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October 18, 2006     526 Words

Mother Theodore Guérin: Indiana’s Favorite Saint

CINCINNATI—Six Sisters of Providence and a priest were traveling on a stagecoach through thick forests in Indiana on October 22, 1840. Mother Theodore Guérin—who was in charge of the sisters—wrote in her journal of a harrowing trip from France that lasted over three months. When they reached their destination, they began to build and grow their community. Thus began the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

On October 15, Mother Theodore Guérin—canonized as St. Theodora—will become the United States’ eighth saint. The remarkable life of this holy and courageous woman is featured in the November issue of St. Anthony Messenger and is entitled “Mother Theodore Guérin: Indiana’s Very Own Saint,” by John F. Fink. After October 23, the article will be posted at: AmericanCatholic.org.

Born Anne-Thérèse Guérin in 1798 in Brittany, France, she became a devout young girl with an advanced spiritual development. After taking care of her family, Anne-Thérèse entered the Sisters of Providence novitiate at on August 18, 1823, professed her first vows on September 8, 1825, and her perpetual vows on September 5, 1831.

A stalwart faith would be essential for Mother Theodore in her travels. The Diocese of Vincennes included the whole state of Indiana and the eastern part of Illinois—330 miles long and just as wide—with about 50,000 Catholics amid a population of 600,000. Not long after arriving, Mother Theodore began to plan her academy for girls. It would eventually become Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. By July of 1841, 10 young women were studying there.

In the years that followed, Mother Theodore battled ill health, poverty, frigid Indiana winters and a bad-tempered bishop named Celestine de la Hailandière, whose questionable leadership and lack of support for the sisters did not rattle her resolve. All of her efforts paid off: By 1855, the community that had begun with six sisters increased to 60. Since 1840, 5,239 women have entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Today there are 465 sisters in 20 states, the District of Columbia, Taiwan and China.

The sisters still sponsor Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the country’s oldest Catholic liberal arts college for women. Its 1,700 students are enrolled in campus-based, undergraduate distance-learning and graduate programs.

Mother Theodore was declared blessed on October 25, 1998, after Pope John Paul II accepted the healing of Providence Sister Mary Theodosia Mug from cancer in 1908—through the intercession of Mother Theodore—as a miracle. In April of this year, Pope Benedict XVI accepted the healing of Philip McCord—a Protestant who was cured of a debilitating eye disease after praying to the Mother Theodore—as the second miracle required for canonization.

The past July, Sister Margaret O’Hara, the congregation’s general superior, stressed the universality of Mother Theodore’s holiness. “This is the highest honor the Catholic Church can bestow on a person, but it is not just for Catholics. The canonization is something people of all faiths can share by recognizing the way Mother Theodore lived her life.”

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