What if you were asked to leave your friends, family, and country behind to spread the Word in a foreign land? You don’t know the language or customs, you’d be left in the wilderness with a small group of companions, and can bring little to no belongings. Could you do it?
When the French-born Saint Theodora, also known as Mother Theodore Guerin, was asked to lead a mission to found Catholic elementary schools, a school for the higher education of women, and a community of women religious in the United States, she hesitated. She didn’t feel capable at 42 years of age and in ill health. After meditating upon the request, she believed God wanted her to accept the challenge, and she knew then that she didn’t have to worry about anything. God would care for all her needs.
Saint Theodora and five other sisters journeyed to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana over 102 grueling travel days across France, the Atlantic Ocean, and the American wilderness in heavy black habits. They ventured by boats, ships, stage coaches, and wagons through turbulent waters, high winds, storms, and muddy unpaved roads. When the group arrived at their destination on October 22, 1840, they found dense woods with a small cabin used as the rectory and church and a home owned by another family in which they were to live.
The challenges were great. But in spite of separation from family, friends, and her native France; financial and emotional abandonment by her former superior and community; a language barrier which soon was overcome; drastic fluctuations of weather conditions; devastating fires; cholera epidemics; financial instability; the erratic behavior of her bishop; and Saint Theodora’s personal illness which kept her bed-ridden for weeks at a time, great success was attained by her and the sisters.
Saint Theodora fully trusted the Lord to guide and assist her in doing the work God led her to do. Under her leadership, the congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana built schools throughout the Midwest, orphanages, and a free pharmacy that filled a need for care, education, and evangelization. They also founded Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the oldest Catholic liberal arts college for women in the United States, and the religious community of the the Sisters of Providence, both of which continue today.
Perhaps God is asking you to spread the Word as well. Few of us must sacrifice as greatly as Saint Theodora. We all don’t have to even leave our homes. This can be done in our own families, communities, or country through word or deed. We can show the love of the Lord by working in a food pantry, serving in our parish ministries, through words spoken or written, and simply by living a life following Jesus’ example of accepting, loving, and caring for all people.
©2016, Mary K. Doyle