Mother Theodore knew as a child she wanted to be a nun

At age 25, Anne-Thérèse Guérin joined the Providence order at Ruillé-sur-Loir, France

“What strength the soul draws from prayer! In the midst of a storm, how sweet is the calm it finds in the heart of Jesus.”

These words, written by Mother Theodore Guérin after surviving a violent storm at sea, perhaps best exemplify her life and ministry. Mother Theodore drew strength from prayer.

Mother Theodore—Anne-Thérèse Guérin—was born Oct. 2, 1798, in the village of Étables in France.

Her devotion to God and to the Roman Catholic Church began when she was a young child. She was allowed to receive her First Communion at the age of 10 and, at that time, told the parish priest
that someday she would be a nun.

The child Anne-Thérèse was educated by her mother, Isabelle Guérin, who centered lessons on religion and Scripture. Anne-Thérèse’s father, Laurent, who served in Napoleon’s navy, was away from home for years at a time.

When Anne-Thérèse was 15 years old, her father was murdered by bandits as he traveled home to visit his family. The loss of her husband nearly overwhelmed Isabelle and, for many years, Anne-Thérèse accepted the responsibility of caring for her mother and her young sister, as well as the
family’s home and garden.

Anne-Thérèse was nearly 25 years old when she entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir, France, a young community of women religious who served as teachers and cared for the
sick poor.

While teaching and caring for the sick in France, Mother Theodore, then known as Sister St. Theodore, was asked to lead a small missionary band of Sisters of Providence to the United States of America to establish a motherhouse and novitiate, to open schools and to share the love of God with pioneers in the Diocese of Vincennes in the state of Indiana.

Humble and prone to feelings of unworthiness, Mother Theodore could not imagine that she was suitable for such a mission. In addition, her health was fragile, and she was able to consume only
soft, bland foods and liquids. Her physical condition added to her doubts about accepting the mission to the United States. Nevertheless, after hours of prayer and lengthy consultations with her superiors, she accepted the mission.

Equipped with little more than a steadfast desire to serve God, Mother Theodore and her five companion sisters arrived at the site of their mission at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind., the evening of Oct. 22, 1840, and immediately hastened along a muddy, narrow path to the tiny log cabin that served as the chapel and as the dwelling place for a priest.

There they knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to thank God for their safe journey and to ask for God’s blessings for the new mission.

Here, on this hilly, ravine-cut, densely forested land, Mother Theodore would establish a motherhouse, a school and a legacy of love, mercy and justice that continues to this day.

Throughout years of sorrow and years of peace, Mother Theodore relied on God’s Providence and her own ingenuity and faith for counsel and guidance. She urged Sisters of Providence: “Put
yourself gently into the hands of Providence.”

In letters to France, she stated, “But our hope is in the Providence of God, which has protected us until the present, and which will provide, somehow, for our future needs.”

In the fall of 1840, the mission at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods consisted only of the log cabin chapel and a small frame farmhouse where Mother Theodore, the sisters from France and several postulants lived.

During that first winter, harsh winds blew from the north to rattle the little farmhouse. The sisters were often cold and frequently hungry. But they transformed a porch into a chapel and were comforted by the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in the humble motherhouse.

Mother Theodore said, “With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?”

During the early years at Saint Maryof- the-Woods, Mother Theodore encountered numerous trials: prejudice against Catholics and, especially, against Catholic women religious; betrayals; misunderstandings; the separation of the congregation in Indiana from the one in Ruillé; a devastating fire that destroyed an entire harvest, leaving the sisters destitute and hungry; and frequent life-threatening illnesses.

Still she persevered, desiring only that “in all and everywhere may the will of God be done.”

Less than a year after arriving at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Mother Theodore opened the congregation’s first academy, which now is known as Saint Mary-of-the- Woods College. In 1842, she established schools at Jasper and St. Mary-of-the-Woods Village in Indiana and at St. Francisville, Ill.

By the time of her death on May 14, 1856, Mother Theodore had opened schools in towns throughout Indiana, and the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence was strong, viable and

Mother Theodore is buried in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. †

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