Saint Mother Theodore, a study on perseverance against all odds in the order of the Prophets of the Old Testament, like King David, Nehemiah and Isiah.
“We are notcalled upon to do all the good possible, but only that which we can do.” Saint Mother Theodore
October 3rd is the Feast Day of Theodora Guerin. Theodora Guérin (1798-1856,) remembered as a woman devoted to prayer, an educator, caregiver and leader. She was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006, who summed up her life saying: “With great trust in divine providence, she overcame many challenges and persevered in the work that the Lord had called her to do.”
Indeed, Saint Theodora’s life not only shows great trust in the Divine Providence but is an illustration of perseverance in the face of adversity and opposition, not unlike the prophet Nehemiah.
The phrase “No good deed goes unpunished” is a sardonic commentary on the frequency with which acts of kindness backfire on those who offer them. In other words, those who help others are doomed to suffer as a result of their helpfulness. We can be sure thar opposition will come, in one form or another. Sometimes it comes in a very subtle manner, and at other times it comes through strong, open resistance. In the work place, it may be the Not Invented Here Syndrome – a challenge to our ideas or proposals. In our families, it may be a retaliation against our principles. And in faith, opposition may come as a mockery or even a threat.
King David knew the severity of opposition and experienced it regularly throughout his reign. More than once, he fled into the mountains, fearing for his life. Frequently, such as in Psalm 3, he cried out to God over the extreme opposition he faced.
The Book of Nehemiah contains several classic examples of opposition encountered by a man called by the Lord to accomplish a specific task. Nehemiah committed his problems to the Lord, faced the issues, and emerged victorious.
As opposition came, Nehemiah faced it squarely. He cried out to the Lord for help and then made sound decisions. He did not allow himself to be intimidated by the opposition or the people who caused it. The end result was victory. The people of Jerusalem had their protective walls, and the city was safe again.
Some of the challenges faced by St Mother Throdore were described in a February 4, 2021 virtual presentation hosted by the Sisters of Providence, titled
During the presentation, Sister Jan Craven noted that it was important to understand St. Mother Theodore had a lot of suffering before she came to Indiana in 1840 at the age of 42 to start a mission to educate pioneer children. But perhaps the suffering she faced in a new country, with new culture, as a business entrepreneur pale in comparison
As a young girl, Anne-Therese Guérin experienced the loss of two brothers and her father.
She became Sister St. Theodore after taking vows with the Sisters of Providence in Ruille, France. There, she formed a close bond and significant friendship with the general superior, Mother Mary LeCoeur, but misunderstanding led to Mother Mary withdrawing her friendship from Sister St. Theodore. At times, the rupture in their friendship almost crushed the young Sister Theodora, and its duration made it more poignant. All during her early trials in America, Mother Theodore stood almost alone.
Sister Jan spoke of Mother Theodore’s anxiety about the future of the community for all kinds of reasons. She was distressed at the prejudice she felt from the people; she felt isolated from France and Mother Mary, who wouldn’t answer her letters for months.
Then, there was a conflict with the bishop. His disagreements with, lack of support , and disrespect for Mother Theodore were so great that at one point, he locked her in a room for the day and excommunicated her from the congregation she founded.
Despite the treatment Sister Theodora was subjected to, when the bishop released her from the room, she kissed his ring and bowed and showed him great respect.
Then, there was a devastating fire that destroyed the community in October 1842. The small community was just beginning to feel they had a chance to succeed. They had pupils, and they had a good harvest stored in their barns for the upcoming winter. The fire set by an arsonist destroyed everything, the barn, the harvest, and all the farming implements.
At this time, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was a separated congregation from the one in Ruille. Mother Theodore had to seek funds to restore the community on her own.
According to Helen Flavin, Mother Theodore’s life illustrates the peace and joy of walking with God, who says, “I will hold you by the hand and watch over you – Isaiah 42:6.”
Mother Theodore can inform our lives. She walked with Divine Providence. She showed in life that, though it seems we’re walking in the dark, we are moving forward, fully participating in God’s plan for our lives.
Flavin noted that life’s challenges offer an opportunity to turn away or to keep walking and trusting in God. Mother Theodore shared the peace and joy she found in trusting in Providence.
Mother Theodore and her community persevered despite fires, crop failures, prejudice against Catholic women religious, misunderstandings, and separation from their original religious congregation. She once told her sisters, “Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us. The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly. Do not press matters; be patient, be trustful.” Another time she asked, “With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?”
Saint Mother Theodore, nee Anne-Thérèse Guérin was born near the end of the French Revolution, a period of significant change that caused a crisis within French Catholicism, when schools and churches were closed, and many Catholic priests chose exile over death, on 2 October 1798, in the village of Étables-sur-Mer in Brittany, France, to Laurent Guérin, an officer in the French Navy under Napoleon Bonaparte, and Isabelle Lefèvre Guérin
Anne-Thérèse knew from an early age that she would devote her life to serving God. When Guérin was fifteen, bandits robbed and killed her father as he was traveling home to visit his family. As a result, her mother fell into a deep depression. The teenaged Anne-Thérèse accepted the responsibility of caring for her mother and sister. Around the age of twenty, Guérin asked for her mother’s blessing to join a religious order, but Isabelle was still unable to cope with her loss and refused. Five years later, Isabelle recognized the depth of Anne-Thérèse’s devotion to God and permitted her to leave home to join a convent
On 18 August 1823, Guérin entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir congregation and was given the religious name of Sister Saint Théodore.
Sister Saint Théodore spent her early career as an educator, beginning as a teacher at Preuilly-sur-Claise in central France. In 1826, she began serving as a teacher and superior at the Saint Aubin parish school in Rennes before her transfer to a school at Soulaines in the Diocese of Angers. She also ministered to the needs of the area’s sick and poor. While working in France, Sister Saint Théodore became seriously ill, most likely with smallpox. Although she recovered, the illness damaged her digestive system. As a result, Sister Saint Théodore could only eat a simple, bland diet for the rest of her life. Then she travels to the United States!
“What strength the soul draws from prayer! In the midst of a storm, how sweet is the calm it finds in the heart of Jesus. But what comfort is there for those who do not pray?Â” These words, written by Mother Théodore Guérin after surviving a violent storm at sea, perhaps best exemplify her life and ministry. Truly, Mother Theodore drew strength from prayer, from conversations with God, with Jesus and with the Blessed Virgin Mary. Throughout her life, she encouraged prayer as she sought to share the love of God with people everywhere.”
The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods are blessed to have a foundress who loved to record her thoughts and prayers. The following is a handful of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin quotes.