Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
By Fatima Linda Depina
St. Theodore (Anne-Therese) Guerin was born October 2, 1798, in a village in France. Her parents were Laurent Guerin, an officer in the French Navy under Napoleon Bonaparte, and Isabelle Guerin, a home mother. Anne-Therese was born near the end of the French Revolution, which had torn France apart and caused lots of crisis among Catholics that forced schools and churches to close. Her parents had four children, but only two — Anne-Therese and Marie-Jeanne — survived. Anne-Therese was home schooled by her mother. At the age of 10, she took her First Communion, which was two years earlier than the norm. On the day of her First Communion, she told a priest that one day she wanted to be a nun. When Anne-Thérèse was 15, her father was murdered by robbers on his way home to visit his family. The grief was too much for her mother, who already had lost two children, and she fell into a deep depression. For 10 years, Anne-Therese took care of her mother and sister, as well as the family's home and garden. At the age of 20, Anne-Therese asked for her mother's blessing to join a religious order, but Isabelle was still unable to cope with her losses, so therefore she refused.
But five years later, she noticed Anne-Therese's strong devotion and permitted her to join the convent. Anne Therese entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruille-sur-Loir in 1823 at the age of 25. She took the name of Sister St. Theodore. There, she educated children and cared for the sick and poor in France for 17 years. She was an excellent teacher and was recognized for her skills. Through visitation of the sick, she learned the basics of medicine and remedies from a local doctor. While in Ruille she became extremely sick and nearly died. Her only way to recover was to take a remedy that would forever damage her digestive system. Due to this cure, she was never able to eat solid foods and lived on only soft foods and liquids.
While teaching and caring for the sick in France, Sister St. Theodore was asked to lead a small missionary band of Sisters of Providence to the United States of America. Sister St. Theodore was unsure of her own abilities at first to complete such a mission, but after she prayed and thought about it, she accepted it. On July 12, 1840 Sister St. Theodore and five other Sisters of Providence of Ruille, left France for the new journey. They were sent to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, to establish a motherhouse, to teach and to care for the sick poor. They arrived to midst of the forest, no village, not even a house in sight. Instead was a tiny log cabin chapel that also served as a home for a priest, and a small farm house, where Sister St. Theodore, other sisters from France, and several postulants lived. During that first winter, the farmhouse was slowly falling apart due to strong winds. The sisters were often cold and hungry. Mother Theodore (as she became known in Indiana) and her companions realized the great need for religious instruction and education, and in less than a year after arriving at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, they opened an academy for girls on July 4, 1841.
Before Mother Theodore died on May 14, 1856 she established eleven schools in Indiana, and one in Saint Francisville in Illinois. She also founded two orphanages in Vincennes, Indiana. She opened pharmacies where medicines were distributed for free to the poor at Vincennes and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
I have come to understand the importance of St. Mother Theodore Guerin's influence to our lives. Her example of trusting in God's plan and not our own is the most important lesson we can learn. When she arrived in Indiana she did not have it easy. Prejudice against Catholics and, especially, against Catholic women religious; misunderstandings; the separation of the Congregation in Indiana from one in Ruille; but she often said to other sisters “With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?”
Mother Theodore Guerin is a beautiful spiritual figure and a model of the Christian life. She has taught us to be patient and humble and do all that God wants us to do. There are times when we plan things our way, but it ends up being totally different when time comes. I have come to the conclusion that the only way for us to get the best result is to do what he has called us to do. And of course we have that question in our minds, “what is it that God wants me to do?” Well, the way I see it is that, as situations pop up in our daily lives we have to take actions immediately. As long as we do what is right in God’s eyes for the moment, He will lead us to the next step. Let’s not forget that while we are taking those baby steps, Lucifer is trying hard to take us away from God. As Mother Guerin would say, “In all and everywhere may the will of God be done.” God’s work gets done by people ready to take risks and to work hard, always remembering what St. Paul told the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). If we have the courage to follow the model as Mother Guerin did, giving everything, all our cares and aspirations to Christ, we too can be Saints!
In 1998, during her beatification, Pope John Paul II said, “The life of Blessed Theodore Guérin is a testimony that everything is possible with God and for God.”
It is my desire, hope, and prayer that each of us will have the courage, faith, and confidence to give every day, its good and its bad, to our Lord to let Him direct our lives in His providence.
She was canonized saint by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.