The Thralls farmhouse served as the first convent for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. (Drawing by Sister Mary Emmanuel Rinke from water color picture made in 1842 by Sister St.Francis le Fer de la Motte.)

After an arduous Atlantic voyage, Sister St. Theodore and her traveling companions arrived in New York Harbor on Sept. 4, 1840. This marked an end to one leg of the journey, but many more challenges would have to be faced before the missionary group set foot on the soil at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind.

To reach this destination, the sisters would travel by stagecoach, steamboat, canal boat and train. In her journal, Sister St. Theodore described reaching their final destination at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on Oct. 22, 1840: “We continued to advance into the thick woods till suddenly Father Buteux stopped the carriage and said, ‘Come down, Sisters, we have arrived.’ What was our astonishment to find ourselves still in the midst of the forest, no village, not even a house in sight. Our guide having given orders to the driver, led us down into a ravine, whence we beheld through the trees on the other side a frame house with a stable and some sheds. ‘There,’ he said, ‘is the house where the postulants have a room, and where you will lodge until your house is ready.'”

In this one house, which was owned by Sarah and Joseph Thralls, the six French Sisters of Providence, the four American postulants and the Thralls family lived for more than a month. In late November 1840, the Diocese of Vincennes purchased the Thralls’ home and land. The foundation for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., had been laid.


  • Father Stanislaus Buteux came to the United States from France in 1836. He was the priest for the parishes in Terre Haute, Ind., and the area surrounding Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, which is 5 miles northwest of Terre Haute.
  • Generally the first year a woman is in a religious congregation she is known as a postulant. During this time period, a woman examines her call to religious life.
  • The Diocese of Vincennes included all of Indiana and the eastern third of Illinois, including the fledgling city of Chicago.
  • In November 1840, the Diocese of Vincennes bought 55 acres, the Thralls’ home, some animals and farm equipment for $1,800. The 55 acres of land cost $1,375 or $25 per acre. When Joseph Thralls purchased some of that acreage in 1835, it cost him approximately $6 per acre.