September 8, 2006

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Blessed Theodore Guérin’s early life

(First of five columns)

When Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin is canonized on Oct. 15, she will join several other American nuns who have already been declared saints—Elizabeth Ann Seton, Rose Philippine Duchesne, Frances Xavier Cabrini and Katharine Drexel.

Blessed Theodore, though, is the only one to live in Indiana. She is the first person from Indiana to be canonized.

Blessed Theodore was a contemporary of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne, though 29 years younger. While Mother Duchesne was establishing convents and facing the hardships of life in Missouri, Mother Theodore was establishing the Sisters of Providence in Indiana.

Both women grew up in France, and both were nuns there before they came to America. Mother Theodore, though, came to the United States the same year that Mother Duchesne, at age 72, was finally realizing her dream of being a missionary among the Indians at Sugar Creek, Kan.

Mother Theodore was born Anne-Thérèse Guérin in the village of Etables in Brittany, France, on Oct. 2, 1798, as the French Revolution was drawing to a close. She was the second child, and first daughter of Laurent and Isabelle Lefevre Guérin. Two more children would be born to the family, but two of the children—the first-born son and the fourth child, also a son—died as children. Anne-Thérèse and her younger sister, Marie-Jeanne, survived.

Laurent was an officer in the French Navy and was away from home most of the time, leaving Isabelle to care for the children. Since it was dangerous in those days to practice their religion openly, Isabelle taught her daughters reading and catechism at home. Anne-Thérèse became a devout young girl, and her spiritual development was sufficient that she was permitted to receive her first Communion when she was 10, two years earlier than normal in those days.

When Anne-Thérèse was 15, bandits murdered her father. This was more than Isabelle could take. She had already lost two sons, and now her husband. The intensity of her grief incapacitated her so much that Anne-Thérèse had to assume the responsibility of caring for her and Marie-Jeanne. When Marie-Jeanne became old enough to help care for their mother, Anne-Thérèse worked as a seamstress to support the family.

When she was 20, Anne-Thérèse asked her mother for permission to join a religious order. Isabelle absolutely refused. She could not lose her daughter, too! It was another five years before Isabelle recovered from her grief enough to give Anne-Thérèse permission to follow her vocation.

She chose the Sisters of Providence, a new order in France founded by Father Jacques-Francois Dujarie. The French Revolution was now over, but few priests remained in France and the people were suffering from the effects of the revolution. His religious order would be devoted to teaching and working among the poor.

Anne-Thérèse entered the novitiate at Ruille on Aug. 18, 1823, professed her first vows on Sept. 8, 1825, and her perpetual vows on Sept. 5, 1831. Anne-Thérèse chose Sister St. Theodore as her name in religion. †



Local site Links: