This shrine is at the site of Mother Theodore’s birthplace in Etables, France. Photo credit/copyright: Jean Michel Daoudal.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin was born Anne-Therese Guerin on Oct. 2, 1798. The Guerins were a well-respected and faith-filled sea-faring family. They lived in the village of Etables-sur-Mer in Brittany, France.

Her mother, Isabelle, educated Anne-Therese and her younger sister, Marie-Jeanne, in their home. Studies were focused on reading, writing and Scripture. Anne-Therese’s father, Laurent, was an officer in the French Navy under Napolean. He was away from home for long periods of time.

The family lived, as many others did at that time, in a thatched cottage by a little field near the seashore. At the seashore and before the vastness of the ocean, Anne-Therese found herself drawn to praying and contemplating God. By the age of 10, she had decided that she would one day give herself totally to God as a religious sister. This conviction never left her.

The Guerin family endured much tragedy. When Anne-Therese was only two years old, her oldest brother, then age three, died in a house fire. Then, when Anne-Therese was 15, the youngest in the family, a little boy then age four, was sleeping near the hearth to stay warm. A spark from the fire caught on his blanket and he too was killed.

Less than a year later, Laurent, finally on his way home from a war that had kept him away from home for three years, was robbed of his three-years-worth of pay and murdered.

Family tragedy

The Guerin family lived through many tragedies, including the death of two sons by fire.

All of this tragedy was more than Isabelle could bear. She shut down and was not able to cope with the daily tasks of living.

And so at age 15, Anne-Therese found herself in charge of a household. She did the housework, taught her sister, and cared for her ailing mother and the garden. In later years, when her sister was old enough to take on household tasks, Anne-Therese took on sewing jobs and work in a factory to help support the family.

Anne-Therese desired deeply to follow her heart and give her whole life to God as a religious sister. But she put her own dreams on hold for many years in order to care for her family.

Beginning at age 20, she began begging her mother to let her enter the Sisters of Providence at Ruillé sur-Loir. But Isabelle could not bear to have her leave, and so did not give her permission to go.

Finally, in 1823, her mother relented. She said, “My daughter, you may leave now; you have your mother’s consent and her blessing. I can no longer refuse God the sacrifice that he asks of me.”

And so, less than two months before her 25th birthday – on August 18, 1823 – Anne-Therese entered the Sisters of Providence, a young community of women religious who served as teachers and cared for the sick poor. As a religious, she was known as Sister St. Theodore.

Sister Mary Cecilia Bailly, who was by Saint Mother Theodore’s side for the last 15 years of her life as her assistant, wrote in the first biography ever written of Mother Theodore’s life,

“This misfortune of losing her father drew forth all the energies of Anne Therese. She was now the help and companion of her mother; very likely this reverse of fortune formed that decision and strength of character which distinguished her in after life, and by which she could so well surmount the obstacles that sometimes opposed her in the discharge of her duties.”