The Eighth American Saint: The Life of Saint Mother Theodore Guérin, Foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana
The biography of Saint Mother Theodore Guérin, written by Katherine Burton, is a dramatic, emotional, and inspiring story of one woman’s courageous and powerful efforts to follow God’s call. Mother Theodore was not a healthy woman, but she put her entire life and all her work’s in God’s hands. She trusted in God’s love to be in all things everywhere.
Mother Theodore served as a Sister of Providence in France and the United States. She prompted growth and a promise of hope to the French parishes. But it was in the untamed wilderness of the American Midwest that her ability, strength, and faith shone most brightly.
Mother Theodore and the Sisters of Providence established schools, orphanages, and free pharmacies in the area surrounding the little town of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. They also founded the Academy, now known as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
These accomplishments did not come without a struggle. Mother Theodore faced countless hardships and obstacles. Poverty, prejudice, and unreasonable superiors in addition to the challenges of nature created tremendous difficulties for her. But none of these obstacles prevented her from attaining her goals. She persevered and trusted in Providence to see her through any mission God revealed to her.
The Eighth American Saint is a gripping tale. Sometimes you will find it hard to remember that it is indeed nonfiction. Originally published in 1959 under the title, Faith is the Substance, Katherine Burton masterfully recreates Mother Theodore’s struggles and triumphs from her own diaries and letters and other writings by the congregation.
The Foreword and Afterword by Mary K. Doyle brings the picture full circle, detailing Saint Mother Theodore’s canonization and providing a complete story for this generation and those to come.
Learn About Saint Mother Theodore Guérin
Facinating life of a saint I knew nothing about
The French revolution did what it could to destroy Catholicism in France. Faithful priests were hunted and killed. Whole convents of cloistered nuns were sent to Madame Guillotine or dispersed. The result was, that, for decades, village after village had little Catholic education.
This was the world Mother Theodore was born into. She entered a convent and expected to teach French Catholics their faith for the rest of her life - but was sent to educate in America instead.
Travel by ship in that era could be frightening. At one point, a violent storm caused "Animals below deck were swept overboard; crates of chicken went, and even the lifeboats...there suddenly came a deep dead silence, and then a crash...The ship had actually capsized" (p 169). Amazingly, all the nuns survived.
Indiana was wilderness territory in the 1830s, a place of woods and bears and small holding scratched out by immigrants. The nuns quickly learned Americans were different from the French; when Mother hired a young woman to help, she found she needed to avoid calling her a servant. American pride was prickly.
Once the nuns formed their academy, the children nearby learned to love the school, with its very French "afternoon collation of bread and sugar and tea" (p112) given by the nuns. And rather to their surprise, the young girls wanted to be taught fine embroidery.
Anti Catholic fever tainted their lives and made walking into town a trial. "Convents in the East had been burned...many bitter opponents of the Church...There was also an increasing amount of anti-convent literature" (pp 138-9).
Yet, overall, their school was a wonderful success. One of their pupils, a native American, became a nun and was sent on a visit to the mother house in France, surprised the French nuns by speaking fluent, elegant French.