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Sisters of Providence

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(St. Mary-of-the-Woods)

Among the teaching religious orders that originated in France at the close of the Revolution was the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillésur-Loir, founded in 1806 by M. Jacques-François Dujarié, Curé of Ruillé (Sarthe). The society had a struggling existence for several years, but was finally established with the collaboration of Joséphine Zoé du Roscoät, the first superior general. Mother du Roscoät was of an ancient noble Breton family and was renowned for her piety, charity, and zeal. Many followed her to Ruillé and the community prospered. Though the sisters devoted themselves to various works of mercy and charity, the instruction of youth was their primary object. They soon had schools not only throughout the diocese, but in distant countries also. In 1839 Rt. Rev. Simon-Gabriel Bruté, first Bishop of Vincennes, commissioned his vicar-general, Mgr de la Hailandière, to return to his native country to procure priests and religious teachers for his immense diocese. Scarcely had he arrived in France when the death of Bishop Bruté was announced, followed by the appointment of Mgr de la Hailandière as his successor. The newly-consecrated bishop obtained from Mother Mary a colony of religious for Indiana. Six sisters, under the leadership of Mother Theodore Guérin, a woman of exceptional qualifications and high spiritual attainments, reached their home in the New World, 22 Oct., 1840. Instead of being established in the episcopal city, as they had been led to expect, they were taken to a densely wooded country, where only the foundation of a building for them was completed; and they were obliged to find shelter in a neighbouring farmhouse, one room and a corn loft being at their disposal. After a few weeks the community obtained sole possession of this house, which then became the mother-house, called St. Mary-of-the-Woods. In the summer of 1841 the new building being completed, a boarding school was opened with seven pupils. In 1841 another member from the French mother-house arrived at St. Mary's, Irma Le Fer de la Motte, Sister St. Francis Xavier, who became mistress of novices.

The foundress showed her foresight and capacity for organization and administration, in an educational plan providing for the advanced studies and culture of the time. As early as 1846, a charter was granted by the State empowering the institution to confer academic honours and collegiate degrees. While the new foundation prospered, many sufferings and hardships were endured, arising from the rigours of the climate, poverty, isolation, a foreign language, troublesome subjects, and the like. The keenest trial of all was misunderstanding with the bishop. It lasted seven years. At the Seventh Council of Baltimore, the bishop placed his difficulties before the assembly and offered his resignation, at the same time strongly denouncing the Sisters of Providence. In 1847, just as he had informed Mother Theodore that he deposed her from her office as superior-general (in which she had, with his consent, been confirmed for life), released her from her vows, and dismissed her from her congregation, the Papal Brief appointing Bishop Bazin to the See of Vincennes was received from Rome. The death of Mother Theodore occurred 14 May, 1856, and so eminent was her holiness that preliminaries have been undertaken for introducing the cause of her beatification at Rome.

The sisters take simple vows. The postulantship, two months, is followed by a novitiate of two years, at the end of which vows are taken for three years, renewed then for five years, if the subject is satisfactory and desires to persevere. A year of second novitiate precedes the final and perpetual vows. This year, during which the nuns devote themselves entirely to the spiritual life, is passed at the mother-house. A course of normal training is carried on in connexion with the novitiate properly so called, and summer sessions are held during the vacation for all teachers who return to the mother-house for the annual retreat, The administrative faculty is an elective body comprising a superior-general and three assistants, a secretary, procuratrix, treasurer, and a general chapter. The rules and constitutions received final approval from the Holy See in 1887. Among prominent members of the order were: Sister St. Francis Xavier (Irma Le Fer de la Motte), born at St. Servan, Brittany, 16 April, 1818; died at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, 30 January, 1856, whose life has been published under the title "An Apostolic Woman", and Sister M. Joseph (Elvire le Fer de la Motte), born at St. Servan, 16 February, 1825; died at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, 12 December, 1881, a sketch of whose life has been published in French. The sisters conduct parochial schools and academies in the Archdioceses of Baltimore, Boston, and Chicago; in the Dioceses of Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, Peoria, and Grand Rapids; orphanages at Vincennes and Terre Haute; an industrial school at Indianapolis; a college four miles west of Terre Haute. Statistics for 1910 are: 937 sisters; 68 parochial schools; 15 academies; 2 orphan asylums; 1 industrial school; 20,000 children.

About this page

APA citation. Theodosia, M. (1911). Sisters of Providence. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Theodosia, Sister Mary. "Sisters of Providence." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1911. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. June 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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