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Indiana Historical Bureau

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Saint Theodora Guérin Side 1 Saint Theodora Guérin Side 2

Location: Sisters of Providence motherhouse grounds, located on Grotto Lane directly across from Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (Vigo County), Indiana.

Installed: 2009 Indiana Historical Bureau and Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods

ID#: 84.2009.1

Text

Side one:

Born Anne-Thérèse Guérin in 1798 in France. In 1823, she entered the Catholic congregation Sisters of Providence of Ruillé; received the name Sister St. Theodore. Noted for her teaching, she led a mission from France to establish schools and orphanages in the Indiana wilderness; arrived here fall 1840 and established the Sisters of Providence in U.S.

Side two:

Guérin opened a female academy in July 1841, the predecessor of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Initially, she and the sisters endured anti-Catholic sentiments and harsh frontier conditions. At her death in 1856, she had directed the opening of 11 schools in 9 Indiana towns.] Pope Benedict XVI canonized her in 2006, naming her Saint Theodora Guérin.

Keywords

Education & Libraries, Women, Religion

Annotated Text

Saint Theodora Guérin

Side one:

Born Anne-Thérèse Guérin in 1798 in France.[1] In 1823, she entered the Catholic congregation Sisters of Providence of Ruillé; received the name Sister St. Theodore.[2] Noted for her teaching,[3] she led a mission from France to establish schools and orphanages in the Indiana wilderness;[4] arrived here fall 1840 and established the Sisters of Providence in U.S.[5]

Side two:

Guérin opened a female academy in July 1841,[6] the predecessor of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.[7] Initially, she and the sisters endured anti-Catholic sentiments[8] and harsh frontier conditions.[9] At her death in 1856, she had directed the opening of 11 schools in 9 Indiana towns.[10] Pope Benedict XVI canonized her in 2006, naming her Saint Theodora Guérin.[11]

Notes

1. Guérin was born on October 2, 1798. Positio Super Virtutibus Ex Officio Concinnata (Rome, 1987), 2 (B0701274). This document was prepared as part of the sainthood process and was reviewed by nine theologians.

Sisters of Providence, Photograph of Mother Theodore Anne-Thérese Guérin’s Gravestone, Received September 28, 2007 (B070077) and Sisters of Providence, Extract of the Register of Profession of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, March 1, 1912 (B070224). This document is written in French and identified by the Sisters of Providence as a “copie conforme,” or “conforming copy.”

U.S. Bureau of the Census, Seventh Census (1850), Schedule 1, Terre Haute, Vigo County, Indiana, p. 214, http://content.ancestrylibrary.com/Browse/print_u.aspx?dbid=8054&iid-INM432_177-0437 (accessed September 17, 2007) (B070020).  The census lists “St. Theodore” as born in France around 1800.

2. Sisters of Providence, Extract of the Register of Profession of the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé, March 1, 1912 (B070224). This document states that she entered the Sisters of Providence in 1823.

Sister Mary Theodosia Mug, ed., Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1937), xvii-xviii (B070023).

Sister Mary Borromeo Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 2 vols. (New York, 1949), 1: vii-viii, 21-22 (B070024).

3. In 1825, Sister St. Theodore received appointment as Superior to the Sisters of Providence educational establishment in Rennes, France. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, xviii (B070023) and Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 22 (B070024).

Circa 1835, Guérin transferred to Soulaines and opened a school. Ibid., 24 (B070024) and Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, xviii-xix (B070023).

After a few years in Soulaines, Sister St. Theodore Guérin’s teaching success gained recognition from the Academy of Angers, which “voted medallion decorations” for her in 1839. Sisters of Providence, Photograph of Award from the Academy of Angers, France, received on July 16, 2008 (B071276); Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, xviii-xix (B070023) and Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 24 (B070024)..

4. In 1839, the Bishop of Vincennes, Celestine de la Hailandiére contacted Mother Mary Lecor, the Mother General of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé, and requested that the organization send members to his Diocese to establish a school. Mother Mary replied on September 12, 1839, “We have only one Sister capable of making the foundation. If she consents, we shall send you Sisters next summer.” Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, xx (B070023).

