August 2, 2018 // Perspective

The inspiration of St. Mother Theodore Guerin

The following is the homily given by Bishop Rhoades at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on July 22, at the end of the Diocesan Heritage Pilgrimage:

I have wanted to come here to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods for a long time. Early on as Bishop of Fort Wayne-South Bend, I learned about St. Mother Theodore Guerin and the Sisters of Providence. What a joy it is to come here this morning with fellow pilgrims from my diocese, to visit this shrine, to pray and to celebrate this Mass. We are grateful to all of the Sisters for your kind welcome and hospitality.

Mother Theodore Guerin is an inspiration for us all. She is remembered in my diocese with the chapel named in her honor and memory next to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. There is also a beautiful statue of her outside our old chancery building near the front of the cathedral. Many people pass by and see that statue and learn that it was at that location Catholic education began in the present-day Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. The pioneer French priest, Msgr. Julian Benoit, who built the cathedral, began the first Catholic school in Fort Wayne, recruiting a few lay people, Holy Cross brothers and the Sisters of Providence for this important endeavor.

John Paul Lichon
Travelers with the Diocesan Heritage Pilgrimage pray at the tomb of St. Mother Theodore Guerin in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

In 1846, Mother Theodore came to Fort Wayne with the founding faculty of three Sisters of Providence to staff a school for girls, named Saint Augustine Academy. Catholic education in the present-day Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend owes its beginnings to Mother Theodore Guerin and the Sisters of Providence, along with the Congregation of Holy Cross. As time went on, the number of Sisters of Providence in the diocese grew as more schools were established, including at St. Mary and St. Patrick parishes in Fort Wayne and St. Mary Parish in Huntington. One cannot recount the history of our diocese without recounting the presence and educational ministry of the Sisters of Providence.

In last Sunday’s Gospel, we heard about the sending out of the 12 apostles on mission. Jesus sent them to do what He was doing: to preach the kingdom of God, to drive out demons and to heal the sick. In today’s Gospel, we hear about the apostles’ return from their mission. They reported to Jesus all they had done and taught. They must have been exhausted. Jesus said to them: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.” 

St. Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence and located their motherhouse in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, where the Church of the Immaculate Conception was built. Mother Guerin and three of her sisters traveled to Fort Wayne in 1846 to establish Catholic education in what would become the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend.

In the midst of our often busy and sometimes stressful lives, it is good to hear Jesus say to us these same words: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  If we don’t do this, if we live our lives in a frenetic way, if our life becomes all activity, we can become exhausted or burned out. We can become irritable maybe, less energetic and tired. We need some rest and refreshment, especially with the Lord in prayer. Jesus says to us: “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”  We can go on a retreat or a day of recollection. But every day, it is good to make some time to rest with the Lord, to pray. He recharges our batteries, so to speak. We are spiritually recharged for our mission. And this is important for all of us: lay people, sisters, priests and bishops.

Sometimes this is difficult to do, because our spiritual rest can be interrupted. How many times priests tell me, and I have experienced, that while praying in church, someone will come up to us and interrupt our prayer. Isn’t this what happened to Jesus and the apostles in today’s Gospel? They had gone off in a boat by themselves to rest. But the people followed them. So when they disembarked, there was a vast crowd waiting for them. Our Lord didn’t get irritated. He didn’t send them away. The Gospel tells us that His heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus saw their need and He began to teach them many things. This Gospel reminds us that we need to make time to pray, to be spiritually refreshed, but it also reminds us that we need to be patient with interruptions, be compassionate and never leave our people to be like sheep without a shepherd.

I was thinking about St. Mother Theodore Guerin. She is certainly a model for us of living an active and contemplative life. Even as a young child in France, she loved to get away and pray, especially by the sea not far from her home. Her famous trust in Divine Providence all through her life didn’t come from nowhere. She had a close relationship with Jesus. Without that, she would never have been able to do the amazing things she did or be able to bear so many hardships in her life. Her faith in God’s providence kept her going. Through her prayer, her friendship with Christ, her time with Him, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, she received the graces of hope and perseverance, and the gifts of peace and serenity. Most of all, I would say, her beautiful witness of love for everyone was a fruit of her prayer. And that is why she is a saint.

I imagine that Mother Theodore often prayed Psalm 23, today’s responsorial psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. In verdant pastures he gives me repose; beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.” Amid many trials and tribulations, Mother Theodore certainly walked in the dark valley, but, like the psalmist, she feared no evil. She knew that the Lord was at her side, with His rod and His staff that gave her courage. Therefore, what is said in the psalm came to pass in her life: “Only goodness and kindness follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord for years to come.” Goodness and kindness followed Mother Theodore all the days of her life. She spread that goodness and kindness to the sisters and countless people whom she encountered. And now she dwells in the house of the Lord.

May we all learn from St. Mother Theodore Guerin to embrace the Lord as our shepherd and to follow Him beside restful waters for the refreshment of our souls, to heed Jesus’ call to come away by ourselves to rest a while with Him. In so doing, even though we may walk sometimes in the dark valley, we will fear no evil, for the Lord will be at our side and give us courage. May goodness and kindness also follow us all the days of our life so that one day we will dwell with the saints in the house of the Lord!

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