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Guérin, Mother Theodore, Bl.


Founder of the sisters of providence of saint mary-of-the-woods, Indiana; b. Oct. 2, 1798 at Etables-sur-mer, Brittany, France; d. May 14, 1856 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.

Christened Anne-Thérèse by her parents, Laurent, a lieutenant in Napoleon's navy, and Isabelle Guérin, she was one of four children, two of whom died tragically by fire in early childhood. Her father was attacked and killed by brigands in 1813 as he was returning home from military service. Taught by her mother as a young child, Anne-Thérèse later attended a local primary school for a brief period. A young seminarian cousin, who lived for some time in the Guérin household, tutored her in theology, history, and philosophy.

At the age of 16, Anne-Thérèse became both the caretaker of her invalid mother and the teacher and guardian of her younger sister Marie Jeanne. After ten years of devoted service to her family, Anne-Thérèse was able to fulfill her cherished desire to enter the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence at Ruillé-sur-Loire, where she received the religious name Sister St. Theodore. Having pronounced her vows on Sept. 8, 1825, she was appointed the following year as superior of a school in the industrial town of Rennes, where she remained for eight years. After being transferred to Soulaines, Sister St. Theodore, in addition to teaching and administering the local school, studied pharmacy and medicine with a local doctor. At this time the Academy of Angers (Université de France) awarded her a medal for excellent teaching methods, especially in the field of mathematics.

In the summer of 1839, the bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, Celestine de Hailandière, came to the sisters' motherhouse in Ruillé seeking volunteers to bring, as he said, "the French religious spirit" to the United States. The superior general, Mother Mary Lecor, agreed to send sisters should any volunteer for this mission. There were five, and Sister St. Theodore was asked to be their leader. She accepted the call and with two professed sisters and three novices left France in July 1840. On Oct. 22, 1840, the six French sisters arrived at the little clearing in the forest already named Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. There they established an academy for girls, the first in Indiana, and began the foundation of a new religious congregation modeled on the one they had left in France. During her 16 years in America, Mother Theodore as she was now called, founded 16 schools, both academies and free schools for the poor as well as two homes for orphans.

Bp. Francis S. Chatard authorized initial proceedings for the cause of the beatification of Mother Theodore, but there were long delays before the apostolic processes were begun in the United States and France in 1956. They were completed in 1958 and the material was forwarded to Rome for examination by the Congregation of Rites. Mother Theodore Guérin was the sixth citizen of the United States and the first in Indiana to be designated as blessed on Oct. 25, 1998 by Pope John Paul II.

Feast: October 3.

Bibliography: Mother Theodore Guerin, Journals and Letters, ed. m. t. mug (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. 1937). m. b. brown, History of the Sisters of Providence. Vol. 1:18061856 (New York 1949). k. burton, Faith Is the Substance (New York 1959). p. b. mitchell, Mother Theodore Guérin: A Woman for Our Time (Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ind. 1998). m. t. mug, Life and Life-Work of Mother Theodore Guérin (New York 1904). j. e. ryan, Positio Super Virtutibus ex officio Concinnata (Rome 1987); Call to Courage; A Story of Mother Theodore Guérin (Notre Dame 1968).

[m. r. madden]

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