October 13, 2006

Mother Theodore’s remains transferred for public veneration

By Mary Ann Wyand

Spiritual. Emotional. Historic.

The transferal ceremony for Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin’s remains and eucharistic liturgy on Oct. 3 at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods marked her feast day and the beginning of a new era for the Sisters of Providence.

During the ceremony, the congregation’s general officers escorted the handmade wooden casket containing Blessed Mother Theodore’s remains up the center aisle of the church then placed it at a temporary shrine on the left side of the altar below a large banner of her portrait that was displayed at St. Peter’s Square in Rome for her beatification in 1998.

The body of the congregation’s foundress formerly was entombed in a floor shrine in the church below a large plaque, but now the remains of the soon-to-be St. Theodora will be displayed above ground for public veneration.

Father Daniel Hopcus, the congregation’s chaplain, presided at the transferal ceremony and liturgy in the packed church.

“It is quite something for me to experience this,” the former diocesan priest from the Diocese of Orange, Calif., explained in a telephone interview after the ceremony and Mass.

“The bringing up of her remains in a casket was an extremely moving experience,” he recalled. “It was extremely

emotional for the sisters … just to realize that this is a saint in our midst and that we’re all called to sainthood.”

The church was filled with sisters, representatives of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, guests and about 100 students from Holy Redeemer School in Evansville, Ind.

“It was quite an honor,” Father Hopcus said, to preside at the historic ceremony and liturgy.

“I’m really honored to have been able to be a part of this and to realize that you are in the presence of [the remains] of someone who is a saint,” he said, “with a congregation of women who have dedicated their lives to these same principles and are trying to live them out in their own lives. It’s quite something to behold.”

Since beginning his ministry as chaplain for the congregation four years ago, Father Hopcus has celebrated eucharistic liturgies, conferred the sacraments and presided at the Mass of Christian Burial for sisters, visited ill and infirm sisters, and ministered as a confessor and spiritual director.

He also will preside during an 11 a.m. Mass on Oct. 15 at the motherhouse church—the same day that Pope Benedict XVI canonizes Blessed Mother Theodore at St. Peter’s Square in Rome—and for the Canonization Eucharistic Liturgy of Thanksgiving on Founder’s Day at 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“There’s a certain inner excitement,” Father Hopcus said, among the sisters about the Oct. 15 canonization of their foundress.

“Several of the sisters have told me,

‘I never dreamed that I would be here for something like this,’ ” he said. “That’s pretty much the feeling that so many of them have right now. I think I can speak for all of them that they really are excited—spiritually and emotionally—that they are here to experience such a wonderful event.”

Father Hopcus said he believes God’s providence brought him to his current ministry as chaplain for the sisters, and he is pleased to be able to share this holy time with the congregation.

“When you speak to the sisters that are living here and that are in ministry in different areas, they really, I think, experience God’s providence working in their lives,” he said, “and this providence gives them hope, it gives them direction, it gives them courage. … Obviously, all of this would not have happened if it wasn’t God’s hand somehow involved with it.”

Members of other Christian denominations in Vigo County also are excited about the canonization, he said, as well as the impact that St. Theodora’s shrine will have on the congregation, the college and the Terre Haute community.

“They’re talking about it in their groups,” Father Hopcus said, “so it’s an opportunity, I think, for people to experience God’s presence in a very unique way.”

St. Theodora’s shrine will attract countless visitors for many years to come, he said, which will benefit vocations and the sisters’ local ministries at the college and retreat center.

Through her sainthood, the chaplain said, he believes that Blessed Mother Theodore will continue to work to promote Catholic education as well as justice and charity. †

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