Mother Mary referred to Guérin, who acquiesced to the request. Before leaving France, Mother Mary provided Guérin with authorization for her mission and designated Guérin as the “Superior of the Motherhouse, and the Superior General of all the other houses that shall be established from it. . . .”  Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, xx (B070023).

On July 12, 1840, Sister St. Theodore and the other sisters departed from Ruillé, France to the Atlantic coast. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 1 (B070023).

Guérin wrote that the Sisters set sail from Havre, France on July 27, 1840. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 4-6 (B070023).

Guérin led five other sisters on this mission to Indiana. The Sisters were: Sister Saint Vincent, Sister Marie Xavier, Sister Saint Liguori, Sister Basilide, and Sister Olympiade. Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 54 (B070024).

5. The Sisters arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods on October 22, 1840 and established the Sisters of Providence in the United States. The Thralls family allowed the Sisters to live with them as workers constructed a permanent residence for the Sisters. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, ix-x, 56-63 (B070023) and Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 81-91 (B070024).

The Sisters of Providence in the United State were officially separated from those in France in 1843. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 111-12, 115-16 (B070023) and Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 268-72 (B070024).

For more information regarding the relationship between the Sisters of Providence in the United States and France see Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 376-78 (B070024) and Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 122-28 (B070023).

6. During the summer of 1841, the Sisters advertised in the Wabash Courier (published in Terre Haute) that “St. Mary’s Academy for Young Ladies will open the second of July.” Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 163-64 (B070024).  This book reprints an advertisement and an endorsement published in the Wabash Courier in “seven consecutive issues during the summer of 1841” and on June 19, 1841 respectively.  The Sisters’ advertisement said the Academy “will open the second of July,” and the endorsement by the newspaper’s editor stated that the school “will be open for the reception of Pupils on the 2d [sic] of July.”  Brown notes the boarding school opened on July 4, 1841, but does not provide evidence contrary to the reprinted articles.

Sisters of Providence, “Convent and Academy of the Sisters of Providence,” Wabash Courier, October 9, 1841 (B070078).  This is an advertisement for classes in the fall of 1841..

7. St. Mary’s Academy for Young Ladies continued to progress and on January 14, 1846, nearly six years after the Sisters’ arrival in Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Governor James Whitcomb approved Articles of Incorporation for the academy as the Female Seminary of St. Mary’s of the Woods. Laws of Indiana, 1846, 9 (B070072).

In 1909, the Indiana General Assembly granted the school “the power to provide for and maintain schools, and to confer academic honors and collegiate and academic degrees.” This action officially granted collegiate powers to the school from the state. Laws of Indiana, 1909, 1-3 (B071435).

8. Guérin noted during her long trip to Indiana from France that Jesuits near Philadelphia advised the Sisters to exchange their habit for “a secular dress, as there was bigotry and fanaticism in the country farther west….” Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 43-44 (B070023).

The prejudice the Sisters faced did not end once they arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Guérin wrote to her superior in France on February 26, 1842 and stated, “I have just discovered that there is a conspiracy in Terre Haute to destroy our institution. The persons responsible for this had begun by prejudicing against us the families whose children were here last year. Only one pupil returned this fall, and she, it seems, had no other home.” Guérin also suspected that merchants plotted against them. Samuel Crawford, a Terre Haute merchant, sent Guérin a note to indicate that he was closing their credit account and would give them “nothing more except for cash.” Guérin wrote that many others who also allowed the Sisters to pay by credit demanded payment all at once. Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 218-22 (B070024). 

For more information and context regarding anti-Catholic sentiments in the U.S. and Midwest during the 1830s and 1840s, see Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 163, 172, 528-30, 580-81 (B070024).

9. Perhaps the most significant difficulty faced by the Sisters was a fire that destroyed their barns and granaries on October 2, 1842, burning various provisions needed for the upcoming winter. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 89-93 (B070023). Only donations from the Sisters in France and several Bishops prevented the Sisters from starving. Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 237 (B070024).   

