October 20, 2006

St. Theodora Guérin Keepsake Edition

What Mother Theodore Guérin means to me

Stained glass window

Photo caption: As a sign of love for his parents and St. Theodora Guérin, Father James Wilmoth donated money to St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis for the creation of a stained glass window of St. Theodora that was installed in April as part of the church’s restoration and renovation.

By Sean Gallagher

Although she died 150 years ago, St. Theodora Guérin continues to send ripples through the lives of countless Catholics across the archdiocese to this very day.

Many were taught by members of the Sisters of Providence at various levels of their education and learned about the sisters’ foundress, especially on Oct. 22, the order’s Foundation Day.

Others have developed a spiritual bond with St. Theodora and sought her intercession when they or a friend or a loved one was ill.

Now that she is canonized, St. Theodora belongs to the whole world. But there is a special place for the first Hoosier saint in the hearts of many Catholics in central and southern Indiana.

The following stories show what St. Theodora means to three archdiocesan Catholics.

A window of memories

Each day when Father James Wilmoth opens and closes St. Roch Church, he looks up with love at a stained-glass window of St. Theodora Guérin.

The window calls to mind the saint who has been a part of his life for 61 years and who was an inspiration for his priestly vocation.

It also reminds Father Wilmoth of his deceased parents, Dutch and Mary Jane Wilmoth. The priest paid for the window in the recently restored and renovated church with some of the money that he inherited from his mother when she died.

“I couldn’t think of any better way to spend that money than to give it to St. Roch to pay for that window,” said Father Wilmoth, the pastor of the Indianapolis South Deanery parish. “It’s very touching to me.”

Growing up in the 1940s on Indian-apolis’ near-east side, Father Wilmoth recalled his mother telling him about St. Theodora. He also learned about her from the Sisters of Providence who staffed St. Philip Neri School, where he followed in his mother’s footsteps as a student.

“Every one of our classrooms back then had a picture of Mother Theodore Guérin,” he said, “so every year as I went all the way through grade school, I learned more and more about her. She’s been very special to me since I was 6 years old.”

After completing the eighth grade, Father Wilmoth became a seminarian. His love of St. Theodora and all she did to build up Catholic schools in Indiana filled him with the desire to continue to build up Catholic education as a priest.

“All the time that I was in the seminary, Mother Theodore was someone that I always thought about,” he said. “And, of course, when I got ordained as a priest, I had the opportunity to be put in a school as a teacher. Well, that was just the neatest thing in the world because, there again, I was able to kind of continue doing what she had taught.”

In addition to teaching at the former Bishop Bruté Memorial Latin School of Indianapolis and Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, Father Wilmoth has always served in parishes that had a school. He is back serving once again as the chaplain at Roncalli.

His own legacy in Catholic education in the archdiocese is now marked in a sense in the window that portrays the holy woman who inspired him to give his life as a priest and servant of Catholic schools.

“The way she lived her life, and how she gave her life for the Lord and what she taught, for us to be able to put her image in one of these windows was a wonderful tribute to her, to Catholic education and to anybody who is a follower of Jesus,” he said.

Seeing holiness through a child’s eyes

To return to his grade-school memories of learning about St. Theodora, Father Wilmoth has to go back more than half a century.

Abbey Hensley is creating her own memories right now.

She is a third-grader at St. Malachy School in Brownsburg, and recently learned about St. Theodora.

“At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, I have now walked where a saint walked, and that makes me happy,” said Abbey, whose school was founded by the Sisters of Providence.

Abbey learned about St. Theodora from her parents and by visiting the Heritage Museum at Providence Center on the grounds of the motherhouse of the religious community that St. Theodora founded in 1840.

“I love to pray and talk to … Mother Theodore,” Abbey said. “I love Mother Theodore so much, and when I go to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods with my mom and grandma, I learn to love her more and more.”

Her love for St. Theodora has led her to share the saint’s story with others.

“I’ve told my friends about Blessed Mother Theodore and how special she was, and about how I was hoping she would become a saint,” Abbey said. “Now it’s come true.”

Keeping a promise

Julie Young knew little about St. Theodora or the religious community she founded in 1840 when she began her studies in the Women’s External Degree program at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

But “on a whim,” Young decided to visit St. Theodora’s tomb at the Sisters of Providence’s Church of the Immaculate Conception.

“I asked her to get me through my education,” said Young, a member of St. Thérèse of the Infant Jesus Parish in Indianapolis. “I literally made a deal with her and said, ‘If you get me through this, somehow I will give it back to you.’ I still believe I made a very important friend that day.”

That friendship continued to blossom throughout her time as a student at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

“In each step of that journey, I often relied on her for spiritual guidance,” Young said, “and often prayed that the canonization process would conclude so that this woman, who was so richly deserving, could become a saint.”

When she graduated last year, Young knew she had a promise to keep.

“I didn’t know if I should just donate money to the school or what would be the best way to ‘give it back’ to her,” she said. “It was then that I realized that maybe I should use my talents and my degree in writing to help others come to know Mother Guérin in the same way that I did.”

So her first book project became a youth biography of St. Theodora, which is expected to be published next spring by the Indiana Historical Society.

As The Criterion went to press, both Young and Father Wilmoth were planning to be in Rome for the canonization of the woman who has meant so much to them.

On Oct. 15, Abbey expected to be at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods celebrating the canonization with her family and the Sisters of Providence.

“Mother Theodore is a great pick for a saint,” Abbey said.†

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