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Mother Theodore Guerin

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Mother Theodore Guerin

Saint Theodore Guerin SP
Mother Theodore Guerin
Religion Roman Catholic
Order Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Nationality  France
Born Anne-Thérèse Guérin
(1798-10-02)October 2, 1798
Étables-sur-Mer, France
Died May 14, 1856(1856-05-14) (aged 57)
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, United States
Resting place Sisters of Providence Convent Cemetery, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana
Senior posting
Title Foundress and Superior General of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Period in office 1840 - 1856
Successor Mother Mary Cecilia Bailly
Rank Superior General
Religious career
Profession September 8, 1825
Post Foundress and Superior General
Parents Laurent Guérin and Isabelle Lefèvre

Saint Mother Théodore Guérin (1798–1856), designated by the Vatican as Saint Theodora, is the foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, a congregation of Catholic nuns. After a standard process of approval within the church often referred to as a "cause for sainthood," she was beatified by Pope John Paul II in October 1998 and finally canonized a saint of the Roman Catholic church on October 15, 2006, by Pope Benedict XVI.

Guerin is particularly known for her advancement of education in Indiana and elsewhere, founding numerous schools including Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

Early life

She was born Anne-Thérèse Guérin on October 2, 1798, in the village of Étables-sur-Mer in Brittany, France. Her parents were Laurent Guérin, an officer in the French Navy under Napoleon Bonaparte, and Isabelle Guérin, née Lefèvre. Anne-Thérèse was born near the end of the French Revolution, which had torn France apart and caused a crisis within French Catholicism. Schools and churches were closed, and many Catholic priests had chosen exile over the guillotine.[1]

Laurent and Isabelle had four children, but only two — Anne-Thérèse and Marie-Jeanne — survived to adulthood. Anne-Thérèse was mostly educated at home by her mother. At the age of 10, she was allowed to take her First Communion, which was two years earlier than the custom of the time. On the day of her First Communion, she confided to the priest in Etables that she wished to enter a religious community.

When Anne-Thérèse was 15, tragedy struck the family when her father was killed by bandits as he travelled home to his family. The grief proved to be too much for her mother, who already had lost two children, and she fell into a deep and incapacitating depression. For many years, Anne-Thérèse accepted the responsibility of caring for her mother and sister, as well as the family's home and garden. At the age of 20, Anne-Thérèse asked her mother's blessing to join a religious order, but Isabelle — still unable to cope with her loss — refused. Five years later, Isabelle recognized the depth of Anne-Thérèse's devotion and permitted her to leave.[1]

Entering religious life

Anne-Thérèse entered the young congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir. She was given the religious name Sister St. Théodore. She professed first vows September 8, 1825, and perpetual vows, which at the time were optional, on September 5, 1831.

Sister St. Théodore was first sent to teach at Preuilly-sur-Claise in central France. There, she became ill, most likely with smallpox, and nearly died. The illness damaged her digestive system and, for the rest of her life, she could only eat a simple, bland diet.[2]

During her career in France, Sister St. Théodore also taught at St. Aubin parish school in Rennes and taught and visited the sick and poor in Soulaines in the Diocese of Angers. During this time, she received a medal for her teaching from the inspector for the Academy of Angers.[3]

From France to Indiana

A request from Vincennes

In 1839 the Most Reverend Simon William Gabriel Bruté, the first bishop of the vast Diocese of Vincennes, Indiana, sent Célestine Guynemer de la Hailandière as a representative to their native France. Bruté was in search of a religious congregation to come to the diocese and teach, provide religious instruction, and assist the sick. With only a few priests and a great influx of Catholic immigrants of French, Irish and German descent, the diocese was in need of assistance. Bruté knew the great assistance a religious order could provide, having worked with Mother St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and her Sisters of Charity during the founding and early years of Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.[1]

While Hailandière was in France, Bishop Bruté died in Vincennes, and Hailandière was then consecrated bishop of the diocese. One of the first acts of the newly ordained bishop was to request the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir to send a group of sisters to minister in Vincennes.

The superior general of the Sisters of Providence suggested Sister St. Théodore for the task. Although she was unsure of her own abilities to complete such a mission at first, after considerable discernment, Sister St. Théodore agreed. Later she said that it was a sentence from the Rule of the Congregation, "The Congregation being obliged to work with zeal for the sanctification of souls, the sisters will be disposed to go to whatsoever part of the world obedience calls them," that convinced her to answer the American call.

Founding a new order in Indiana

In July 1840, Sister St. Théodore and five companions (Sister Olympiade Boyer, Sister Saint Vincent Ferrer Gagé, Sister Basilide Sénéschal, Sister Mary Xavier Lerée and Sister Mary Liguori Tiercin) departed from France to sail to America. After a treacherous journey across the Atlantic Ocean, the six women traveled by steamboat and stagecoach to the dense forest of the Indiana territory.[4]

On October 22, 1840, Sister St. Théodore and her companions stepped from a carriage into the wilds Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, a small village in Vigo County a few miles northwest of Terre Haute. For several months, they lived packed into the small frontier farmhouse of the local Thralls family along with a few postulants that had been waiting for them when they arrived. With the founding of this new order separate from that in France, Guerin became known as Mother Theodore, the superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.[5]

Life work


Despite their humble resources, in July 1841 Guerin and the sisters opened St. Mary's Academy for Young Ladies, which later became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Guerin did have doubts concerning the success of the institution. In her journals is written, "It is astonishing that this remote solitude has been chosen for a novitiate and especially for an academy. All appearances are against it."[6] For more than a decade, from 1841 to 1852, this Academy was the only Catholic boarding school for girls in Indiana.

