October 20, 2006

St. Theodora Guérin Keepsake Edition

Indiana pilgrims see new saint as impetus to strive for holiness

Pilgrims at the canonization Mass on Oct. 15.

Photo caption: Members of a pilgrimage organized by the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods wave blue scarves as a sign of their joy at the canonization of the community’s foundress, Mother Theodore Guérin, at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on Oct. 15.

By Sean Gallagher

VATICAN CITY—Pilgrimage groups from Indiana and across the country joined pilgrims from Taiwan and France in Rome on Oct. 15 to celebrate the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin, the 19th-century foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“Aside from getting married and having my kids, this is probably the most awesome moment in my life,” said Julie Bowers, a participant in the archdiocesan canonization pilgrimage.

In part, it had deep meaning for Bowers because of her love for education, which she shows as principal of St. Patrick School in Terre Haute.

She had been taught by members of the Sisters of Providence and saw one of her elementary school principals, Providence Sister Martha Joseph Wessel, participate in an Oct. 14 vespers service in honor of Indiana’s first saint held at the Church of the Gesu in Rome.

“It was just one of those full-circle moments,” Bowers said.

Bowers planned to share her canonization experience with the students at her school through a weblog that she looked forward to writing on the pilgrimage.

“We’re all called to holiness,” she said. “I hope that they can see that this is a way that an ordinary person lived an extraordinary life, and that they can emulate that in their life, too.”

That was what Bowers wanted for the young students under her care, and it was the same goal for a 79-year-old retired director of religious education who attended the canonization as part of the archdiocesan pilgrimage.

Pat Mayer directed the catechetical ministry at St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis for 18 years, and earned a master’s degree from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in 1988.

She said the canonization of St. Theodora made her want to be a saint, too.

“You try to live the life that is saint-like,” Mayer said. “You try to be a good person. And God gives you a lot of strength.”

One-hundred twenty Sisters of Providence also made their way to Rome for the canonization of their foundress.

One was Providence Sister Jane Gibson, who ministers to the elderly at St. Rita Parish in Indiana-polis.

“It’s a dream that’s come true. I never thought that I would see this,” said Sister Jane, who has been a member of the order for 53 years.

Although she has striven for holiness as a religious for more than half a century, the canonization led Sister Jane to say enthusiastically how much she still wants to be like St. Theodora in her ministry.

“I hope that I can be like Mother Theodore and walk in the footsteps of Jesus as I go along and look at each one and say, ‘You’re made from God and I love you,’ ” she said.

After the liturgy, as the thousands of worshippers flooded out of the square, some who came to celebrate St. Theodora’s canonization were separated from their friends.

Among them was Providence Sister Barbara Doherty. Yet while she was concerned about being separated and scanned the large piazza in search of her companions, her heart was still aglow with the power of the Mass.

She had been part of a choir for the Mass made up of Sisters of Providence that sat close to the altar directly in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. The group sat under a banner of her community’s foundress that hung from the church’s façade.

“The moment after [Pope Benedict XVI] pronounced the canonization, I turned around and was weeping looking up at her,” Sister Barbara said. “I was right underneath her.”

From her spot at the top of the square, the sister who served as president of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College from 1984-98 could also see the thousands of people from around the world who had come to celebrate St. Theodora and the three others canonized by Pope Benedict. Mexican Bishop Rafael Guizar Valencia, Italian Father Filippo Smaldone and Italian Sister Rosa Venerini were also declared saints by the pope.

“I’m very grateful for more people to hear about her [St. Theodora] all the time,” Sister Barbara said. “And I hope we can spread her name and her goodness across the world in any way that we know how.”

There was a large contingent from Mexico among the worshippers. They were there in part to celebrate the canonization of St. Rafael Guizar Valencia, a bishop of Vera Cruz, Mexico, who died in 1938 after ministering for two decades under constant oppression from the Mexican government.

Diane McKeever, a member of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis and a participant in the archdiocesan pilgrimage, appreciated the international makeup of the liturgy’s massive congregation.

“Whenever you’re with people from other countries, it’s an opportunity to learn about their culture and to share that, especially with your family,” she said. “In my case, I feel it’s important because I do belong to a center-city parish. And we’re blessed to have a lot of children from Mexico. And we had a Mexican bishop canonized.”

In the end, McKeever echoed the sentiments of many Hoosier pilgrims in expressing her near disbelief that she saw the canonization of Indiana’s first saint.

“It’s the event of a lifetime,” she said. “I never thought I would be at a canonization, and especially to have the privilege of attending one for a saint from our own state, to have our archbishop here and all the priests—it was a wonderful experience that I’ll never forget. †


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