August 25, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

St. Theodora is a model of prayer from which
all mission flows

I was away on vacation when it was announced that Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin will be canonized as a saint of the Church on Oct. 15. How thrilled the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary of the Woods are!

As one who has prayed daily to Mother Theodore for years, the news seems too good to be true to me as well.

I have known of the beloved foundress of the Sisters of Providence since my early grade school days at St. Joseph’s in Jasper, the first elementary school founded by her.

It is an extraordinary privilege for our archdiocese to have a canonized saint who is buried here. But it is more than that.

Since the news from Rome, I have done a great deal of reflecting on the meaning of St. Theodora (the name Blessed Mother Theodore will be canonized under) for our local Church in this day and time.

I have written before in this column about Mother Theodore’s founding of Catholic education in Indiana.

Against all odds, in primitive circumstances, St. Theodora founded schools for poor children because she had a vision of their value both academically and religiously.

Her example gives us pause these days when maintaining excellent Catholic education is so very difficult for our parish communities. Some wonder if we should give up on our mission of Catholic schools, especially in our more challenged parishes.

The courage, valor and generosity of the intrepid St. Theodora are a timely and needed inspiration. I do not believe we could find a more fitting patroness for our challenged apostolate of Catholic schools and Catholic education in general.

One need only read Mother Theodore’s accounts of her early missionary activity to sense the struggle that she and her small community experienced in order to find and provide the resources needed to serve Christ’s primitive Church in Indiana.

She was a key force in building on the foundation of the Catholic mission valiantly begun by the Servant of God, our first bishop, Simon Bruté.

It was difficult enough for the pioneer community of the Sisters of Providence to survive in the austerity of the woods near Terre Haute. Rather than fixing only on their own needs, they ventured to serve God’s poor people, especially young women around Indiana.

Sometimes when we worry about the daunting challenges associated with developing and maturing a stewardship way of life for our local Church, St. Theodora provides direction.

Her accounts of crossing the often tumultuous Atlantic Ocean in barely seaworthy ships are amazing. Yet, she crossed that stormy ocean several times in order to find resources to carry on Christ’s mission in our part of the new world. She summoned the fortitude she needed to overcome her personal fears in order to seek help for the desperate missions in Indiana.

I suggest that we look to St. Theodora for inspiration and courage as we face the never-ending needs of our local Church.

We do not live in the primitive circumstances of the pioneer Sisters of Providence (and other religious foundations) in the 19th century. But we do live in a culture that tends to look away from poverty in our own home missions in Indiana.

I often recall Mother Theodore’s words: “But again, I must talk about money. When will the day come that we shall be able to be occupied only with God? Our consolation is that it is for him that we engage in other things.”

I pray that under the patronage of St. Theodora Guérin we will be helped to see beyond the boundaries of our own backyards, so to speak, in order to serve the poor who need the help of all of us.

Mother Theodore had a missionary vision which she pursued, even despite unfortunate opposition from one of the early bishops of Vincennes.

What strikes me is that she held on to that vision of serving the needs of Christ in the wider Church and society while also keeping focused on the needs of her own foundling community of sisters, who lived in poverty both at the Woods and at their earliest missions around Indiana.

When all is said and done, St. Theodora is a model of the centrality of prayer from which all mission flows.

She was unswerving in her conviction about the importance of prayer, especially devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and the protection of Our Lady of Providence. The first thing Mother Theodore and her pioneer companions did when they arrived in the Woods was to seek strength and solace before the Blessed Sacrament.

She wrote: “What strength the soul draws from prayer! In the midst of a storm how sweet is the calm it finds in the Heart of Jesus. But what comfort is there for those who do not pray?” †


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