In an attempt to help parishes establish schools for their children, Mother Théodore, from the time of her arrival at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840 to January 1849, established parish schools at Jasper, St. Peter's, Vincennes, Madison, Fort Wayne and Terre Haute, all in Indiana, and at St. Francisville in Illinois. In 1853, she opened establishments in Evansville, Indiana and North Madison, Indiana; in 1854, at Lanesville, Indiana; and in 1855 at Columbus, Indiana, south of Indianapolis.

Additionally, with Bishop de Saint-Palais, she established two orphanages in Vincennes.

Growth of the congregation

Guerin proved to be a skilled businesswoman and leader as well as a beloved general superior. By the time of Mother Théodore's death in 1856, the Sisters of Providence congregation had grown from six sisters and four postulants to 67 professed members, nine novices and seven postulants.

Death of Mother Theodore

After a period of sickness, Guerin died at age 57 on May 14, 1856. The Catholic Telegraph and Advocate in Cincinnati, published the following notice about Mother Théodore's death.

Died - At Saint Mary's-of-the-Woods (sic), in the 58th year of her age, Wednesday, 14th inst., Sister St. Théodore, Superior General of the Sisters of Providence in Indiana.

This woman, distinguished by her eminent virtues, governed the community of which she was the superior from its commencement, to the time of her death, a period of nearly sixteen years. Being a perfect religious herself, and endowed with mental qualities of a high order, she was peculiarly fitted to fill the duties which Providence assigned her.

Not only her Sisters are bereaved by her death, but all those who knew her excellence and the amount of good she did, join in lamenting that she should have been removed from the sphere of her usefulness. To judge from the celestial expression of her countenance as she lay in death, there is every reason to believe that she has already taken her abode among the Saints in Heaven, enjoying the munificence of God, who rewards His servants 'according to their works.'

Saint Theodora Guerin
Saint Theodora Guerin
Honored in Roman Catholic Church
Beatified October 1998, Vatican City by Pope John Paul II
Canonized October 15, 2006, Vatican City by Pope Benedict XVI
Major shrine Church of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana
Feast October 3
Patronage Roman Catholic Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana


Cause for sainthood

In 1907, Bishop Francis Silas Chatard, the first bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis, requested that the body of Mother Theodore be exhumed and examined. Chatard, a medical doctor before becoming a priest, was hearing much about her heroic life and service to the people of the area. When the body was exhumed the brain was found to be perfectly intact after 51 years in the grave. This phenomenon encouraged Chatard to introduce the Cause for Canonization, the long and thorough process of declaring saints in the Roman Catholic Church.[7]

The Cause for the beatification and canonization of Mother Théodore Guérin was opened in 1909.[8] In October 1998, Pope John Paul II bestowed the title "Blessed" on Mother Théodore to signify that the Catholic Church recognizes her as a holy woman, through whose intercession a miracle occurred, worthy of honor and veneration. Pope Benedict XVI later signed a document recognizing a second miracle attributed to her, and her canonization ceremony was held on October 15, 2006.[9]

Miracles attributed to Guerin

The first miracle attributed to Guérin is said to have occurred in 1908. Before going to bed, Sister of Providence Mary Theodosia Mug prayed at Guérin's tomb to be healed of her damaged nerves, poor eyesight, breast cancer and an abdominal tumor. When she awoke the next day, Sister Mary Theodosia was healed.[10]

The second of the miracles attributed to her involves Phil McCord of Terre Haute, Indiana, and occurred in January 2001.[11] McCord, who had worked in facilities management for the Sisters of Providence, stopped by the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds and was drawn in by music from the pipe organ there. While in the church he felt compelled to pray to Guérin, asking for strength to undergo a medical operation for his failing eyesight,[12] as his eyes had deteriorated to legally blind status: 20-800 in one eye and 20-1000 in the other. After praying, he went home. When he awoke the next morning, his vision had returned to 20-20, and his eye now needed only laser treatment to remove old tissue.[11]

National Shrine of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin

The national shrine for Saint Theodora is currently in the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the motherhouse grounds in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. This shrine includes her coffin, made of walnut wood from the Sisters of Providence grounds.[13] The Sisters of Providence maintain various relics of her life in their congregation archives as well as in a Heritage Museum in Providence Center on the grounds. A statue is placed in Mary's Garden of her created by artist Teresa Clark.



More than 5,200 women have entered the Sisters of Providence since 1840.[14] As of 2010, there are nearly 400 sisters in the order, roughly 300 of whom live and minister from the motherhouse grounds in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Other sisters minister in 19 U.S. states and Asia. (Currently, foreign missions are in Taiwan and China.)[15]



Saint Mother Theodore has been named patron of:


Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Memorial Highway

On October 10, 2006, Mitch Daniels, governor of Indiana, unveiled four highway markers in a ceremony at the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. These markers read “Saint Mother Theodore Guerin Memorial Highway” and were placed in four locations along U.S. Route 150, the highway near Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.[16]

Hoosier Pioneer

On November 3, 2007, Guerin was given the title “Hoosier Pioneer” by the Indiana Historical Society. This honor is given only to persons whose contributions to the development of the state of Indiana were made by 1840, the year that Guerin began her missionary activities with five other sisters in the area of education and care of the sick.[17]

See also

  • Roman Catholicism in the United States#American Catholic Servants of God, Venerables, Beatified, and Saints
  • Saint Mother Théodore Guérin sculpture at the Shrine.


External links

  • Saint Mother Theodore website
  • The Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
  • Tribune-Star in Terre Haute, Indiana.
  • Théodore Guérin Biography at Patron Saint Index
  • How to pronounce Théodore Guérin
Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
General Superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
1840 - 1856
Succeeded by
Mary Cecilia Bailly, SP
Educational offices
Preceded by
President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
1841 - 1856
Succeeded by
Mary Cecilia Bailly, SP


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