I've often told the story of Margaret Anna Cusack, the founder of my religious community, here on the blog. One of my favorite quotes by her is from a letter she wrote to Archbishop Corrigan of New York, who had refused to meet with her for more than three years. She wrote, "I am no saint, but your eminence has read the lives of the saints, and you know how often and how cruelly the founders of religious orders were belied and misrepresented even by good people."
One relatively new Saint that keeps popping up in my mind (and prayers) these days is Saint Mother Théodore Guérin, the founder of the Sisters of Providence of St.-Mary-of-the Woods, canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
I first read her story when she was still Blessed and not yet a Saint. She is one of the amazing pioneer Sisters of the 1800s who traveled West on a wing and a prayer and established ministries that continue today. She began her religious life in France in 1825, but made the trek to the United States and eventually Indiana in 1840:
We continued to advance into the thick woods till suddenly, Father Buteux stopped the carriage and said, 'Come down, Sisters, we have arrived.' What was our astonishment to find ourselves still in the midst of the forest, no village, not even a house in sight.The foundation of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods had begun! Shortly afterwards, her challenges with church hierarchy also began. I've read this part of her story before, which is neatly summarized in this article. It's almost too hard to believe.
In the early years of the community, she struggled with the local bishop who had his own ideas of what the Sisters should be doing. In 1843, she travelled to France to raise money for the new community. When she returned, she learned that the Bishop had admitted novices, opened and closed schools, and ordered the Sisters to elect a new superior while she was away fundraising.
This is where the power of community comes into the story. The Sisters elected a new superior ... Mother Théodore! As you might imagine, the Bishop wasn't particularly pleased with this outcome. There were some more power struggles, resulting in his locking her inside his house until she agreed with his demands.
I guess she wasn't feeling so inclined, so he released her from her vows and told her not to write to the Sisters. When they heard what had happened, the Sisters said they would leave with her. Again, this did not seem to make him happy, so he threatened to excommunicate them and arrest them if they took anything with them from the convent! Seriously, you can't make this kind of stuff up.
Happily, the Holy Spirit seems to have been on the case. Word came from Rome. The Bishop's resignation had been accepted. A new Bishop was appointed. And not only are the Sisters of Providence still alive and kicking, Mother Theodore is now Saint Mother Théodore.
I'm reminded of another favorite quote by my friend Margaret Anna Cusack.
Act together in everything and you will be holy and happy children of peace.
Pray for us Margaret Anna and Saint Mother Théodore Guérin.