October 20, 2006


Indiana’s first saint

We are rejoicing this week because last Sunday Pope Benedict XVI canonized Mother Theodore Guérin—or St. Theodora Guérin as she will be known officially to the universal Church.

Naturally, the rejoicing is greatest among the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, who will continue to honor her as St. Mother Theodore since she was their foundress. We suspect that many of the people who have long had devotion to her will also continue to think of her as Mother Theodore.

We congratulate the sisters on finally achieving this honor for their foundress. The canonization process took almost a century, even before Bishop Francis Silas Chatard granted permission to begin the process in 1909.

For all of us, it’s a great privilege to have someone from this archdiocese officially declared a saint. St. Theodora is Indiana’s first canonized saint. She and her sisters have long served the people of this archdiocese from the sisters’ motherhouse near Terre Haute.

St. Theodora also became only the eighth person who lived and died in the United States to be declared a saint. The other seven American saints are Jesuit Fathers Isaac Jogues and Rene Goupil, martyred in what is now New York state by Mohawk Indians (six others were killed in Canada); Elizabeth Ann Seton, a wife and mother who, after the death of her husband, founded the Daughters of Charity (who operate St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis); Rose Philippine Duchesne, who also founded an order of sisters and taught in the St. Louis area; John Neumann, the fourth bishop of Philadelphia; Frances Xavier Cabrini, a woman who founded hospitals, orphanages and academies throughout the United States, Nicaragua, Panama, Argentina, Brazil and in several European countries; and Katharine Drexel, a Philadelphia heiress who used her inheritance to found a religious order of women, schools for blacks and Indians throughout the South and West, and Xavier University in New Orleans, the first U.S. college for blacks.

Four others with U.S. ties have been declared blessed, and at least 35 others are in some stage of the canonization process—including the Servant of God Simon Bruté, the founding bishop of the Diocese ofVincennes, which became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

But it’s not enough for us just to delight in St. Theodora’s canonization. The Church doesn’t canonize saints for their sakes. After all, they are now in heaven enjoying the beatific vision. They couldn’t care less about an earthly honor.

The Catholic Church canonizes people not only to honor them but, more importantly, to offer them as role models. Those of us who are still trying to work out our salvation can try to emulate some of the virtues displayed by those who were so close to God that they were recognized for their holiness.

What virtues of St. Theodora might we emulate? First, as a Sister of Providence, would be her trust in divine providence. We can recognize that God has a hand in what happens to us; things don’t happen just by accident. Not only must we accept what comes to us, but we should continually strive to discern God’s will for us.

We can learn perseverance through adversities. St. Theodora accomplished all she did despite poor health that required her to eat bland and soft food. She frequently suffered from high fevers. The sisters built their motherhouse in the middle of a forest, sometimes had no food and experienced a fire that wiped out their harvest.

But they persevered. Since Mother Theodore’s arrival in 1840 with five other sisters, 5,239 women have entered the order.

Today, the congregation numbers about 465 sisters. The academy that Mother Theodore founded nine months after her arrival is now Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

Above all, she was a woman of prayer. Everything she and her sisters did began with prayer.

Ever since she was declared blessed, St. Theodora has had a feast day—Oct. 3. The Church has saints’ feast days to encourage us to ask for their intercession. We believe in the communion of saints.

That means that we believe that a spiritual union exists among the saints in heaven, the souls undergoing the process of purification before entering heaven that we call purgatory, and those of us here on earth.

St. Theodora, pray for us.

— John F. Fink

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