October 20, 2006

St. Theodora Guérin Keepsake Edition

Pope Benedict XVI declares Mother Theodore Guérin a saint

Canonization Mass in St. Peter's Square

Photo caption: Tapestries hanging from the facade of St. Peter’s Basilica show four new saints canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Oct. 15. From left, the tapestries show Italian Sister Rosa Venerini, Mexican Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia, Italian Father Filippo Smaldone and Mother Theodore Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

By Sean Gallagher

VATICAN CITY—In a festive liturgy at St. Peter’s Square attended by Catholics from across Indiana and around the world, Pope Benedict XVI made history on Oct. 15, solemnly declaring Mother Theodore Guérin as the first canonized saint from Indiana.

According to Providence Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, it’s now up to us to fill the state with saints.

Minutes after the conclusion of the liturgy, she expressed her hope that all Hoosiers might see that becoming a saint, if not necessarily officially canonized, should be every person’s goal.

“I don’t know how that’s going to happen, but that’s my great hope,” said the sister who over the past decade helped shepherd the cause of her order’s foundress to the canonization Mass. “God wants all of us to be saints. That was the big lesson today.”

Starting in November, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein plans to take this lesson throughout the archdiocese in the coming year in eucharistic celebrations of the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin in each of the 11 deaneries.

“It will be an opportunity to make St. Theodora better known,” he said. “We can take pride in her by informing ourselves about her life and her holiness.”

Pope Benedict did just that in his homily at the Mass, telling the thousands that nearly filled St. Peter’s Square about her life as a religious, first in France, then in Indiana.

“With … great trust in divine providence, Mother Theodore overcame many challenges and persevered in the work that the Lord had called her to do,” he said.

It was this determination of St. Theodora that came to Sister Marie Kevin’s mind as she glanced up at the huge portrait of the newly declared saint that hung from the façade of St. Peter’s Basilica.

“Very frequently, I looked up [at her],” said Sister Marie Kevin, who participated in the offertory procession at the Mass. “And I saw her there as I always see her—as a woman of spiritual strength. Not just a strong woman. She was that. But she had great spiritual strength in the midst of adversity. She challenges us to imitate her in that way.”

Philip McCord walked next to Sister Marie Kevin in the offertory procession.

He is the employee of the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods whose eye ailment was cured after he sought St. Theodora’s intercession. It was this miracle, confirmed by a thorough Church investigation, which resulted in the canonization.

The night before the canonization, McCord spoke about arriving at St. Peter’s Square for a rehearsal and seeing St. Theodora’s banner.

“I was standing there with Sister Paula Damiano looking at it and [I said], ‘Is your heart beating as fast as mine is?’ ” he said. “We thought they were going to be covered. So that was a big surprise to walk in and there it was. It was so great.”

The fact that McCord could see the portrait of the woman that he daily offers a prayer of thanks was due to her intervention in his life through her prayer on his behalf to God.

“I had one good eye [before], but I was able to see it much better with two,” he said.

Although McCord has received much attention for what Indiana’s first saint did for him, he knows that he is not alone.

“She is continuing to give,” he said. “There are other stories coming in all the time of other healings and other intercessions. And as people learn about her and about what she did with her life, she’ll be there for them, too.”

The Sisters of Providence certainly hope that she will continue to be there for them. But their superior general, Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, said that this presence may very well be a challenging one.

“Now what?” she said during an interview just outside St. Peter’s Square shortly after the liturgy.

“I think that’s the question. What is ahead of us? What is the work that we have to do?”

Thoughts about the future of her own congregation might have been in her mind during the liturgy as well.

But Sister Denise, like Archbishop Buechlein and Sister Marie Kevin, also recognized that the message of the canonization of her community’s foundress was that becoming a saint is the purpose of every human life.

“To sit in that square and to be surrounded by the statues of the saints, and to have so many people who I think were there out of their own goodness and their own love of God, it made me feel as if there are an awful lot of people in this world that want to do the right thing, who want to be good.” †

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