October 30, 1998

Sisters celebrate at motherhouse as Mother Theodore Guérin is beatified

ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS—Many Sisters of Providence wiped away tears of joy Oct. 25 in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at St. Mary-of-the-Woods upon hearing the news that their beloved foundress, Mother Theodore Guérin, had been beatified by Pope John Paul II in St. Peter’s Square in Rome.

Providence Sister Diane Ris, general superior of the 158-year-old religious order, called from the Vatican with the historic news, which was announced in the motherhouse church at The Woods
just before the start of the eucharistic liturgy there celebrating Mother Theodore’s elevation to blessed.

Extended applause erupted from the sisters and others gathered in the church to honor Mother Theodore as a “strong woman of faith who relied on Providence” and a devout and courageous
“woman for our time.”

Last week, Sister Diane and a large contingent of Providence sisters traveled to Rome to join Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and archdiocesan pilgrims at the Vatican for the ceremony marking their late foundress’s beatification.

During that ceremony, Providence Sisters Joan Slobig and Margaret Ann McNamara, general officers of the congregation, presented a wooden plaque, made from a tree at The Woods, to the
Holy Father. The inscription on the plaque, taken in part from remarks by Pope John Paul II, read, “‘We must break open the cycles of despair in which are imprisoned all those that lack decent food, shelter or employment ...’”

The text continued, “On the occasion of the beatification of Mother Theodore Guérin, our foundress, we, the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, recall the generosity of the pioneer
family of St. Mary of the Woods who offered housing to Mother Theodore and her five companions when they reached the dense forests of Indiana in 1840 only to find themselves homeless. It is fitting that we, her daughters, respond now to the housing needs of our neighbors in West Terre Haute, Indiana, by establishing a revolving loan fund of $50,000 which will help to make adequate housing available to those who could not otherwise afford it.

“We present this gift in the name of Pope John Paul II, whose words challenge us: ‘The poor of the United States and of the world are your brothers and sisters in Christ. You must never be content to leave them just the crumbs from the feast. You must treat them like guests at your family table.’

“May this gift of Providence help to build a community of love, mercy and justice. 25 October 1998.”

An identical plaque was presented to the congregation last Sunday during the liturgy at the motherhouse chapel.

“I am so very happy today,” said 90-year-old Providence Sister Angela Garlat, who resides in the congregation’s infirmary at the motherhouse and was seated in a wheelchair in the church near other senior sisters.

“I am celebrating to the best of my ability,” she said. “I think this is one of the top days that she [Mother Theodore] has reached and we have reached with her. It gives me great joy to be able to be here for the liturgy.”

In praise and thanksgiving for their foundress, Sister Angela said, Sisters of Providence who are working in ministries“all over the world” are celebrating her beatification. “We’re in so many countries,” she said, “and the sisters are all celebrating to the top of their abilities. When I think of it that way, I can close my eyes and take in all of this celebration, country to country to country, going on today and tomorrow.”

Retired from teaching for many years, Sister Angela said she spends her days praying for the congregation, for vocations and for the many special intentions from people received at the motherhouse throughout the year.

“My life is totally devoted to prayer now,” she said. “This certainly is a big intention day!”

Blessed Mother Theodore—born Anne-Thérèse Guérin on Oct. 2, 1798, in the French village of Étables—traveled from France to the forests of Indiana with five Providence sisters to found St. Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute on Oct. 22, 1840.

The congregation’s history notes that, upon arriving at the densely forested site, “equipped with little more than her steadfast desire to serve God, Mother Theodore and her five companion sisters ... knelt in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament to thank God for their safe journey and to ask for God’s blessings for their new mission.”

Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods went on to found and staff schools in Indiana and elsewhere in the United States and begin a variety of other ministries.

Sacred music for the historic liturgy at the motherhouse chapel was provided by the Indiana State University Brass Ensemble and Organ and the Sisters of Providence Choir and Hand Bell Choir, assisted by St. Mary-of-the-Woods College students.

Father Lawrence Richardt, chaplain of St. Mary-of-the-Woods Convent and Motherhouse, concelebrated the liturgy with Msgr. John Minta, a retired diocesan priest and former chaplain of the order.

During the liturgy, Providence Sister Nancy Nolan, former general superior of the order, paid tribute to Mother Theodore’s life, mission and ministry. “Mother Theodore has been declared blessed by the Church,” Sister Nancy said. “‘This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.’

“This is the day the words of Scripture are fulfilled for us,” she said. “This is the day Pope John Paul II lifts up the life and virtues of Anne-Thérèse Guérin to the universal Church and proclaims her blessed. This is the day we acknowledge the power of the life and love of one woman to transform the lives of many.

“This woman who labored only 16 years in the place called St. Mary-of-the-Woods has packed this church today and has caused over 400 pilgrims from all over the world to descend on Rome to sing her praises. It is amazing. It is awesome. It touches a deep place in one’s soul.”

However, Sister Nancy said, “Mother Theodore doesn’t get all the credit! The unique spirit that was hers was embodied in her sisters, in the lives they lived, in the institutions they founded, in the people they loved, cared for and ministered with and to. Yes, the legacy of Mother Theodore Guérin has been alive and well and has expressed itself in the lives of many.

“Today we rejoice for Mother Theodore, but also for ourselves and all those Sisters of Providence and friends of the congregation, who from the day Mother Theodore died, until the present, kept her spirit alive in themselves and in their works of love, mercy and justice. We knew we had someone special, a valiant woman, whose life and virtues have the power to transform ... and today we share
her with the universal Church.” †


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