Sister Saint Theodore, Anne Therese Guerin, was born at Etables, diocese of Saint Bricuc, Brittany, 2 October 1798. Her father dying when she was but fourteen years of age, she, being the oldest child, became the help and companion of her mother. This circumstance contributed much to develop those admirable qualities that afterwards adorned her character. Being inclined to a religious life from her earliest years, the attractions of society had no charms for her, and if she delayed to embrace the holy state for which her heart longed it was only in consideration of her widowed mother, who seemed quite unwilling to make the sacrifice. Finally, however, Madame Guerin gave her consent; not from the oft-repeated solicitations of her daughter, but from the conviction that it was the holy will of God.
Anne Therese, in consequence of a particular devotion to Saint Teresa, her patron saint, had a strong preference for the Carmelite Order, of which that illustrious saint is considered the foundress. But incidents, apparently casual, though undoubtedly designed by God, influenced her choice in favor of the Sisters of Providence, an order founded at Ruille-sur-Loir in 1800. She was twenty-four years of age when she left her home to enter the religious life. This was an occasion of mingled joy and sorrow – joy that she could now satisfy the long-cherished desire of consecrating herself to God, sorrow that she was obliged to leave her mother, who regarded her as a second self. She entered the community at Ruillé in the fall of 1822, and at the following retreat, not quite a year from her entrance, she received the religious dress and made her vows. To admit to profession on so short a probation was not customary, but the extraordinary virtues and abilities of Anne Therese – now Sister Saint Theodore – entitled her to the privilege of being advanced that she might share in the responsible employments of the community.
Immediately after her profession she was appointed superior of an extensive establishment at Itennes, the object of which was to give poor children a useful education. This was a difficult undertaking, as the inhabitants of that quarter of the city had been sunk in ignorance and moral degradation ever since the great Revolution in France. But Sister Saint Theodore was perfectly qualified for the task. Such astonishing success attended her unwearied exertions that in a few years the mission was in a most flourishing condition. She was then removed to Soulaines, where, besides the class of poor children, there was a school for young ladies, and visiting the sick entered as one of the occupations of the sisters. Sister Saint Theodore took advantage of this latter duty to join the study of medicine to the practical knowledge of diseases that she would necessarily acquire on her errands of charity. This knowledge of medicine was very serviceable to her, as she sometimes found herself in places where good physician could not be procured.
It was from this establishment of Soulaines that Sister Saint Theodore started for the mission of Indiana, The saintly Bishop Bruté, the first bishop of Vincennes, earnestly solicited the Sisters of Providence to take upon themselves the in struction of youth in his diocese, then the wilds of America. The superior-general at Ruillé accepted the mission on condition that Sister Saint Theodore would consent to go as superior of the distant establishment. Although there was much to make Sister Saint Theodore shrink from such responsibility, yet the conviction that it was God’s will prevailed, and she, with five associates – Sister Saint Vincent, Sister Basilide, Sister Olympiade, Sister Mary, and Sister Lignori – nobly accepted the arduous undertaking.
These generous heroines of charity, severing the ties of home, friends, and country, embarked for the United States on 27 July 1840, and, after a prosperous voyage of six weeks, arrived at New York. The good mother-superior and her companions, overcome with emotion, shed tears of joy and thanksgiving on beholding their adopted country. The bishop of New York, to whom they had been recommended, prepared a reception for them at the house of Madame Parmentier, an excellent French lady, whose kindness then and afterwards merited the lasting gratitude and friendship of the Sisters of Providence. They remained a week in New York, and then, after a fatiguing journey of three weeks overland, they reached their new scene of labor, their future home, Saint Mary’s of the Woods. Never, indeed, was a place better named, for it was a thick, dark wood, a very wilderness at the time, and the house built for the sisters was not finished; but in this destitution they were accommodated by a farmer, who obligingly gave up half of his little frame dwelling for their use. A small log house, ten feet square, was at the same time both the chapel and the dwelling of the priest, Father Buteux. There was neither altar nor tabernacle, but on a board resting upon logs was placed a small pyx, on which the Blessed Sacrament was kept. But, nothing daunted, these true spouses of a crucified Saviour reverently entered this small, rude temple which sheltered their Divine Master, and while in his presence they were strengthened to face the destitution and poverty which surrounded them. With the assurance that Jesus, from that, log cabin, would bless their work, they rose strong in God’s grace to suffer patiently and cheerfully the crosses and privations that were in store for them. As our Lord’s house is not built of stones wrought by the hands of men, but of the loving hearts of his creatures formed and fashioned to his will, so it may be truly said that on that day, 22 October 1840, the community of the Sisters of Providence in America was founded at Saint Mary’s of the Woods.
In November, 1841, Mother Theodore had the happiness of welcoming to her little community Sister Saint Francis, who had been named to accompany her, but, on account of delicate health, had been obliged to remain in France a year longer. From this time until her death Sister Saint Francis became, in a special manner, the co-laborer of Mother Theodore. Hence we find their names associated in all the important events and transactions of the infant community, Mother Theodore as superior-general, and Sister Saint Frarcis as mistress of novices. These two noble women died in 1856, within three months of each other. Of the lovely and, we might almost say, seraphic Sister Saint Francis little need be said here, as her Life and Letters, a work now current in French literature, gives ample testimony to the heroic virtues which entitle her to the beautiful name, “Apostolic Woman.” Her Letters have been recently styled by an able critic “a string of exquisite pearls.”
Mother Theodore united those rare virtues that form the perfect religious with extraordinary governing and financial abilities. Full of zeal for God’s glory and charity for her neighbor, this remarkable woman was ever found sacrificing self, relieving, encouraging, and instructing others. If religious houses were not governed and sustained by God himself, the death of Mother Theodore would have seriously affected the existence of the young community; but he does not withdraw his saints from the scene of their labor to destroy the work they have raised for his greater glory. He continues it by his power, to perpetuate their recompense by a standing memorial of their merit; and thus the community of Sisters of Providence in America continued after the death of its cherished foundress, Mother Theodore. The influence of her example, the salutary effects of her advice and instructions, dwell yet in the community, and the fruit of her ardent zeal and untiring charity is now witnessed in the extensive and numerous establishments, both educational and charitable, spread over the Western States, foremost among which stands Saint Mary’s Academic Institute, now considered one of the finest educational establishments in the Union. The Sisters of Providence and their thousands of pnpils hold in deep and lasting affection the venerated name of Mother Theodore.
- “Mother Theodore”. , 1881. CatholicSaints.Info. 15 January 2017. Web. 30 March 2017. <>