How Indiana’s Only Catholic Saint Achieved Her Title 150 Years After Her Death
It took nearly a century for the Roman Catholic Church to canonize Indiana’s first and only saint 15 years ago.
The journey has seen jolts, a bit like the perilous one that Saint Mother Theodore Guérin took from France to a swamp forest near Terre Haute in 1840 to open Catholic schools on the American border. Pope Benedict XVI sanctified it on October 15, 2006, 150 years after his death.
Enough scientifically inexplicable events – miracles for the faithful – happened in the first 50 years after his death that a group of priests in Indiana, extolling his virtues, set the process in motion in 1909.
“From dozens of chapels scattered across the United States, the prayers of a thousand nuns rise in a hopeful petition for success,” wrote The Indianapolis Star on December 11, 1909.
Several successive generations will try to revitalize the cause, bringing Guérin to his place of eighth saint in the United States.
But this fateful mission in Indiana was not the one Saint Guérin wanted to do.
In 1840, she was 42 years old and was ill. A battle with the disease as a child – believed to be smallpox – took permanent toll on his digestive system. Her father, an officer in Napoleon’s navy, was murdered as a teenager, pushing her into a role of guard and leaving her with lingering sadness.
Responding to a recruiting call to expand the mission in Indiana, Mother General of the Sisters of Providence Ruille-sur-Loir – the convent that Guérin joined at age 24 – told the Bishop of Vincennes: “We we only have one Sister capable of making the foundation. If she agrees, we will send you Sisters next summer.
Aware of her physical flaws, Guérin only consented to the trip when she was told that the mission should be abandoned if she did not go, according to the book “Journals and Letters of Mother Théodore Guérin”, published by her. convent still surviving. , Sisters of Providence of Sainte-Marie-des-Bois, Indiana.
She and five nuns crossed the Atlantic during hurricane season, then chartered trains, barges and horse-drawn carriages to the Midwest. In the last kilometers, the forest was so dense with ponds that the water flooded the cars – yet Guérin, dejected, was not in phase.
“When you have nothing more to lose, the heart is inaccessible to fear,” she writes.
When they got off the stage coach, she described herself as speechless.
“What was our astonishment to find ourselves always in the middle of the forest, no village, not even a house in sight”, she writes.
The first year, they were cold, hungry and always looking for funds. But eight months after their arrival, the nuns built their first academy, which survives today as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, the oldest liberal arts college for women in the country.
Guerin oversaw the construction of buildings, negotiated teaching contracts and secured food under difficult conditions, a prevailing anti-Catholic sentiment, and a bishop who tried to micromanage his parish.
It was the same bishop, Mgr de la Hailandière, who recruited her. They were both determined, and for that he considered her rebellious – he even excommunicated her as a nun after she stood up to him. But when he was relieved of his duties due to growing conflicts elsewhere, Guérin returned to his congregation.
“You do not see a woman in this country involved in the smallest affairs, the nuns no more than the others,” she wrote in her letters. “They stare at me in Terre Haute and elsewhere when they see me doing business, paying, buying.
She then founded the first dozen Catholic schools in Indiana, from Evansville to Fort Wayne. Archbishop of Indianapolis Daniel Buechlein is quoted in IndyStar on October 8, 2006, calling her the founder of Catholic education in Indiana.
Journey to holiness
His death in 1856 marked the end of a 16-year mission in Indiana and the start of efforts to sanctify his contributions.
The Sisters of Providence have preserved his writings and wrote historical sketches. And then about 50 years after his death, several inexplicable events occurred.
In 1907, in the process of exhuming his body from the convent cemetery and moving it to a crypt, Mgr Francis Silas Chatard, first bishop of Indianapolis, made an astonishing discovery.
“The flesh was gone and the bones were collapsing, but the brain showed no signs of damage,” wrote The Indianapolis Star in 1909. Verdict: Science could not explain the preservation of the brain.
In 1909, Chatard introduced the first Cause of Canonization, the first step in a process of becoming a saint which the newspaper said could then take 100 years.
The commission of priests scrutinized his writings and questioned witnesses; “The details of the facts and circumstances have been scrutinized with vigilance for errors which would surprise a court,” wrote the Indianapolis Star.
One of the events examined would be the first miracle attributed to Guérin. On October 30, 1908, a nun named Sister Mary Theodosia Mug, who had advanced breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy that left an unnecessary arm and swollen belly, prayed in the vault containing Guerin’s remains. The next day, her arm regained strength, her stomach shrank 4 inches, and she lived another 35 years.
The Vatican did not officially declare this “miraculous” until 1997. In that year, Pope John Paul II gave Guérin the title of “blessed” – a stop before holiness.
After that, the Sisters of Providence of Sainte-Marie-des-Bois set out in search of another miracle that would make her eligible.
In 2001, their director of facilities management, Phil McCord, needed a cornea transplant after a cataract removal left him nearly blind. He prayed to Mother Theodore in the Church of the Immaculate Conception; Soon after, her swelling disappeared, as did the need for surgery.
Ophthalmologists interviewed by The Indianapolis Star said his recovery was inexplicable.
The Sisters called it a miracle.
They took his case to Rome; a postulator came to Indianapolis to investigate the claim. The sisters were to find eight witnesses and two independent doctors ready to testify under oath.
Transcripts of the three-month trial were sent to Rome in 2003, and the cardinals agreed with the sisters.
So on October 15, 2006, more than 700 Hoosiers made the pilgrimage to Rome to see their first saint gain the holy recognition they had long believed she deserved.