Updated: Oct 2, 2020
“We cannot do our work if we all stay in the nest.”
Saint Theodore was born as Anne-Therese Guerin on October 2nd, 1798 in the small village of Etables-sur-Mer in France. She took her first Holy Communion at the age of 10 and confided to the priest that she had every intention of joining a religious order as soon as she was old enough. At the young age of 15, tragedy struck. While travelling home to visit the family, a group of bandits stopped her father, robbed him and killed him (Her father was an Officer in the French Navy). This terrible murder proved too much for Saint Theodore's mother who feel into a deep and long lasting depression. Her mother came to fully depend on Saint Theodore in taking care of the rest of the family and so initially refused her wish when she wanted to joint a religious order on her 20th birthday.
On August 18th, 1823, her mother recognized her daughter's deep devotion to God and so allowed her to join the convent at 25. She entered the Sisters of Providence of Ruille-sur-Loir, taking the religious name Sisster Saint Theodore. Her first years were spent as a teacher at Preuilly-sur-Claise and then at Soulaines. While teaching, she became infected with smallpox and despite a recovery the illness left her with significant digestive issues the rest of her life. These issues were so bad that she was forced to eat a simple, bland diet without fats.
In 1839, Bishop Simon William Gabriel Brute sent Vicar general Celestine Guynemer de la Hailandiere as a representative of the large Diocese of Vincennes in Indiana to France in order to search for teachers and educators. The diocese had been inundated with large numbers of Catholic immigrants and was in dire need of not only Priests, but teachers as well. Soon after, Bishop Brute died and so Hailandiere was consecrated of the diocese. He immediately sent word to the sisters, requesting a group of sisters that could come and establish a ministry in Vincennes. Mother Mary, the superior general, nominated Saint Theodore for the task. She would later write that despite initial reservations, he accepted the task after meditating and praying on a sentence from the Rule of Congregation:
"The Congregation being obliged to work with zeal for the sanctification of souls, the sisters will be disposed to go to whatsoever part of the world obedience calls them."
Saint Theodore and five fellow sisters (Sister Ompiade Boyer, Sister Saint VIncent Ferrer Gage, Sister Basilide Seneschal, Sister Mary Xavier Leree, and Sister Mary Liguori Tiercin) arrived at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Indiana on October 22nd, 1840. It was here that the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods would be founded as a separate order from then one in France, with Saint Theodore becoming Mother Theodore.
Less than a year after their arrival, in July 1841, Mother Theodore and the sisters opened Saint Mary's Academy for young women. Over the next few years, they worked with Catholic Parishes to establish several schools. Mother Theodore was personally involved in the following schools:
Saint Joseph School (Jasper, 1842) Saint Anne's Academy (Madison, 1844)
Saint Augustine's School (Fort Wayne, 1846)
Saint Vincent's Academy (Terre Haute, 1849)
After a fundraising trip in France, the sisters opened even more schools:
Saint Joseph's Academy (Evansville, 1853)
Assumption (Evansville, 1853)
Saint Patrick's (North Madison, 1853)
Saint Mary's (Fort Wayne, 1853)
Saint Mary's (Lanesville, 1854)
Saint Bartholomew (Columbus, 1855)
On August 7, 1854, Mother Theodora purchased a local farmhouse and consecrated it as the congregation's first convent. Throughout the many years of building schools and providing for the care of the elderly and sick, the congregation was faced with destructive fires, crop failures, disagreements with other Catholic leaders, anti-Catholic bigotry and severely limited finances.
Saint Theodora succumbed to illness on May 14th, 1856 at the motherhouse in Indiana at the age of 57. She was buried there at the cemetery with a grave marked with a Celtic cross and an inscription reading:
"I sleep, but my heart watches over this house which I built."
Her remains were moved in 1907 to the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. During this process of moving her remains, Bishop Francis Silas Chatard and a medical doctor examined the remains, finding that the brain was fully intact and not decomposed after nearly 51 years. Bishop Chatard introduced the Cause for Canonization in 1909 after the medical investigation.
The first miracle attributed to her came in 1908, after Sister Mary Theodosia Mug prayed at Saint Theodore's crypt for another sister. Sister Mary had been suffering from damaged nerves in both hands, breast cancer and an abdominal tumor. When she woke up the following morning, not only was she able to move her arms without nerve pain, both the cancer and tumor had disappeared.
The second came when the grounds keeper Phil Mccord felt an immediate need to pray for Saint Theodore's intercession in an upcoming cornea transplant required to restore sight in his right eye. When he awoke the next morning, his vision had improved enough to no longer need the transplant. Ophthalmologists could find no medical explanation for the change.
Her canonization ceremony was held on October 15th, 2006 in Saint Peter's Square.