April 28, 2006

Artist finds faith in sculpting statue of
Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin

This just in: The Holy Father promulgated a decree today officially recognizing as a miracle the healing attributed to the intercession of Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, clearing the way for her canonization. Several other miracles in other cases were announced. Read the decree

By Sean Gallagher

SAINT MARY-OF-THE-WOODS—Who is the artist and who is the work of art?

That is a question at the heart of Teresa Clark’s journey of faith.

For a year now, she has been molding clay into a 6-foot likeness of Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, the 19th century foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. (See photo gallery)

Yet during that same time, it would seem that Blessed Mother Theodore and God have both been refashioning Clark.

Since her arrival in Terre Haute in the spring of 2005, Clark, who had attended a Mennonite church as a young adult but had never been baptized, came to a deep appreciation of the Catholic faith that was the bedrock of Blessed Mother Theodore’s life.

This appreciation grew so much that Clark, 50, participated in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) at St. Margaret Mary Parish in Terre Haute, then was baptized and received into the full communion of the Church at the Easter Vigil on April 15.

The next day, she attended Easter Sunday morning Mass with the Sisters of Providence. During that liturgy, she gazed at a portrait of Blessed Mother Theodore that hung in the church and thought about all that had happened to her.

“I was brought here, and I am creating her,” Clark said in an April 20 telephone interview. “But, in the process, Mother Theodore and God are creating me. That’s what I felt when I looked at her painting that day.”

Clark first learned of Blessed Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence in 2000.

There was a possibility that she might create a statue of Blessed Mother Theodore for a cemetery in Fort Wayne, where she lived at the time, so she came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to learn about her and the community she founded.

Clark spoke with Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, the vice postulator of the canonization Cause of Blessed Mother Theodore, read some of the foundress’ writings and met several members of the community.

“I just greatly admired this woman and what she accomplished in her time,” Clark said during a March 30 interview in her studio at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. “She battled health and conflict within the area, but she still persevered. And I see that strength here still, too. I feel [her] spirit ... is on these grounds still.”

After the original commission fell through, Clark faced her own battles that involved a difficult personal relationship, financial challenges and maintenance problems with her house.

When all of this climaxed in 2005, the possibility of creating a statue of Blessed Mother Theodore resurfaced.

The Sisters of Providence were arranging with officials of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., for the placement of a statue of Blessed Mother Theodore in a garden next to the shrine.

Sister Marie Kevin approached Clark about the commission, and she accepted.

With that choice made, Clark noticed that the problems that had been bogging her down began to be resolved and her move to Terre Haute was trouble-free. All these events she in part attributed to the intercession of the woman whose likeness she had been asked to create.

“I truly felt that I was meant to be here, that something was nudging me this way,” she said. “It just became clearer and clearer that maybe she was interceding.”

While Clark believes that Blessed Mother Theodore may have been praying for her, she also learned much from the example of her life.

“Maybe that’s why I admired what she did because I could see in my life that there were all these things I wasn’t dealing with well or was having problems with,” she said. “And what persevered with her was her faith. That’s what gave her strength. Maybe that was what was missing in my life.”

A few months after moving to Terre Haute, Clark started her participation in RCIA with Sister Marie Kevin serving as her sponsor.

As she continued to mold hundreds of pounds of clay into the form of Blessed Mother Theodore, her own life of faith took on greater shape.

“The creating of this has been quite a spiritual journey,” Clark said. “Using your hands to create someone, an individual who was a woman of faith—one kind of feeds the other. I almost feel her presence at times when I’m working.”

Sister Marie Kevin, who has been a member of the Sisters of Providence for 64 years, said she has gained a greater appreciation of her community’s foundress through Clark’s artistry.

“I’ve looked at pictures of Mother Theodore all my life,” she said. “But I’d never had the same feeling as I do when I look at the statue because it’s more than a physical likeness. The statue exudes the spirituality of Mother Theodore, which is strength and peace and trust in God.”

Clark’s time working on the statue and in RCIA has helped her understand her journey of faith that she described as “the most profound experience I’ve had, barring the birth of my children.

“I feel a lot of what holds people back in faith are the little walls that they put up themselves,” Clark said. “God is always around you. You just somehow don’t respond or relate or see.

“I feel that I’m still knocking down those walls. I just started feeling a peace in my life that I hadn’t felt in a very, very long time.”

For her own part, Sister Marie Kevin said that her relationship with Clark has been a “quiet influence” over the past year, helping her come to a renewed appreciation of her faith.

“I think it’s been a very great grace for me,” Sister Marie Kevin said in an April 12 telephone interview. “It’s made me examine my prayer life and my whole relationship with God as I see her relationship deepening.”

Clark will soon complete her clay statue of Blessed Mother Theodore. After officials from the National Shrine approve it, a fiberglass mold of it will then be made and sent to a sculptor in Ohio. He will follow Clark’s work minutely as he makes the final limestone version.

Clark hopes that the image of Blessed Mother Theodore that has had such a deep impact on her life will touch others in a positive way.

“I feel that it’s been a grace to be here,” she said. “And to honor that grace, I’d like to be able to touch others through my art. I feel [God] gave me this ability so I would like to use it in his way, in using his will.” †


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