In 2004, I was an awkward, gangly freshman with an unfortunate haircut (weren’t we all?). My new high school had no lockers, no athletic fields, no bleachers in the gymnasium. And no, I wasn’t homeschooled! I had the unique experience of attending our diocese’s brand-new Catholic high school and was part of the first class to attend all four years.
When my high school opened its doors in 2004, it welcomed 100 students, only freshmen and sophomores. My high school experience was undoubtedly very unique (we each had a laundry basket to hold our books because of the aforementioned lack of lockers). But it’s an experience I’ll always cherish.
I loved my high school for many reasons, not least of which is the patroness under which it was founded: St. Theodore Guerin. In 2004, this Saint was not yet canonized. The name of my high school actually changed during my time there—from Blessed Theodore Guerin Catholic High School to Saint Theodore Guerin Catholic High School.
I’d never heard of Mother Guerin before starting high school, but my life will never be the same since coming to know her throughout my teenage years.
St. Theodore Guerin was Obedient to the Call
Known to us now as St. Theodore Guerin and recognized as the first Indiana Saint and 8th American Saint, Mother Theodore was born Anne-Therese Guerin on October 2, 1798, in Etables-sur-Mer, France. She had a rough start in life and bore the responsibility of caring for her mother and sister after the death of her father and brothers.
Finally, at age 25, she was allowed to fulfill the desire of her heart and call from God to enter religious life. She joined the Sisters of Providence at Ruillé sur-Loir, France.
When the bishop of Vincennes, Indiana wrote asking for an order of sisters to come help with the influx of Catholic immigrants in the area, it was decided that Mother Theodore was the only one up to the task. She did not want to leave France, especially for what was at the time completely untamed wilderness in Indiana. Yet she was obedient to the call and agreed to make the difficult journey.
Together with five other Sisters of Providence, they took on the mission of bringing Christ’s love to the settlers of southern Indiana.
Mission in the Wilderness
The sisters arrived to a remote area of Indiana, with no town or other neighbors in sight. They were tasked with establishing a motherhouse, opening schools, and ministering to the pioneers who had settled in the area.
During their first winter, the mission at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods consisted of a rough log cabin chapel and a small farmhouse where Mother Theodore, her fellow sisters, and a few postulants lived. During their first winter in the wilderness, harsh weather, cold, and frequent hunger plagued the sisters. Not to be deterred, they converted the house’s porch into a chapel and were comforted by the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Mother Théodore said, “With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?”“With Jesus, what shall we have to fear?” -St. Theodore Guerin #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Endless Challenges, Endless Trust
Mother Guerin faced numerous challenges during her early years in Indiana, including fire, hunger, crop failures, prejudice, a split between the diocese of Vincennes and the diocese back in France, separation from her original order, and severe illness. When you read accounts of Mother Guerin’s time establishing Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, it sounds surreal.
How did one woman endure so much hardship, sorrow, and physical challenges? Her answer was simple: trust in Providence.
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Trust in Providence
Providence is defined as “the protective care of God.” Mother Guerin put all her trust in God, trusting that He would protect, guide, and care for her and her missionary sisters as they tackled the immense tasks set before them. She trusted that He would see her through all the trials and tribulations and imbue her with the necessary strength. She trusted that God was good, even when things didn’t go as planned. In many ways, her faith was very simple and straightforward.
St. Theodore Guerin + Our Own Wilderness
As I reflect on St. Theodore Guerin’s life and legacy, I often wonder what wilderness God is calling me to. He may not be asking us to sail across an ocean and establish schools, hospitals, and a religious order in the middle of the untamed forest. But He is calling us all to something. Often that “something” is not clear to us. Or if it is clear to us, it can feel daunting or overwhelming.
I can’t imagine what it was like to set off into the wilderness with no guidebook, no plan, no Google in the palm of my hand. But I do know what it’s like to be called to something, and feel ill-equipped.
As I mother my two young children, I often feel ill-equipped.
As I take on the sacrifice of a husband who works night shift, I feel ill-equipped.
When people ask me for advice on basically anything under the sun, I feel ill-equipped.
I often wonder if I’m the woman for the job. I wonder, as Mother Guerin traveled to the wild frontier of Indiana, if she felt the same.
Maybe your wilderness is your vocation to your family, your classroom, your workplace with co-workers who believe differently than you, your family of origin who doesn’t understand. Maybe your wilderness is a broken marriage, the weight of singleness, or the cross of infertility.
May We Have Great Trust!
Whatever wilderness God is calling us to, may we respond with the bravery and confidence of St. Theodore Guerin. May we “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.”
May we, like Mother Theodore, submit willingly to the will of God, holding nothing back from Him.
May we place ourselves gently in the hands of Providence, with full knowledge that in a life with Christ, we have nothing to fear.
St. Theodore Guerin, pray for us!St. Theodore Guerin + Trusting in Providence #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Valerie Keinsley is a wife to a police officer and mama to two little ones living in central Indiana, where she and her husband are currently doing a massive renovation of their 116-year-old home. She loves WWII novels, decaf chai lattes, and trying to keep houseplants alive. She is striving to find and name beauty in the midst of the mundane, and loves to share her “good lists” on instagram. You can find out more about her here.