St. Mary-In-The-Woods, Indiana
Anne-Therese Theodore Guerin was French nun who followed in the footsteps of Rose Philippine Duchesne by moving to America in order to pursue missionary work and found Catholic schools in the New World. Like her predecessor, she also worked on the American frontier. She left behind an important legacy throughout the Midwest, and several miracles were attributed to her after her death. A shrine was built in her honor on the grounds of the Motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence.
Anne-Therese Theodore Guerin was born in 1798 in Brittany in France under the spectre of the French Revolution and Napoleanic Wars. Her father, a naval officer, was killed in 1813, and Anne was forced to take care of her mother and help raise her siblings. This ultimately contributed to Anne’s desire to serve the Church. In 1823, she received her mother’s permission to pursue a religious life.
In 1825 she became a member of the order of the Sisters of Providence of Ruille-sur-Loire and served with them for many years. During the 1830s, the Catholic Church in the United States was growing quickly. A call went out for desperately needed teachers in the Catholic schools on the American frontier. Guerin answered the call, and she and five companions traveled to Indiana to begin their missionary work.
In 1840, the six missionaries arrived in America, and traveled to the vicinity of Terre Haute, Indiana. There they founded the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, with Guerin as Mother Superior. The next year they established a girl’s academy, which later went on to become Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
For the remainder of her life, Mother Theodore and her associates expanded the order and established schools and orphanages throughout the region. By the mid-19th century she was one of the best known and most honored religious leaders of the Midwest. She died in 1856 and was canonized in 2006.
The National Shrine of St. Mother Theodore Guerin is a large complex that incorporates the site of her original school in Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods. The main building is the magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception completed in 1907. It replaced the original log cabin chapel constructed on the site in the 1800s.
The church interior is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the state of Indiana, in part because it reflects renaissance construction as opposed to more modern styles that became prevalent a few years later. Its murals and stained glass are regionally famous. Mother Theodore is interred in the Our Lady of Sorrows Chapel beneath the church. Three of her finger bones are on display for pilgrims.
The National Shrine of St. Mother Theodore Guerin is located in the center of the town of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, approximately five miles northwest of Terre Haute and seventy miles west of Indianapolis. NOTE – As of this writing, a new shrine was under construction. It is due to open October 2014. Web: http://spsmw.org (official website).
In addition to her shrine, Mother Theodore is also commemorated by a memorial cross at the nearby Sisters of Providence Convent Cemetery, where she was originally interred.