January 12, 2007

Religious Vocations Supplement

New Providence sisters reflect on St. Theodora

By Dave Cox

Special to The Criterion

SAINT MARY-OF-THE-WOODS—Anita Owens was accepted into the Sisters of Providence postulancy on Sept. 14, 2006. A month later, the congregation’s foundress, St. Theodora Guérin, was canonized in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI.

Talk about the pinnacle of excitement!

“I have entered the Sisters of Providence at an extremely special time,” Owens said. “Mother Theodore’s legacy inspired me to live out my ideals in a dynamic way.

“I have to try to live up to the legacy of Mother Theodore’s sainthood. To those to whom much is given, much is expected. What a wonderful role model we have in our foundress.”

As the world begins to know and understand more about St. Theodora, the interest of women in initial formation with the congregation has intensified.

Providence Sister Regina Gallo, who entered the congregation in 2001, said she felt especially drawn to St. Theodora while attending Mother Theodore Guérin High School in River Grove, Ill.

“I developed a deep love for her, a deep bond to her,” Sister Regina said. “Her courage and the way she dealt with adversity in her life, and how she handled those things with such grace is always an inspiration to me.”

Sister Regina believes the canonization is a profound moment for the congregation but, for her personally, it’s only confirmation of her devotion to St. Theodora.

“The fact that she was proclaimed a saint is really not a huge factor for me. It’s more about how she lived her life. She’s always been a saint to me,” Sister Regina said. “It’s about the path we take. It so happened she was on a path to become a public saint, whereas I am on a path to turn to her as an example of strength to do what I need to do to serve God’s people with love, mercy and justice.”

Having a saintly role model has stimulated deeper faith and spirituality for those who aspire to follow in her footsteps.

“It feels to me that we are being called toward boldness in this time as Mother Theodore was a woman of boldness. We are called to be risk-takers as Mother Theodore was a risk-taker,” said recently professed Providence Sister Beth Wright.

“Maybe we are being called to walk to the edge and cross over as Mother Theodore did, moving into a new land, into the unknown with the trust of Providence to guide us. Who knows what one will ‘become’ when one lets go and chooses to trust in Providence.”

Providence Sister Patty Wallace, currently serving as a mission novice, said “Mother Theodore calls me to think about what it means to be a Sister of Providence in the world today. She is a wonderful example of living with integrity and living the Gospel. The canonization is a unique opportunity in the history of the congregation to share our lives more globally.”

Celebrations continue in small ways to honor St. Theodora as parishes and diocesan groups pay homage to her life, her devotion to God and her accomplishments.

But the celebrations are also a gateway to the future as more and more people offer devotion to the Church’s newest saint. As the future beckons, the sisters, both young and old, are eager to share their foundress with the world.

“The people where I work are mainly non-Catholic, but in a setting of a Catholic school, [and] have responded with a lot of curiosity and enthusiasm,” said Sister Patty. “Many groups and people are claiming connections to Mother Theodore and the congregation and individual sisters and their ministries.”

“Mother Theodore is in each Sister of Providence. Her spirit is alive as is her dedication to God. She had a willingness and openness to reach out to people, be a voice for the voiceless,” said Sister Regina. “Her daughters keep her spirit alive today. We are doing it in unique ways. We have such vast ministries.

“Some of us are doing it in ecological ways, some are doing it in social justice ways. The commonality is to embrace each person we come in contact with. It may be in the largest of ways, or the smallest of ways; very subtle ways, or the ways more publicly seen.”

Owens remains optimistic about the future and recognizes the challenges ahead.

“Mother Theodore is a woman of enormous spiritual strength, compassion, faith and love,” she said. “We must keep up with the faithful who desire to have holy reminders of St. Mother Theodore.

“The Sisters of Providence have always strived to be the very best they can be, and to be of service to others. I believe now we are all conscious of the fact that we are all called to live as saints. We take her sainthood seriously and we want to live up to the responsibility.”

Sister Beth also is focused on her daily ministry and future challenges.

“How do I, as an individual, and we, as a community, stretch ourselves at this time? What risks do we take to challenge the unjust systems in our world? What next steps are we called to help break down the stereotypes that promote prejudice and discrimination?” she asked.

“I try to fulfill my ministry every day with the passion of Mother Theodore Guérin. I’m not trying to do huge, life-shaking things. I focus on my daily commitment to love mercy and justice. I live out the challenge by starting each day to recommit my life to kindness, compassion and dependence on Providence.” †

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