By Tim Johnson
FORT WAYNE — St. Mother Theodore Guérin was honored on Jan. 6 with the blessing of a statue placed in the location where the Catholic school she provided Sisters of Providence once stood. At that location today is the diocesan chancery office. But years ago, St. Augustine Academy graced the grounds, and Mother Theodore lived briefly with her sisters there as the Catholic school, the first in Fort Wayne, was launched.
Bishop John M. D’Arcy calls Mother Theodore the co-foundress of Catholic schools in the Diocese of Fort Wayne, along with Msgr. Julian Benoit, who requested in writing to Mother Theodore, that the Sisters of Providence staff the new school.
Bishop D’Arcy, who blessed the statue after noon Mass, was joined by five Sisters of Providence, four of whom traveled from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods near Terre Haute, to commemorate the event.
In his homily at the Mass at the MacDougal Chapel in honor of St. Mother Theodore Guérin, Bishop D’Arcy spoke of Mother Theodore’s era after the French Revolution. The French sister lived in a time when the Church was terribly persecuted, there were empty churches, empty confessionals. “It was a Church suffering, yet it produced saints,” he said.
Bishop D’Arcy said, “The power comes from the holy Eucharist.”
When Mother Theodore arrived in the vast woods and wilderness of Indiana, there were only two places, Bishop D’Arcy noted, in which the Blessed Sacrament was preserved. One was at Notre Dame the other at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Bishop D’Arcy read from Mother Theodore’s notes how the sisters would not speak until they knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. He commented about the tremendous devotion of people from that time to Jesus Christ reserved in the Eucharist.
Hundreds of young women followed Mother Theodore and entered into religious life. “And this is an extraordinary educational ministry, which so blessed this diocese,” Bishop D’Arcy said.
Mother Theodore experienced suffering, Bishop D’Arcy noted, “very much from her experience with the bishop.” Bishop Celistin de la Hailandiére of Vincennes subjected Mother Theodore to misunderstanding and persecution.
Bishop D’Arcy said, despite these troubles with the bishop, “Her faith in the church never wavered.” She, and others like Holy Cross Father Edward Sorin at Notre Dame, knew that Jesus Christ, who walked across the water and saved the church, was with them.
“So many times, in the history of the Church, when we see imperfection in its members, even its leaders, we’re called to say, ‘Jesus Christ found such imperfection even among the apostles,’ but He stayed with them and trained them. The Church, through His power and His grace, and through the Eucharist, which she knelt before, adored Him a few days later when she would receive the body and the blood of Christ, the same strength is with us.
“We are called to the same thing — holiness, generosity, unselfishness, caring for others, caring for the poor, teaching the young people as she did,” Bishop D’Arcy said. “The same holiness, the same apostolate calls us.”
He added, “So this statue, and this chapel … is to remind us that we too are called to care for our young people, and to make sure they receive the faith, and to treasure the gift of human life and to do good works and to be open to the presence of Jesus Christ as she was to the Eucharist.”
Bishop D’Arcy said, “As we bless this statue, may it remind us of her holiness and of the ministry of education. May we pray to her, a saint of our own diocese, who walked here, and pray that more young women … will offer themselves for the consecrated life.”
At the end of the Mass, Bishop D’Arcy invited sculptress Teresa Clark to tell her story of how her art and study of Mother Theodore brought her to the Catholic faith.
In 2000, she was commissioned by the Sisters of Providence to sculpt a statue of Mother Theodore. At the time she was not Catholic.
“I had a huge transformation (learning) about Mother Theodore. She and the sisters have influenced my life greatly,” Clark said.
While creating the statue Clark went through RCIA. “I was studying the faith that was (Mother Theodore’s) strength, and realized that is what my life was missing.”
Clark said she continues to feel inspired from Mother Theodore. “Hopefully, through my statue, she will touch others as she has touched me.”
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