Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once said that we can do no great things in this life, only small things done with great love.
Indiana produced a saint of its own, and what she said about sanctity anticipated Mother Teresa by 140 years or so.
“What have we to do in order to become saints? Nothing extraordinary; nothing more than we do every day. Only do it for his love,” said St. Theodora Guérin some 160 years ago.
St. Theodora did great things as well, including founding the Sisters of Providence, an order dedicated to teaching young women, and establishing St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, near Terre Haute, Ind.
One of her “spiritual daughters,” an alumna of St. Mary’s, Julie Young, has written A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guérin. She opens her work by describing a Mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI in October 2006, when “bleary-eyed pilgrims made their way to the gates of St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, bundled against the chill in order to be first in line to bear witness to one of the biggest events in the Roman Catholic Church — the canonization of a saint.”
A Belief in Providence leads us though the life of Anne-Thérèse Guérin, from her birth into unstable post-revolutionary France to life in America. Young highlights the hardships she faced as she took on the establishment of her teaching community in a raw, sparsely populated, Protestant land.
Young relies heavily on excerpts from Guérin’s diary and correspondence with her friends and superiors, allowing us to see these difficult years in Guérin’s life using her own words. The reader sees firsthand the spiritual difficulties Guérin faced. She would have surely let these trials get the better of her. But, as Young eloquently demonstrates, God’s will for Guérin, and Indiana, won out.
A Belief in Providence was not written for a Catholic audience. It is meant for a wider audience and reads more like a history than a meditation on the life of a saint. But Young is careful to represent the Catholic faith faithfully. She makes St. Theodora’s spiritual virtues obvious and goes to great lengths describing what saints are to the Church and how they are selected. She is especially careful to note that Catholics do not worship saints, and that sainthood is not a popularity contest.
Young confessed in an interview with The Catholic Moment, newspaper of the Diocese of Lafayette in Indiana, that she did not know much about her Catholic faith or about St. Theodora when she started school there.
But throughout her research for A Belief in Providence, her faith deepened and she developed what she calls a friendship with the saint. Her book certainly reflects this and readers will benefit greatly from it.
Joy Wambeke is based in Marshall, Minnesota.
A Belief in Providence: A Life of Saint Theodora Guérin
by Julie Young
Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007
200 pages, $17.95
To order: shop.indianahistory.org