February 2, 2007

St. Theodora’s educational legacy honored at Masses

Seventh-grade students from St. Jude School in Indianapolis clap their hands during a hymn at the Jan. 24 Mass at St. Jude Church honoring St. Theodora Guérin. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

Seventh-grade students from St. Jude School in Indianapolis clap their hands during a hymn at the Jan. 24 Mass at St. Jude Church honoring St. Theodora Guérin. (Photo by Mike Krokos)

By Sean Gallagher and Mike Krokos

(Listen to this story being read)

RICHMOND AND INDIANAPOLIS—The fruits of her labor can be seen in many parts of Indiana.

From Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to the former St. Mary School in Richmond to St. Jude School in Indianapolis and several places in between, St. Theodora Guérin’s mission to educate young people laid the foundation for thousands of Catholic school students.

That legacy was at the forefront as Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein presided at two more deanery Masses—on Jan. 23 at St. Mary Church in Richmond in the Connersville Deanery and Jan. 24 at St. Jude Church in Indianapolis’ South Deanery—to celebrate St. Theodora’s canonization.

“She was a holy woman whose whole life was given to Jesus and prayer,”Archbishop Buechlein told those who attended the Jan. 24 Mass.

“We walk in her footsteps. We have to pass on what we have learned from her,” he said.

The St. Jude School Mass included students from Central Catholic, St. Barnabas, St. Roch, St. Mark, St. Jude, Holy Name, Nativity and Roncalli High School, all in Indianapolis, and Our Lady of the Greenwood and SS. Francis & Clare, both in Greenwood.

Several Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods were present, including Sister Marie Kevin Tighe, who served as vice postulator for St. Theodora’s canonization cause, and Sister Agnes Virginia Arvin, who served as St. Jude School’s first principal.

The sisters taught at the former St. Mary School in Richmond for 103 years, beginning their tenure there in 1870, just 14 years after their foundress, St. Theodora, died.

Mary Stragand taught with the sisters in the school for nearly 25 years, and continued teaching there until 1981.

When she learned that a Mass in honor of St. Theodora’s canonization would be celebrated in Richmond in the church next door to where she taught for three decades, she knew she had to come.

“[The sisters] were wonderful people and had such a good sense of humor,” Stragand said. “They were so good.

“I was married and had a family. So when they’d leave after school to go home for their prayers, they’d say, ‘Well, we’ll pray for you.’ ”

Stragand got to know the sisters well, especially when she would drive them from Richmond to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

She was sad to see them end their educational ministry at St. Mary Parish in 1973, but she knew that it would continue.

“They had built such a [strong] foundation that we were able to carry on,” Stragand said.

The legacy of St. Theodora and the Sisters of Providence continues today in the three parishes that make up the Richmond Catholic Community in St. Elizabeth Ann Seton School for grade school students and Seton Catholic High School, which last spring celebrated its first graduating class.

Joseph Linginfelter is an eighth-grader at Seton Catholic High School. He was proud

to be an altar server for the Jan. 23 Mass at which Archbishop Buechlein was the primary celebrant.

“It was an amazing experience,” Joseph said. “This is the first saint that came from Indiana, and I find it an honor to serve with the archbishop at a Mass dedicated to her.”

The following day, students who attended the South Deanery Mass at St. Jude Church echoed the same sentiment.

“I really admire what she [St. Theodora] did,” said Abby Hedrick, an eighth-grader at St. Jude who sang in the school’s combined choir for the Mass.

“Even though she got sick, she carried on with her duties,” said classmate Noriel Dalman.

“All she had was her faith in God,” Abby added.

Helen Stephon felt St. Theodora played a role in her making it to the St. Jude School Mass.

The St. Barnabas parishioner saw a notice for the South Deanery Mass in a recent Roncalli High School newsletter. She normally works on Wednesday, but unexpectedly got the day off.

“That was a gift from St. Theodora,” she said. “I felt called to go to it, and it worked out.

“It [the Mass] was so beautiful.”

(For a schedule of future deanery Masses in honor of the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin, log on to www.archindy.org/guerin.) †

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