October 20, 2006

St. Theodora Guérin Keepsake Edition

A dream come true: At Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, churchgoers celebrate new saint

A sister dresses up like St. Theodora

Photo caption: Providence Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, dressed as St. Theodora Guérin, congratulates Providence Sister Agnes Pauline Meinert on her 90th birthday on Oct. 15, the same day that the foundress of the congregation was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Square in Rome. The sisters were enjoying dinner at the motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods following an 11 a.m. eucharistic liturgy for the local celebration of the canonization.

By Mary Ann Wyand

SAINT MARY-OF-THE WOODS—Providence Sister Agnes Pauline Meinert received a special birthday present this year.

St. Theodora Guérin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI at St. Peter’s Square in Rome on Oct. 15, which also was Sister Agnes Pauline’s 90th birthday.

The canonization was “icing on the cake” for Sister Agnes Pauline, who couldn’t believe that this historic and spiritual event happened on her birthday.

“In the summertime,” she said, “when the Holy Father announced that the canonization would take place on Oct. 15, I hollered, ‘That’s my birthday!’ ”

It was a birthday wish and longtime dream come true, Sister Agnes Pauline said after the 11 a.m. eucharistic liturgy at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at the motherhouse, which began seven hours after the formal canonization Mass at the Vatican.

The motherhouse church was filled for the liturgy, which included a brief message from Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the congregation, who called from Rome after the canonization.

Father Daniel Hopcus, chaplain of the congregation and celebrant for the Mass, began the liturgy by telling the sisters and guests at the motherhouse that Sister Denise said, “Everything [at the canonization] was beautiful, and she was holding everyone at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in her heart and prayers.”

During his homily, Father Hopcus noted that the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time was an extraordinary day for the Sisters of Providence.

Mother Theodore dedicated her life to serving others because she loved God, he said, and never doubted that she was doing God’s work.

“Faced with countless obstacles and setbacks, [Mother Theodore] founded this community in the shadow of the cross,” Father Hopcus said. “[She knew that] if this community that she was establishing was going to last … it would be established on the cross.”

He said Mother Theodore’s canonization “serves as a reminder of her solidarity with all the Sisters of Providence, who God has called to live the life of a saint … to the best of their ability.”

Providence Sister Mary Beth Klingel welcomed the gathering at the start of the Mass.

“Words cannot capture in any way our great joy and the significance of this event,” Sister Mary Beth explained. “Mother Theodore is now a saint of the universal Church, but what a unique privilege it is for all the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, for the State of Indiana and for the United States of America to claim her as our own.”

The Mass was a prelude to the Canonization Liturgy of Thanksgiving for Foundation Day on Oct. 22 at the motherhouse church, which will include Providence sisters who journeyed to Rome for the historic ceremony.

Before and after the Mass, sisters and guests waited in line to venerate the remains of the French-born missionary sister who became the eighth U.S. saint and first Indiana saint earlier that day.

Father Joseph Kern, dean of the Terre Haute Deanery, had already celebrated Masses on Saturday and Sunday so he attended the liturgy as “one of the people of God” in the pews.

The canonization of their foundress is “a real joy, a glorious day, for the sisters,” Father Kern said. “I don’t like to try to predict what the Lord is going to do, but hopefully it will help vocations to the religious life and priesthood.”

Archdiocesan seminarian Rick Nagel, a member of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh, spent three days at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for a spiritual retreat to prepare for his ordination to the diaconate by Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein on Oct. 28 at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad.

“I came here with two other [Saint Meinrad] seminarians from Phoenix and South Korea because we’re going to be ordained deacons in two weeks,” Nagel said. “We thought, ‘What a beautiful time to celebrate the canonization of St. Mother Theodore Guérin.’ ”

Nagel said it was very humbling to venerate her remains.

“I just keep thinking about her words and what it means to become a saint,” he said. “It’s nothing extraordinary, just the ordinary things of everyday life, but to do them with a great love for God.”

Providence Sister Eileen Ann Kelley, a retired sister who read the first reading for the liturgy, said after the Mass that Mother Theodore’s canonization was “beyond description” and she feels overwhelmed by it.

“I never thought I would live to see it happen so I have shed more than one tear,” Sister Eileen Ann said. “I think it’s going to have such an impact upon us individually and as a community, and also upon many, many other people. She’s such an inspiration.”

Providence Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp, president of the new Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis—a work-study ministry of the congregation that will serve low-income students—dressed as St. Theodora to greet sisters and visitors.

“Mother Theodore’s mission, the reason she came to Indiana, was to work among the poor, particularly children,” Sister Jeanne said. “It’s particularly humbling for me to be here today and to know that I’m walking in her footsteps.”

Sister Jeanne said many sisters got up at 4 a.m. on Sunday to watch the Eternal Word Television Network’s live coverage of the canonization Mass then prayed together at the original gravesite of their foundress at the motherhouse cemetery.

Images and artwork of St. Theodora were on display at the Providence Center and Shrine of Our Lady of Providence at the motherhouse, and new road signs decorated portions of U.S. 150 that Gov. Mitch Daniels recently renamed “St. Mother Theodore Guerin Memorial Highway.”

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College senior Lindsey Richardt, a member of Mary, Queen of Peace Parish in Danville, helped greet visitors at the Providence Center and Shrine of Our Lady of Providence with three other members of the student presidential corps.

“It’s really, really great to be a student on campus right now,” Richardt said. “I love St. Mary’s and feel really honored to be here. It’s very prestigious to attend a school founded by a saint.” †


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