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Posted April 20, 2007

Book: The Eighth American Saint: The Life of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana
Author: Katherine Burton
Acta Publications. Skokie, IL. 2007. Pp. 269

An Excerpt from the Jacket:

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin left a legacy of service, piety and faith across two continents. In France she inspired hope while serving as superior to the schools in the town of Soulaines. But it was in the fledgling United States that her abilities shone, as she founded a new congregation of the Sisters of Providence and build schools, orphanages, and even a pharmacy. Her memory lives on through Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Indiana — the United States’ oldest Catholic liberal arts college for women. She was canonized on October 15, 2006, making her only the eight saint to have lived and worked in the United States.

An Excerpt from the Book:

Close to the little town of Ruille-sur-Loir, which lies midway between the cities of Tours and Nantes, in western France, there stands a small house, the first home of the Sisters of Providence. Built in 1806, it is made of stones that were gathered for the masons by the priest of the village, the children of his catechism class, and the young women who were the nucleus of his congregation of religious.

La Petite Providence lies outside the town, in a rough and treeless spot; its one long, divided room was large enough for the community of two, one of whom instructed the village children while the other visited the village sick and poor. Under its low attic, the rain and snow came in during the cold winters, and the hot sun beat on those who slept there long years ago.

By 1840, the Little Providence was still there, but a fine large convent – La Grande Providence — had been built for the congregation, which now had many religious in its ranks, teaching in its academies and free schools, nursing the sick poor, caring for orphans. It still held in all its dealings to its first motto: Deus providebit (God will provide).

In that year, six of its members left their home at Ruille to begin the long, difficult voyage to the New World, to the frontier state of Indiana, midway across the United States. After a wearying journey from New York by steamboat and railroad, by canal and stagecoach, down the Ohio River to Terre haute, where they boarded a ferry to cross the Wabash River, and then went by wagon to their destination, a frontier settlement to which a few years ago Bishop Simon Brute of Vincennes had given the charming name of Sainte Marie de Bois, St. Mary of the Woods.

The convent they had hoped would shelter them was not, they learned ready for them; there was not even a Little Providence. Instead their new home was two rooms in a farmer’s house, the use of a cornloft for sleeping quarters, and a shed for kitchen.

From that small beginning in the Indiana forest has grown the present Congregation of Sisters of Providence, whose motherhouse is still Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. As of 2006, the 166th year since its founding, more than 5200 women have entered the Sisters of Providence, nearly 500 of which are members at this time.

Sisters of Providence are engaged in ministries throughout the United States, Taiwan, China and the Philippines in service to the poor, education, health services and social and ecological justice. The charter of incorporation granted the Congregation in 1846 made it the first Catholic institution of higher education of women in Indiana. That institution is known today as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.

The few acres originally bought by Bishop Brute have grown today to over 1200 Acres. Beautiful and ample buildings house the members of the congregation and their works, a shining proof of the vision, the patience, and the faith in the providence of God of their American foundress, Mother Theodore Guerin.

The work she so bravely opened and so successfully guided, continued to grow after her death in 1856. The beautiful Providence she built to replace the farmhouse convent was destroyed by fire in 1889, but the next year a new and larger convent was erected to house the religious. By 1924, Guerin Hall and a conservatory of music, as well as Le Fer Hall and a new infirmary, had been erected and dedicated. A new church has been consecrated by the apostolic delegate in 1907.

In the autumn of 1920, a colony of American Sisters of Providence went to China to work in Honan. They were six in number, thus commemorating the sacrifice of Mother Theodore and the five who came with her from Ruille. After twenty years of work there, they were in 1943 interned in a Japanese concentration camp and some years afterwards were evacuated to Formosa.

When, in the summer of 1956, a celebration was held at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods of the hundred and fiftieth year since the founding of the congregation in France, it celebrated also the hundredth anniversary of the death of Mother Theodore. Archbishop Schulte of Indianapolis pontificated, and Archabbot Columban of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Louisiana preached at the Pontifical High Mass. From Ruille came delegates of the Sisters of Providence, and from Taiwan, to bring good wishes from the members in France and in the Orient.

Table of Contents:

1. La Petite Providence

2. Sister Theodore of Soulaines

3. So far, so wild a place

4. Music and steam

5. Log cabin on the Wabash

6. Living on the love of God

7. The first academy

8. Death from pinpricks

9. New missions

10. No hidden thorn

11. The queen and the mother

12. “Mend the broken patters”

13. “At last a lock for the door”

14. Survival

15. Security at last

16. The world comes to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

17. Another Teresa

18. Home in Mary’s month