Visitors welcome to honor Mother Guerin
By Patricia Pastore
Once Pope John Paul II beatifies Mother Theodore Guerin, more visitors will come to St. Mary-of-the-Woods to walk the paths she first trod more than a century and a half ago and founded the college, economic development officials hope.
Terre Haute Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director David Patterson expects the beatification to increase interest in the area, he says.
‘‘First and foremost, it’s a religious institution,’’ Patterson said. ‘‘and we are respectful of that but we want to do everything possible to assist the Sisters of Providence in their efforts to honor Mother Theodore Guerin. We want them to dictate to us what they want to offer the public, and we will be happy to help with public visibility.’’
There are about 20,000 visitors to Providence Center and St. Mary-of-the-Woods each year, says Robbin Lubbehusen, assistant director of Providence Center. Beyond that, it is difficult to determine how many people visit the area because of Mother Guerin. It also will be difficult to determine the specific impact of the beatification, tourism officials say.
However, state officials say they will be ready to help.
‘‘It usually starts at a grass-roots level and then the state if requested will help get information out,’’ Marianna Weinzapfel, development manager for the Indiana Department of Tourism said. ‘‘We want to assist them in assuring that visitors have a comfortable experience when they come to visit the Mother Theodore Guerin shrine and Saint-Mary-of-the-Woods.’’
To the Sisters of Providence the economic impact of Mother Guerin’s beatification ‘‘is the least important thing,’’ Sister Marie Kevin Tighe said.
‘‘We hope people come here to know Mother Theodore Guerin,’’ she said. ‘‘Everyone in the church and in the world is being shown a person who dedicated her entire life to God and to God’s people.’’
Terre Haute history expert Michael McCormick says a shrine honoring another American the Catholic Church has beatified, Kateri Tekakwitha, a revered Native American known as ‘‘Lilly of the Mohawks’’ who died in 1860, draws thousands of visitors are drawn there each year.
‘‘Going to the circular church there that seats 5,000 and visiting the beautiful grounds is a wonderful experience. People make pilgrimages to that shrine. If it’s done tastefully like Lilly of the Mohawks, it would promote the college and the community while honoring Mother Theodore Guerin,’’ McCormick said.
The history of the Sisters of Providence and the special religious level Mother Guerin has attained also adds to the history of the greater Terre Haute area, McCormick said.
‘‘The story of how Mother Theodore and her five companions got here to establish the church and school is a tremendous inspiring tale,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s a story that could make a great impact on the college and the community,’’ he said. ‘‘Terre Haute should help in every way it can to get the Mother Theodore story out. We should embrace it as we do the congregational church at the Strawberry Festival. It has tremendous potential.’’
Just listening to the stories about Mother Theodore was enough to peak his interest, said Rod Henry, executive director of the Greater Terre Haute Chamber of Commerce.
‘‘Saint Mary-of-the-Woods and the Mother Theodore shrine will be an attraction that will mean more as days and years go by,’’ he said. ‘‘It will continue to grow as we continue to honor Mother Theodore. Beatification of Mother Theodore is very important to St. Mary-of-the-Woods and also to the entire community.
‘‘It will attract all walks of life. People will say I want to walk the area where she walked. Feel what she felt and meditate in the woods where her presence still lingers.’’
McCormick has a vision of thousands of visitors coming to St. Mary-of-the-Woods. A spiritual place he believes is highly underrated, he said.
Through the years many who know of Mother Theodore visited the woods and her place of interment. The Sisters of Providence conduct pilgrimages to her shrine by appointment, said Sister Mary Roger Madden, who is in charge of the pilgrimages.
‘‘The pilgrimage consists of a presentation on the life of Mother Theodore and visits to several of the shrines which represent her spirituality,’’ Sister Madden said. ‘‘The pilgrimage usually concludes with a visit to the temporary shrine of Mother Theodore and to her tomb in the church of the Immaculate Conception.’’
Persons wishing to take part in a pilgrimage may contact sister Mary Roger at the Sisters of Providence (812) 535-3131, Ext. 147.
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