Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
Foundress, Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
Archdiocese Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Province Sisters of Providence
Metropolis Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana
Enthroned 1840
Reign ended 1856
Successor Mary Cecilia Bailly, SP
Personal details
Birth name Anne-Thérèse Guérin
Born October 2, 1798(1798-10-02)
Étables-sur-Mer, Brittany, France
Died May 14, 1856 (aged 57)
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, United States
Buried Sisters of Providence Convent Cemetery, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, United States
Denomination Catholic
Parents Laurent Guérin and Isabelle Lefèvre
Feast day October 3
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Title as Saint Saint Theodora
Beatified October 1998
Beatified by Pope John Paul II
Canonized October 15, 2006
Canonized by Pope Benedict XVI
Shrines Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana

Saint Mother Théodore Guérin (designated by the Vatican as Saint Theodora) was born October 2, 1798, in the village of Étables-sur-Mer in Brittany, France. She accepted a mission to the United States and founded a congregation of Roman Catholic nuns — the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. Her work in the United States included founding several schools, notably Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, in Vigo County, near Terre Haute. She died May 14, 1856, aged 57.

The Cause for the beatification and canonization of Mother Théodore Guérin was opened in 1909. This long and thorough process of declaring saints in the Roman Catholic Church is a way to make the spiritual legacy of a person known universally. In October 1998, Pope John Paul II bestowed the title "Blessed" on Mother Théodore to signify that the Catholic Church recognizes her as a holy woman, through whose intercession a miracle occurred, worthy of honor and veneration. Pope Benedict XVI has signed a document recognizing a second miracle attributed to her, and her canonization ceremony was held on October 15, 2006[1].

Early life

Born as Anne-Thérèse Guérin, she was the daughter of Laurent and Isabelle Lefèvre Guérin. Laurent Guérin was an officer in the French Navy under Napoleon Bonaparte. Anne-Thérèse was born near the end of the French Revolution, which had torn France apart. Schools and churches were closed, and many Catholic priests had chosen exile over the guillotine.

Laurent and Isabelle had four children, but only two — Anne-Thérèse and Marie-Jeanne — survived to adulthood. Anne-Thérèse was mostly educated at home by her mother. At the age of 10, she was allowed to take her First Communion, which was two years earlier than the custom of the time. On the day of her First Communion, she confided to the priest in Etables that she wished to enter a religious community.

When Anne-Thérèse was 15, tragedy struck the family when her father was killed by bandits as he travelled home to his family. The grief proved to be too much for her mother, who already had lost two children, and she fell into a deep and incapacitating depression. For many years, Anne-Thérèse accepted the responsibility of caring for her mother and sister, as well as the family's home and garden. At the age of 20, Anne-Thérèse asked her mother's blessing to join a religious order, but Isabelle — still unable to cope with her loss — refused. Five years later, Isabelle recognized the depth of Anne-Thérèse's devotion and permitted her to leave.

Religious life

Anne-Thérèse entered the young congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir. She was given the religious name Sister St. Théodore. She professed first vows September 8, 1825, and perpetual vows, which at the time were optional, on September 5, 1831.

Sister St. Théodore was sent to teach first at Preuilly-sur-Claise. There, she became ill, probably with smallpox, and nearly died. The illness damaged her digestive system and, for the rest of her life, she could only eat a simple, bland diet.

During her career in France, Sister St. Théodore also taught at St. Aubin parish school in Rennes and taught and visited the sick and poor in Soulaines in the Diocese of Angers. During this time, she received a medal for her teaching from the inspector for the Academy of Angers.

Journey to America

In 1839, the first bishop of Vincennes the Most Rev. Simon William Gabriel Bruté sent a representative to his native France to seek a religious congregation to teach, to introduce religious instruction and to assist the sick in the vast Dicoese of Vincennes. With only a few priests and a great influx of Catholic immigrants of French, Irish and German descent, the diocese was in need of assistance. Bruté knew the great assistance a religious order could provide, having worked with Mother St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and her Sisters of Charity during the founding and early years of Mount Saint Mary's University in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

While his representative was in France, fellow French émigré Bishop Bruté died in Vincennes, and the representative, Celestine de la Hailandière was consecrated bishop of Vincennes. The newly ordained bishop requested the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé for sisters for his young diocese.

Although she was unsure of her own abilities to complete such a mission at first, after considerable discernment, Sister St. Théodore agreed. Later she said that it was a sentence from the Rule of the 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," that convinced her to answer the American call.

Founding a new order

On October 22, 1840, Sister St. Théodore and five companions (Sister Olympiade Boyer, Sister Saint Vincent Ferrer Gagé, Sister Basilide Sénéschal, Sister Mary Xavier Lerée and Sister Mary Liguori Tiercin) stepped from a carriage into a dense forest. Their travels from France had taken three months and involved all forms of transportation available at the time: sailing ship, steamboat and stagecoach. The travels were difficult and, many times, dangerous.

They had left "civilization" and France for the wilds of the Indiana territory, a small village called Saint Mary-of-the-Woods just a few miles northwest of Terre Haute. For months, they lived packed into a small frontier home with new postulants and, for a time, with a local family.

