January 28, 2005

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin is a model
for today’s educators

When I think of the teachers and administrators and volunteers of our Catholic schools, I think of the admonition of Christ: “Anyone who wants to be great among you must be your servant, and anyone who wants to be first among you must be your slave.” As leaders of Catholic education, our educators know the reality of service. They deserve our recognition and gratitude.

If we are to choose someone as a model for our service in the teaching ministry of our local Church, no one would be more appropriate than Blessed Mother Theodore Guérin, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

In 1840, in response to a request from the bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes, she led a group of five sisters to the United States to establish the Sisters of Providence and to teach the children of our ancestral pioneers. We can only imagine how difficult those first years in the wilderness must have been. Some of Mother Theodore’s feelings during that time are reflected in an excerpt from her personal journal. She wrote: “Truly we have much to suffer in our deep forest … having no other support, no other consoler than God alone.”

Within a year after arriving at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Mother Theodore established a motherhouse, a novitiate and an academy. As the years passed, she opened schools, missions (and an orphanage) throughout Indiana. During those early years, she created a program of education that today is regarded as remarkable for its anticipation of future needs. She distinguished herself in the formation of religious teachers. She once wrote to her sisters: “Ours is a preparation for the generation that will succeed us and eminent good will be done this way by us. You may not live to see it, but you will have sown the seed.”

Blessed Mother Theodore died in 1856. On her tombstone at the Woods is the inscription: “Ego dormio, sed cor meum vigilat super hanc domum quam aedificavi.” (“I sleep but my heart watches over this house which I have built.”)

I think we would do well to distill from a holy woman of our own archdiocese some significant points for our reflection as descendants in the tradition of Catholic education.

Administration of our teaching mission is participation in a servant ministry. Sometimes we can say with Mother Theodore, “Truly we have much to suffer in our deep forest … ” Human service and suffering are often companions. Jesus asked his disciples, “Can you drink this cup which I must drink?” As for Jesus, as for Blessed Mother Theodore, our consoler must be God. And so my first point in imitation of the great educator, Mother Theodore: We must turn to God for strength in the challenges and hard work of our teaching mission.

Secondly, Mother Theodore saw the importance of good Catholic education for the immigrant pioneers. She instinctively saw the role of good education in the home missionary territory. Indiana is still missionary territory, perhaps more so today than ever before. We share the commitment of Blessed Mother Theodore to offer specifically Catholic education as a key to freedom from the limitations of every type of poverty, whether material or spiritual.

Thirdly, Mother Theodore acknowledged the tremendous importance of forming good religious educators. We can do no less. The teaching of the Catholic faith is the ultimate justification for Catholic education in our schools and in all of our parish religion education programs.

Fourthly, Blessed Mother Theodore said: “Ours is a preparation for the generation that will succeed us and eminent good will be done this way by us. You may not live to see it, but you will have sown the seed.”

That is a great challenge for us parents, administrators and teachers—to live with the reality that rarely do we see the full impact of our service. Mother Theodore has it right, though. I will never forget my amazement when my mother died. She had taught third- and fourth-graders for years. I can’t tell you how many of her former students came to pay their grateful respect for her. We sow the seed. The mission of Catholic education requires much faith and much patience.

But aren’t we blessed! We have a patroness who pioneered the way for what we now do for the mission of education in our archdiocese. On her memorial stone, we have her words: “I sleep but my heart watches over this house which I have built.” We are part of the tradition of her “house.” We are blessed to have a model who showed us how to be great, to serve and not to be served in the teaching mission of our Church. And we have a powerful patroness close to home!

Let’s get to know her in prayer. †

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