Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Giving Thanks for Saint Theodore Guerin

Last Sunday we had a special Mass at the Cathedral. It was in honor of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin. She is our first saint from Indiana. She is the founder of the Sisters of Providence Mary of the Woods order. She is also the foundress of St. Mary of the Woods College.

Mother Guerin was French, very French. Her father had served in Napoleon’s navy. She was born in 1798 in Brittany France. Two of her younger brothers died t an early age. Her father was murdered by a bandit. She knew about suffering and she knew about surviving. She also knew how to be stubborn.

At age 20 she asked her mother for permission to join a religious order, her mother refused. She again made the same request five years later and her mother finally agreed. She joined the Sisters of Providence and took her perpetual vows in 1831.

She became a gifted teacher and a healer of the sick. Skills that would prove to be invaluable in the wilderness of Indiana.

The young nation of the United States was on the move. The wilderness was moving west, all the way to Indiana. Immigrants were an important part of the expanding nation and its expanding economy. Vincennes Indiana had played an important part in the states history. It was a political, military and trading center for French North America. It then became part of British North American and was part of the territories belonging to the colony of Virginia. In the 1832 it was the seat of the Diocese of Vincennes.

Bishop Brute was tasked with serving the needs of Catholics for the entire state of Indiana. This was no small task. The state was a magnet for immigrants from Ireland, France, and Germany, many who were Catholic. Bishop Brute requested a religious order from Europe to serve the needs of the growing Catholic population.

A physically fragile Sister Guerin was asked to head this important mission. After much prayer and discernment she agreed. She then made a three month journey. After traveling by ship, train, and wagon she and five sisters arrived in the wilderness of Indiana near Terre Haute in Oct. 1840.

From humble beginnings she showed why she was the right choice for the job. She learned English and negotiated with businessman. She founded the St. Mary of the Woods College. She farmed, raised crops and cared for livestock.

She established schools in Jasper, Vincennes, Fort Wayne, St. Peter’s and Terre Haute Indiana. She worked to establish centers in Illinois. She opened two orphanages. She opened additional schools in Evansville, North Madison and Columbus Indiana. She became the “Mother of the Catholic School System in Indiana”. The Order's schools expanded to include Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston. We celebrated her accomplishments at the cathedral because she had founded a school on the Cathedral Square. She is part of our history.

At the time of her death there were 67 professed sisters, nine novices and seven postulants.

Pope John Paul II described Mother Theodore Guerin as "a perfect blend of humanness and holiness". Last year Pope Benedict completed the canonization process and she was declared a Saint. Last week our Diocese celebrated and gave thanks for a Hoosier Saint who faced prejudice, wilderness and adversity and still managed to make a significant contribution to her adopted nation.

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