With humble resources, Sister St. Théodore and her companions moved ahead with their missionary plans. Soon, she was to be called Mother Théodore, an honor given to her as superior of the new mission. In July 1841, the sisters opened St. Mary's Academy for Young Ladies, which later became Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Mother Théodore was not without doubt on this endeavor. An accomplished writer, her journals record her thoughts: "It is astonishing that this remote solitude has been chosen for a novitiate and especially for an academy. All appearances are against it."

Miracles attributed to Guérin

The first miracle attributed to Guérin is said to have occurred in 1908. Before going to bed, Sister Mary Theodosia Mug prayed at Guérin's tomb to be healed of her damaged nerves, poor eyesight, breast cancer and an abdominal tumor. When she awoke the next day, Sister Mary was healed.[2]

The second of the miracles attributed to her involves Phil McCord of Terre Haute, Indiana and occurred in January of 2001.[3] McCord, who had worked in facilities management for the Sisters of Providence, stopped by the Church of the Immaculate Conception on the grounds and was drawn in by music from the pipe organ there. While in the church he felt compelled to pray to Guérin, asking for strength to undergo a medical operation for his failing eyesight,[4] as his eyes had deteriorated to legally blind status: 20-800 in one eye and 20-1000 in the other. After praying, he went home. When he awoke the next morning, his vision had returned to 20-20, and his eye now needed only laser treatment to remove old tissue.[3]


For more than a decade, from 1841 to 1852, the Academy at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods was the only Catholic boarding school for girls in Indiana. Prior to 1840, two private academies and one public school for young girls existed in the state. In an attempt to help parishes establish schools for their children, Mother Théodore, from the time of her arrival at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840 to January 1849, established parish schools at Jasper, St. Peter's, Vincennes, Madison, Fort Wayne and Terre Haute, all in Indiana, and at St. Francisville in Illinois. In 1853, she opened establishments in Evansville, Indiana and North Madison, Indiana; in 1854, at Lanesville, Indiana; and in 1855 at Columbus, Indiana, south of Indianapolis.

Additionally, with Bishop de Saint-Palais, she established two orphanages in Vincennes. Also, by the time of Mother Théodore's death in 1856, the Sisters of Providence congregation had grown from six sisters and four postulants to 67 professed members, nine novices and seven postulants.

Mother Théodore's death

The Catholic Telegraph and Advocate in Cincinnati, published the following notice about Mother Théodore's death. She died May 14, 1856, aged 57.

Died - At Saint Mary's-of-the-Woods (sic), in the 58th year of her age, Wednesday, 14th inst., Sister St. Théodore, Superior General of the Sisters of Providence in Indiana.

This woman, distinguished by her eminent virtues, governed the community of which she was the superior from its commencement, to the time of her death, a period of nearly sixteen years. Being a perfect religious herself, and endowed with mental qualities of a high order, she was peculiarly fitted to fill the duties which Providence assigned her.<p> Not only her Sisters are bereaved by her death, but all those who knew her excellence and the amount of good she did, join in lamenting that she should have been removed from the sphere of her usefulness. To judge from the celestial expression of her countenance as she lay in death, there is every reason to believe that she has already taken her abode among the Saints in Heaven, enjoying the munificence of God, who rewards His servants 'according to their works.' </blockquote>



Saint Mother Theodore has been named patron of:

See also


  1. Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin ready for sainthood
  2. Letter to Mother Mary Cleophas located in the Archives, St. Mary of the Woods, dated, November 21, 1908. Quoted in Madden 1991, pp. 411-413
  3. 3.0 3.1 Carroll 2006
  4. Bennett 2006

Primary sources

  • Guérin, Théodore; Mary Theodosia Mug, ed. (1937). Journals and Letters of Mother Théodore Guérin, Foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana: Sisters of Providence. 

Secondary sources

  • Brown, Mary Borromeo (1949). History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods: Volume I. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana: Benziger Brothers Inc.. 
  • Burton, Catherine; Mary K. Doyle (forward and afterword) (2006). The Eighth American Saint: The Life of Saint Mother Théodore Guérin, Foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Skokie, Illinois: ACTA Publications. 
  • Madden, Mary Roger (1991). The Path Marked Out: History of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods: Volume III. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana: Sisters of Providence. 
  • Mitchell, Penny Blaker (1998). Mother Théodore Guérin: A Woman for Our Time. Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana: Sisters of Providence. 
  • "Mother Theodore Guerin's remains moved to place of honor". The Tribune-Star (Terre Haute, Indiana). 
  • Ryan, Joseph Eleanor (1987). Positio Super Virtutibus for the Beatification and Canonization of Mother Théodore Guérin. Rome. 

External links

Catholic Church titles
Preceded by
General Superior of the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods
1840 - 1856
Succeeded by
Mary Cecilia Bailly, SP
Preceded by
President of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College
1841 - 1856
Succeeded by
Mary Cecilia Bailly, SP
sv:Théodore Guérin

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