Today people fly from Paris to New York City on the Concorde in hours. In 1840 Saint Mother Théodore Guérin left France on July 27. She and five other Sisters of Providence traveled by ship, train, steamboat, canal boat, and horse-drawn carriage. They arrived in Vincennes, Indiana, on October 22. The journey across the ocean took 26 days, going overland and by river another six weeks.
Why did the sisters make this long, difficult journey? The bishop of Vincennes begged the superior of the Sisters of Providence in France to send sisters to open schools and to care for poor sick people. Forty-two-year-old Sister Theodore was chosen to lead the group. When the sisters arrived, they went directly to the log cabin chapel in the deeply forested hills. There Mother Theodore dedicated their mission to Mary, and named it St. Mary-of-the-Woods.
Pioneer life is very hard. The sisters struggled to survive the first winter in a drafty little farmhouse. It was very cold, they were very poor, and food was scarce. They worked hard at learning English. By the following summer, they welcomed their first student. Within a year they opened three schools. Other young women saw the good work they were doing and joined them.
The community dealt with many difficulties. Once a fire destroyed their barn and the harvested crops. They faced prejudice against Catholics, especially Catholic religious women. But they persevered. When Mother Theodore died 16 years after the community was founded, the sisters had many schools, two orphanages, and two pharmacies to dispense free medicines to the poor.
As a girl, Mother Theodore was named Anne-Thérèse. She was home schooled by her mother. Her father was an officer in the French navy. When Anne Thérèse was 10 years old, she knew that she wanted to be a nun. Anne-Thérèse liked to go to the rocky shore near her home to pray. When she was 15, her father was killed by bandits on his way home. After that, Anne-Thérèse took charge of the house and garden, and cared for her sick mother and younger sister.
She joined the Sisters of Providence when she was 25 years old. For years she taught and received a medal of honor for excellence in teaching. She also studied medicine in order to care for people who could not afford a doctor. Then she was assigned to America. She thought there must be someone else who would be much better suited for the job.
Mother Theodore always told her sisters, “Put yourself gently into the hands of Providence.” Mother Theodore Guerin was declared Blessed in 1988 and canonized in 2006. She was the right person for this incredible journey after all.
Remind the children that when Mother Theodore was a child, she liked to pray on the rocky shore near her home. Ask them to think about their favorite place to pray, and then have each student draw a picture of himself or herself in that place.
Unlike some educators of her time, Mother Theodore believed in gentle discipline for her students. Ask the children to think of common infractions in the classroom and act out skits showing how they could be corrected with fairness and gentleness.
from Saints and Feast Days, by Sisters of Notre Dame of Chardon, Ohio
Image credit: Mother Theodore Guerin by unknown artist, unknown date. Public Domain via Wikimedia.