September 21, 2007

New statue, Mass in Terre Haute honor St. Theodora

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein stands in prayer on Sept. 12 after blessing a statue of St. Theodora Guérin in the courtyard at St. Joseph University Church in Terre Haute.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein stands in prayer on Sept. 12 after blessing a statue of St. Theodora Guérin in the courtyard at St. Joseph University Church in Terre Haute.

By Mary Ann Wyand

TERRE HAUTE—Nestled in a shady nook in the courtyard of historic St. Joseph University Church, a new statue of St. Theodora Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence

of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, marks the site of a former girls’ school she founded in 1848.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein blessed and dedicated the Indiana saint’s statue on Sept. 12 near a statue of St. Joseph in the brick courtyard before celebrating a Mass of Thanksgiving for St. Theodora with Catholics from the Terre Haute Deanery and Providence sisters who filled all the church pews.

Founded in 1838, St. Joseph University Parish serves Terre Haute Catholics as well as college students at nearby Indiana State University.

St. Theodora—lovingly called St. Mother Theodore by Providence sisters—stopped for Mass at the church with her sisters in 1840 before traveling on to the woods west of Terre Haute for the first time, where she founded a motherhouse and established a school. Records indicate that she often went to Mass at the church.

Conventual Franciscan Father Richard Kaley, pastor, welcomed Archbishop Buechlein, Terre Haute Mayor Kevin Burke, Providence sisters and hundreds of Catholics from west-central Indiana to the dedication and Mass.

“We’re very pleased to have the

opportunity … to have the statue,” Father Richard said, “and have Archbishop Buechlein here to bless it in this spot, which has a lot of history.”

Providence Sister Denise Wilkinson, general superior of the congregation, said before the dedication that she appreciates the love that so many people have expressed for St. Mother Theodore and all her sisters through the years.

Sister Denise said she is grateful for “the appreciation that the people of St. Joseph Parish have for Mother Theodore, that they have erected this statue … and that they feel so much a part of her legacy and her life. … She’s the source of all that love.”

In his homily, Archbishop Buechlein recalled St. Theodora’s canonization Mass in Rome on Oct. 15, 2006, as “a grand and solemn day, not only for the universal Church, not only for the Sisters of Providence, but for the Church in central and southern Indiana.”

He encouraged Catholics to pray to St Theodora, who demonstrated an “all-consuming love for God” and was named the patroness of the archdiocese by the Holy See.

“Mother was a pioneer missionary during the infancy of the archdiocese,” he said. “She was the virtual founder of Catholic education and religious formation in our part of the world. We owe her a great debt of gratitude. ... She is recognized as an extraordinarily holy woman whose entire life was given to Jesus in prayer. … She lived a heroic and spiritual life, and it’s important for us to know that she is our friend. … Remember, especially in times of need, that she prays for us. We are truly blessed.”

After the liturgy, Father Richard expressed gratitude for St. Theodora and “the example of faith that she showed us—her trust in Providence and her dedication to her mission and the way that she poured out her life for others.”

Providence Sister Ann Margaret O’Hara, former general superior, said pilgrims from all over the world have visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods to venerate St. Theodora’s remains.

“It’s really special to know that she was here [at St. Joseph Church] and lived among us,” Sister Ann Margaret said. “She was very much a part of the Terre Haute community.”

Providence Sister Connie Kramer, parish life coordinator of St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute, said she was thrilled to participate in the deanery Mass.

“This was home for her and it’s only right to come home to celebrate [her sainthood],” she said. “I’m very grateful that St. Joseph Church was here for her, and that her love for the Eucharist was so deep that she could worship in this very church on the morning she began her ministry in this area. That is very precious to me today because 43 years ago [on Sept. 12] I entered the community of the Sisters of Providence.”

Sister Connie said she is also “glad to see the people of Terre Haute keep her dream alive. … They work together well. They worship well. They care for one another. They are welcoming people. And that’s what she taught us to do. … She came to care for the poor and the sick and to educate children so that’s what we’re doing in God’s name and St. Mother Theodore’s name.” †

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