to journey with them in this way and the new relationships that may result because of it.
I also wonder where this decision will lead us as we learn to become a global sisterhood, a global Providence Community.
Perhaps it will lead to a deeper relationship with our foundational community in Ruille, France? Or to a new partnership between and among the communities that are part of the Women of Providence Collaboration? Or more purposeful relationships with the religious communities in our geographic region?
Or perhaps this new relationship with the Victory Noll sisters helps us appreciate more deeply the partnerships we already enjoy with many of you joining us today. Maybe this could lead to deeper relationships between Providence University in Taiwan and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College or between Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis. Perhaps, Providence Health Care or other places on this campus can become helpful resources for the new residents of Saint Mary’s Senior Living.
Or maybe this will help us forge new relationships as we seek to break down the boundaries created by racist attitudes and systems.
‘An Excellent Spirit’
Where else has a blessing fallen upon ourselves or others as we walk in the footsteps of our Saint Mother Theodore?
Following the recent jubilee celebration of one of our sisters, I received a letter from Charles Evans of Champaign, Illinois. He was familiar with us because he has attended a few seminars with the Sisters of Providence, but it was the first time he and his wife attended liturgy here. I quote from his letter:
“First, I was again impressed with everyone’s friendliness. From the receptionist at the desk in your conference center, to the nun who welcomed us into the church, to the staff in (O’Shaughnessy Dining Room), everyone was friendly. While this is not a new experience for me at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, it is comforting that your community has been able to sustain it in a manner that permeates the property – well done!”
“… In a manner that permeates the property.” The new residents of Saint Mary’s Senior Living have told their managers that they love the community atmosphere here. We have untold accounts of students who have had their Avenue Moment; of visitors who experience this place as sacred, who tell us that something happens to them when they enter these gates; or of alums who call this place HOME.
How is this following in Mother Theodore’s footsteps?
My favorite passage in Volume I of our community history, a passage I have quoted many times over the years, is from a letter Mother Theodore wrote to Bishop Bouvier in 1854. She tells him about the retreat director’s assessment of the sisters at Saint Mary’s. “He found us having an excellent spirit at Saint Mary’s. He said so publicly. He was able all edified by our union. … (he said) the members love one another.”
Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, the author of that history, expounds, “Father Gleizal (the retreat director) had made no mistake in placing his finger upon the cardinal characteristic of the Sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, the all-embracing charity which bound them together as one.”
I would like to think that the spirit Charles Evans, and others like him, experience when they visit here is born of that cardinal characteristic that distinguished Mother Theodore and the sisters and students of her day – the all-embracing charity, which bound them together as one – the all-embracing charity, which bound them together as one.
It is a spirit that permeates the property – whether that property is here or in Chicago, in Providence Health Care as well as in LeFer Hall, in the new building at Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis or right here in the old faithful halls of Providence Hall or down the road in West Terre Haute.
Consider Our Call
In today’s second reading, Saint Paul asks u to consider our call and to allow God to work in and through us, a God who chooses what is weak in the world to shame the strong.
And Luke in his Gospel asks us to examine our priorities. He reminds us, “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” What do we treasure?
We know well what Mother Theodore treasured – the mission. We know her priorities – she admonished her sisters to “look after the interests of our Savior Jesus.”
If we are to follow in her footsteps, we must do likewise. We must follow in the footsteps of the Christ and allow his life to guide our steps as she did. Where will they lead?
Well, they could lead to Nogales, Arizona. This very day, three of our sisters are celebrating in a new home there. Sister Tracey Horan, staff member of the Kino Border Initiative, invited other Sisters of Providence to join her in establishing an SP house there and to assist in the work of migration at the border. Sisters Nancy Bartasavich and Marilu Covani accepted that call and have arrived in time to celebrate this feast day together. We are grateful for your witness, hermanas.
Following in Christ’s footsteps could find you in the painstaking task of raising money for a new building like both our friends at Providence Cristo Rey in Indianapolis and Miracle Home in Taiwan are currently doing. Why? To extend the mission of those places and to be able to companion more of God’s needy ones.
Following in Christ’s footsteps could result in the establishment of a Sprint Football team like Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College has done to enable greater access to a college education for students who might not receive an athletic scholarship elsewhere because of their size.
Maybe following in Christ’s footsteps has already led you to dedicate yourself to doing what you can do to save our planet as we have been exploring during the Season of Creation or to volunteer in Providence Health Care or anywhere, for that matter, as so many of you do.
I could go on and on when I think of the power of our collective yes in following in the footsteps of Christ, in following in the footsteps of Saint Mother Theodore in this our time.
When Mother Theodore was asked what we have to do to become saints, she said, “Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than what we do every day. Only do it for (God’s) love …”
So, let’s take our love and permeate the property wherever we may be – in the convent, in the dorm, in the coziness of our own homes.
We are walking in the footsteps of a saint … and she’s counting on us to follow her lead.
If you missed the 2022 Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Feast Day Liturgy, click here to watch the livestream.
You have done it again, Dawn, called all of us, sisters, associates, staff, friends, family to a deeper love and care for one another and anyone in need of God’s providence. Thank you!