Born: Oct. 2nd, 1798
Died: May 14th, 1856
FEast: Oct. 3rd
educators, travelers, nature, sibling deaths
Born with the name Ann-Therese Guerin in France near the end of the French Revolution, the woman who would later take the name "Sister Theodore" in religious life had a tough childhood. Both her brothers died in housefires, she grew up witnessing executions still carried out under the Reign of Terror, and her father was murdered one night when bandits robbed him of his family's earnings from the last three years on his way home. Her mother fell into depression after this, and so it fell to Anne to take care of her mother, sister, home, and gardens. She took on sewing and factory jobs to make ends meet. She longed to enter religious life, but her mother would not let her until the age of 25.
After joining the convent, Theodora's first position was in teaching, though she also often volunteered to care for the impoverished and sick members of the town. She herself fell seriously ill once, around this time, likely with smallpox, and it gave her lasting health problems including the need for a very restrictive diet.
In 1840, a message was received from America that a parish in Indiana was so overwhelmed with a growing number of Catholic immigrants that it needed help. Mother Guerin was chosen as the leader, and five Sisters went with her. She had no idea, however, that the aid she and her Sisters were offering included founding a whole new religious congregation there.
After two months traveling the Atlantic Ocean, the women took steamboats and stagecoaches through the mostly untamed wilderness until they reached Indiana, which took another month itself. To make things even harder, when they arrived, there was no house for them to live in and no school, which they had been promised. The Sisters lived in a farmhouse with a local family as there was no greater village, either.
Despite encountering natural disasters, Indigenous Americans, failed crops, misunderstandings, and much prejudice from the town members, Theodora had established a school within a year of arriving. Her intentions, however, were always to love the children first, then to educate them. Most families nearby were extremely impoverished and the children had little education or refined behavior. Rather than punishing bad behavior, Mother Guerin instead rewarded good behavior and never lost her patience. This one success gave her the strength and determination to found more schools, as well as two orphanages and a free pharmacy, throughout the region, amidst continual hardship.
To help the sick as much as she could, Theodora studied medicine until she was able to practice as well as a doctor. She also had the bravery to confront male members of religious life who misappropriated funds and ran things in a way she did not see as right. In addition, she was skilled at business and finance.
Theodora became ill again in 1856, and this time, passed away at the age of 57. Her first academy became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, which is the oldest liberal arts college for women in the country, and her constant trust in God providing for her needs made a lasting impact on all of those she affected.
As you traveled west, You encountered many hardships that were so common in such isolated places as the ones to which you were sent. Today, many isolated places still struggle with being exploited by the wealthy and not having their own needs met. Be with us as we work to change this. Amen.
I portrayed Theodora with a simple smile, an expression of her trust in God's Providence as always. She wears am early-American style quilt in symbolism of her adopted frontier life.