“She’s back home.”
Those three words by Sister Martine Meuwissen, general superior of the Sisters of Providence in Ruillé-sur-Loir, France, captured the sentiment at the dedication of the Saint Mother Theodore Guerin statue in France on May 14.
The 6-foot bronze sculpture was a gift to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College (SMWC) by alumna Mary Ann Kelly Hellmann ’64 and her husband, Jerry Hellmann. Standing in the garden of the Sisters of Providence motherhouse in the northwestern French community is a replica of the statue at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods created by Terre Haute artist Teresa Clark.
Meuwissen expressed her gratitude for the gift and believed it connects the two congregations closer together. “Everything started here. She is between two worlds here and in Indiana. She is in the middle of two congregations,” she said.
She explained the location of the statue in the garden has special significance. Facing the chapel Saint Mother Theodore left 177 years ago suggests a coming home. “By returning to us, it seems as though her smile says the circle is now complete,” Meuwissen said.
A group of SMWC alums, friends and Sisters of Providence traveled to France for the dedication. The full day included lunch, mass, sculpture dedication and a visit to the first mother house. The celebration began with a heartfelt welcome over tea and biscuits with the SMWC delegation and representatives from both congregations. President Dottie King, Ph.D. presented Meuwissen with an SMWC pin, and several gifts were exchanged throughout the day.
Patrice Chauvel, a great, great, great, great nephew of Saint Mother Theodore, welcomed everyone and offered a brief song. “I am so honored to be here because she is part of my family,” said Chauvel. Currently, he maintains the grounds of the birthplace of Saint Mother Theodore in Brittany.
With the backdrop of the French countryside, the warm hospitality continued. Nearly 300 guests enjoyed a traditional Breton meal outside surrounded by stately trees and beautiful gardens. The meal featured crepes, sausage and cider.
The mass was officiated by The Bishop of Le Mans, Monsignor Yves Le Saux. President King and Sister Dawn Tomaszewski ’74, general superior of the Sisters of Providence and Sister Lisa Stallings ’74 read a portion of the life of Saint Mother Theodore. Karen Dyer, vice president of advancement, carried the flag of Brittany. The Hellmanns carried the holy relic of Saint Mother Theodore.Alums Mary Jeanne Miller ’80, and Dee Reed ’08 also participated in the mass.
The dedication ceremony began with the blessing of the statue by Monsignor Le Saux. President King spoke of the generosity of the Hellmanns. “They saw the need for something we had not yet seen: to have the statue here and for her to come home. It now seems so obvious,” she said. “A gift is important in two ways – for the giver and those who receive it. And this gift has been received so well.”
Meuwissen thanked the Hellmanns on behalf to the congregation and presented the them with a replica of Saint Mother Theodore’s rosary. Visibly moved, the couple humbly accepted this sincere expression of gratitude.
“When we opened the box, I became so emotional,” said Mary Ann. “I had seen the rosary on the nuns my entire life. This is just so special.”
The Hellmanns first considered the gift of the statue on a visit to Ruille in 2009. Jerry Hellmann said there was a small painting of Saint Mother Theodore on the wall. He believed this extraordinary spiritual leader who transformed many lives should be recognized in a more significant way. The process of the statue began when they returned home.
The day ended at La Petite Providence, the location where the congregation began in 1806. A quietness and reverence washed over the SMWC group as they toured the home, chapel and grounds where Saint Mother Theodore lived and prayed. Thoughts of her praying in the chapel where they stood became overwhelming. The alums joined hands and began to softly sing “Our Lady of Providence.”
While beautifully crafted, the sculpture represents far more than the curves and folds of the metal. It is a tangible and engaging way to honor Saint Mother Theodore’s legacy faith and determination. Her legacy of compassion, service and enduring faith continues to inspire and transcends language and culture. It is the hope of the Hellmanns that all who see her will allow her example to lead them.
Alums In Attendance
- Mary Ann Kelly Hellman ’64
- Kathy Lubeznick ’80
- Wayne King ’14G
- Mary Jeanne Miller ’80
- Gay Scherrer ’64
- Juliet Oeffinger ’64
- Dee Reed ’08
- Laurie Mayer ‘80