The living conditions the Sisters faced also left something to be desired. Guérin wrote that during their first five weeks at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, their living quarters in the Thralls’ home were very cramped and “directly under the roof which is made of shingles badly joined, thus letting in the wind and rain, making it very cold. Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 62 (B070023).

The Sisters’ first winter and spring in Indiana also proved to be a burden. Blizzards, severe cold, and violent storms wreaked havoc on the community. The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 238-39 (B070024). 

Guérin also noted that the Sisters had difficulty navigating their new surroundings. Like many other Hoosier settlers, the mud in the spring and fall greatly hindered their movements. When the Sisters first arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in the fall 1840, Guérin indicated they could not go outside “without sinking deep in the mud.” Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 65 (B070023).

10. Guérin directed the opening of 11 academies/boarding schools in 9 Indiana towns during the years 1841-1856. On March 12, 2009, Sister Mary Ryan, Archivist for the Sisters of Providence, confirmed this list is correct in an email to the Indiana Historical Bureau. Email, Sister Mary Ryan to Jeremy Hackerd, March 12, 2009 (B071436).

For more information about these schools, consult the page numbers cited in Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Vol. 1 (B070024).

1. Female Academy, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, July 2, 1841 (Brown, 104-07, 162-64, 174-78, 447-48). 

2. St. Joseph School, also known as “Girls’ Boarding School,” Jasper, March 19, 1842 (Brown, 181-84). 

3. St. Anne’s Academy, Madison, August 27, 1844 [the Sisters arrived in Madison.] (Brown, 359-70). 

4. St. Augustine’s, Fort Wayne, September 1846 (Brown, 536-45, 550-52). 

5. St. Vincent’s Academy, Terre Haute, January 2, 1849 (Brown, 559-67). 

6. St. Joseph’s Academy, Evansville, September 5, 1853 (Brown, 674-78). 

7. Assumption, also known as “German Girls’ School,” Evansville, September 1853 (Brown, 675-78). 

8. St. Mary’s (German School), Fort Wayne, 1853 (Brown, 550-51). 

9. St. Patrick’s, North Madison, August 19, 1853 (Brown, 682-83). 

10. St. Mary’s, Lanesville, September, 1854 (Brown, 719-22). 

11. St. Bartholomew, Columbus, September 8, 1855 (Brown, 748-50).

Though the following schools were opened during Guérin’s lifetime, she did not make the arrangements and give approval to do so. Guérin was in France during this time, seeking donations for the Sisters of Providence in the United States. Bishop Celestine de la Hailandière opened these schools in her absence and assigned Sisters to operate them.

1. St. Peter-Montgomery (1843)

2. St. Mary Female School-Vincennes (1843)

For more information on St. Peter, Montgomery, see Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 266, 351-53 (B070024) Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 125-26, 181-82 (B070023).

For more information on St. Mary Female School, Vincennes, see Brown, The History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, 1: 263-66 (B070024) Mug, Journals and Letters of Mother Theodore Guérin, 125-26, 181-82 (B070023).

11. The Vatican, “Saints: Table of the Canonizations during the Pontificate of His Holiness John Paul II,” http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/St.s/index_St.s_en.html (accessed September 18, 2007) (B070015); The Vatican, “Theodore Guérin,” http://www.vatican.va/news_services/liturgy/St.s/ns_lit_doc_20061015_Guérin_en.html (accessed September 18, 2007) (B070014); McCammon, Connie, Mother Theodore Material (B070251) and The Vatican, “Eucharistic Concelebration for the Canonization of Four New Saints,” http://www.vatican.va (accessed July 14, 2008) (B071281).  These sources use the title Saint Theodore Guérin.

In addition to being named a saint, Guérin became the patron saint of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. Vatican Congregation of Divine Worship and Sacramental Discipline, official decree declaring Saint Theodora Guérin as the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, October 17, 2006 (B071283); “Archdiocese of Indianapolis,” The Criterion, December 8, 2006 http://www.archindy.org/criterion/local/2006/12-08/guerin-official.html (accessed July 14, 2008) (B071279).  These two sources are the Latin and English translation of the Official Decree from the Vatican declaring Guérin as a Saint.  According to the Decree, Guérin’s title is Saint Theodora Guérin.