July 28, 2006

A portrait of love: ‘She obviously came as near to perfection as a fallen human can’

By Sean Gallagher

When Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin came as a missionary sister from France to the Indiana frontier in 1840, she soon came to love the state, calling it “my Indiana.”

Now, as her Oct. 15 canonization at St. Peter’s Square in Rome approaches, Indiana is returning that love.

A sign of that esteem was evident on July 21 as a portrait of Blessed Mother Theodore was hung on the south wall of the office of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels at the Statehouse in Indianapolis as part of the Hoosier Heritage Portrait Collection.

“Today, we honor a person of immense historical importance to the state of Indiana,” Daniels said, “Mother Theodore Guérin, who … bravely, from nothing, built an order and eventually the school that we know as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods [College].”

The Oct. 15 canonization will mark the culmination of a nearly century-long process, which included Blessed Mother Theodore’s 1998 beatification, during which her life, writings and possible miracles attributed to her intercession were investigated.

With several members of the Sisters of Providence gathered around him, Daniels also praised the congregation “who carry on in [Blessed Mother Theodore’s] tradition, a magnificent positive mark on the life of our state and the lives of countless individual Hoosiers.”

Following the governor’s remarks, Providence Sister Ann Casper spoke about the place of her order’s foundress in Indiana history, describing her as a “moving force” in the state.

“Mother Theodore was indeed that kind of person who brought quality education to thousands and thousands of Hoosier children throughout the state,” said Sister Ann, the executive director of the Office of Congregational Advancement at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“From Madison and Jasper and Evansville to Fort Wayne, Richmond, to Terre Haute and the Wabash Valley, her legacy of serving others, of absolute trust in God’s providence and her zeal for God’s mission continues today in the lives and ministries of more than 400 Sisters of Providence.”

With reporters from across the state looking on, the portrait was carefully hung by members of the governor’s staff.

“Take your time,” Daniels told them. “The canonization took a whole century. It’s better to get it right.”

After the hanging of the portrait was met with applause, the governor took questions from reporters.

“If anyone has the nerve to dishonor this occasion with a hostile question, I’ll be very surprised,” he said, jokingly.

He was asked how long Blessed Mother Theodore’s portrait would hang in his office.

“I think it’s probably going to be there in perpetuity,” Daniels said. “I can see a lot of opportunity for self-improvement just simply being watched over by Mother Theodore.

“She obviously came as near to perfection as a fallen human can. And as someone who is so tragically short of her standards, I think she ought to be up there for a long time.”

Present for the occasion were several students from Blessed Theodore Guérin High School in Noblesville, Ind., in the Lafayette Diocese. Msgr. Frederick Easton, archdiocesan vicar judicial, and Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, archdiocesan vicar general, also attended the ceremony.

Msgr. Schaedel said the portrait’s presence in the governor’s office is a “wonderful thing” that shows how “religion plays a big part in the history of our state.”

“I think it’s a great source of pride as somebody taught by the Sisters of Providence, as a Catholic from the

archdiocese,” he said. “And it’s a great source of pride to see a prominent Hoosier woman on the wall. It’s a great day for women, too.”

Daniels, who is Presbyterian, said that he wished he could attend the canonization, but wouldn’t be able to. He expressed his hope to participate in commemorations of the event that are scheduled in the state.

Sister Ann, who grew up near Fort Wayne, the home of one of the first schools established by Blessed Mother Theodore, spoke after the ceremony about its meaning for her and her community.
“I think it’s just a great honor,” she said. “Certainly all of the Sisters of Providence are really humbled by the thought that this has occurred and that among all of these great people of the state of Indiana, she will be in this office and will be made known.”

(For more information about the canonization cause of Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, go to www.archindy.org/guerin or www.spsmw.org.) †

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