Within the cultural mythology of Indiana, Hoosiers are traditionally considered good, wholesome folks…but not exactly saints ? The Hoosier demographic was broadened considerably, however, with the canonization of a French native who came to Indiana as a missionary. In 2006, the Catholic Church welcomed into its ranks of 10,000 saints Mother Théodore Guérin, a nun who had died 150 years earlier in Vigo County. Guérin was only the eighth person to be designated a saint in the United States, and the first in Indiana.
Anne-Thérèse Guérin was born in 1798 in the Breton city of Etables, France. She was an exceptionally devout child, at a time when the revolutionary climate discouraged religious practice. Guérin joined the order of the Sisters of Providence in 1823 and by 1831 had taken her perpetual vows. In the late 1830s, Mother Théodore received a call to lead a group of six nuns to establish a mission in the Diocese of Vincennes, a former French fur trading post and significant Catholic hub. Covering 330 square miles in Indiana and eastern Illinois, the diocese served 50,000 practitioners. The sisters’ three-month ocean crossing was followed by an equally arduous journey by stagecoach from New York to western Indiana, where they arrived on October 20, 1840. Just outside of Terre Haute, Mother Théodore promptly set up what is considered the first Catholic school for women, St. Mary’s Academy for Young Ladies, later known as St. Mary-of-the-Woods. Despite ongoing power struggles with the Bishop of Vincennes, who threatened her with banishment from the order and even excommunication from the church, Mother Théodore spent the rest of her life in Indiana, establishing Catholic girls’ schools and orphanages across the state.
Although she passed away in 1856, Mother Théodore’s passage to sainthood did not get underway until 1909. The Cause for the Beatification and Canonization of Guérin was launched in 1909, after a certain Sister Mary Theodosia Mug was said to have been healed of breast cancer, vision problems and a nervous condition the morning after praying at Guérin’s tomb. The cause for sainthood was further supported by a healing that occurred almost a century later, considered to be Guérin’s second miracle. Longtime St. Mary-of-the-Woods employee Phil McCord was legally blind and facing corneal surgery in 2000 when a prayer to Guérin was answered with the restoration of perfect sight the next day. Mother Théodore Guérin was canonized by Pope Benedict the 16 th on October 15, 2006 as Saint Theodora.