Trust in God’s Providence enabled Mother Theodora to leave her homeland, sail halfway around the world and to found a new religious congregation.
Born in Etables, France, Anne-Thérèse’s life was shattered by her father’s murder when she was 15. For several years she cared for her mother and younger sister. She entered the Sisters of Providence in 1823, taking the name Sister St. Theodora. An illness during novitiate left her with lifelong fragile health; that did not keep her from becoming an accomplished teacher.
At the invitation of the bishop of Vincennes, she and five sisters were sent in 1840 to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, to teach and to care for the sick poor. She was to establish a motherhouse and novitiate. Only later did she learn that her French superiors had already decided the sisters in the United States should form a new religious congregation under her leadership.
She and her community persevered despite fires, crop failures, prejudice against Catholic women religious, misunderstandings and separation from their original religious congregation. She once told her sisters, “Have confidence in the Providence that so far has never failed us. The way is not yet clear. Grope along slowly. Do not press matters; be patient, be trustful.” Another time, she asked, “With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?”
She is buried in the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, and was beatified in 1998. Eight years later she was canonized.
God’s work gets done by people ready to take risks and to work hard—always remembering what St. Paul told the Corinthians, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6). Every holy person has a strong sense of God’s Providence.
During his homily at the beatification Mass, Pope John Paul II said that Blessed Mother Theodora “continues to teach Christians to abandon themselves to the providence of our heavenly Father and to be totally committed to doing what pleases him. The life of Blessed Theodora Guérin is a testimony that everything is possible with God and for God.”