September 22, 2006

Father Eldred joins love of Eucharist,
devotion to Blessed Mother Theodore

By Sean Gallagher

From the time he was a first-grade student at St. Patrick School in Terre Haute in 1955, Father Richard Eldred has had a special devotion to Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin.

He grew up in Terre Haute, not far from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods where Blessed Mother Theodore founded the Sisters of Providence in 1840. Members of that religious community taught him both in his parish school and later at Paul Schulte High School.

Father Eldred, now pastor of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford and St. Mary Parish in Mitchell, continued to live and worship in his hometown during his college years at Indiana State University and as a young adult working in his family’s business based in Terre Haute.

So there was always a close connection between him, the Sisters of Providence and their foundress.

But this relationship took on a greater depth in 1994 when Father Eldred was discerning a possible call to the priesthood.

He had started the application process to become a seminarian in early July.

Several weeks later, he received a phone call from Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.

“They called me at 11:30 a.m. on Aug. 22, telling me that I had been accepted, and that they wanted me there that day,” Father Eldred said. “And that’s when I said, ‘I’ve got a house. I’ve got a business.’ I was caught off guard.”

But like Abraham, who responded immediately to God’s call to leave the land of his fathers for the Promised Land, Father Eldred packed his bags and left Terre Haute behind that day, arriving at the seminary at 9 p.m.

Dropping everything at a moment’s notice to pursue a different path was a momentous choice for Father Eldred.

At the time, he was the treasurer of his family’s business that involved five trucking companies, a warehouse firm and an industrial packaging outfit.

Four years later, Father Eldred received another phone call that had another tremendous impact on his life.

“I can remember sitting in my seminary room and Father [Joseph] Moriarty [the then archdiocesan vocations director] being there, and he had received a call at my desk, and then hung up and then the phone rang again,” Father Eldred said. “And he told me, ‘This is for you.’ And so I took the call and I won’t forget it. That’s when they said, ‘You’ve been selected to go to the Vatican and be the deacon and represent the Sisters of Providence.’ ”

The religious community had been given the opportunity to invite a deacon from the archdiocese to serve at Blessed Mother Theodore’s beatification Mass in Rome.

For Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, vice-postulator of the canonization cause, the fact that Father Eldred, with his close connection to her community and their foundress, was the only archdiocesan deacon at the time was fitting.

“Well, I thought that was typical of Mother Theodore to arrange for one of our own young men to be a deacon at that particular moment in our history,” she said.

At the actual Mass, Father Eldred was with Pope John Paul II when he received the offertory gifts. He received the sign of peace and Communion from the pope and later purified his chalice.

Serving so close to the pope was a powerful experience for Father Eldred.

“Looking back, I didn’t comprehend it,” he said.

Father Moriarty, now associate director of spiritual formation at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad, said the devotion that Father Eldred had shown to Blessed Mother Theodore throughout his years of priestly formation was an “excellent example” for his fellow seminarians.

“I think that [his] trust … in Providence was something that he relied on and something that he experienced through praying through her intercession,” said Father Moriarty, who is also administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Our Lord Jesus Christ the King Parish in Paoli. “I think he was doing that all along.”

Father Eldred’s devotion to Blessed Mother Theodore continued after his ordination to the priesthood in 1999.

Wherever he has served in the archdiocese—from Richmond to Indianapolis to Mooresville to Bedford and Mitchell—he has encouraged people to learn from Mother Theodore’s example, and to pray for her interecession. He has also given out hundreds of her holy cards that contain third-class relics of Indiana’s first saint.

But it is at St. Thomas More Parish in Mooresville where Father Eldred’s devotion to Blessed Mother Theodore has made the largest impact.

Shortly after he become administrator there in 2001, he approached parishioners Rose Warthen and Vi Jerin about “a little job” he had for them, Warthen recalled.

The parish had been having monthly periods of adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Father Eldred wanted them to help establish and coordinate a perpetual adoration chapel.

Warthen initially wasn’t sold on the idea.

“When he said we were going to go perpetual, I looked at him and I do believe I said, ‘You’re nuts,’ ” she said.

But the chapel, which was named after Blessed Mother Theodore, was inaugurated just a few months after Father Eldred began his ministry there. Eucharistic adoration continues there to this day.

Having the chapel named after Mother Theodore was special for Warthen, who had “developed a relationship with her” when her husband was ill in 1995.

She also assisted Father Eldred in encouraging devotion to Mother Theodore.

“When Father Rick would get a batch of holy cards with the third-class relics, I made sure that special people that I came in contact with or somebody that was hurting [would get them],” she said. “He always encouraged devotion, first to the Eucharist and then to Mother Theodore.”

For Father Eldred, encouraging devotion to the Eucharist and to Blessed Mother Theodore are intimately connected.

“Her love for the Eucharist is what I’ve always seen as her true charism,” he said. “When she first arrived here, she and her companions … never said a word to anybody until after they went before the Eucharist and prayed. Then after putting their trust in the Lord in the Eucharist, they began their work.”

Father Eldred is now looking forward to showing his love for Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin at the celebration of the Eucharist on Oct. 15 in Rome, where Pope Benedict XVI will declare her a saint.
“It’s sort of like going back and concluding the long process that started when I was in the first grade,” he said. “And so from that standpoint, it’s very exciting.” †


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