Footprints of our Catholic Brethren

Jim Schroeder

Holy Redeemer Church, Evansville

“The official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time.”

It was a Sunday morning at approximately 9:20. It had been almost five years since our tour began in the winter chill of January 2012. Now, we found ourselves back in familiar territory – seated behind our beloved kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Meuth, who had retired the past spring. Her granddaughter was being baptized that day in front of the congregation; and with the crowd looking on, her granddaughter stared intently out from her slightly bobble-head appearance, taking it all in.

Just prior to the baptism, Father Jason Gries repeated the classic line from “The Christmas Story” that appears at the top of this feature. We all echoed in unison, when cued, the cautionary phrase, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” And although, of course, Ralphie, the star of the movie “The Christmas Story,” thought he had done just that after obtaining the present of his dreams, the real message of this day was about persistence and determination. In the face of many naysayers, against all odds, Ralphie had persisted in acquiring his desired gift. The question, Father Jason posed, was whether we would persist just the same when it came to our eternal destination.

Less than a week later, we took a pilgrimage up to St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, with the Communion and Liberation groups from the Evansville area and beyond. The occasion was the 176th anniversary of the founding day of the Sisters of Providence chapter at St. Mary’s of-the-Woods. In 1840, St. Mother Theodore Guerin and her five companions had set sail from France to start a new school in the wild woods. Although they were promised the framework of the new institution, they arrived to find a single log cabin residence on the property. A difficult winter followed, illnesses came and a serious conflict with the second bishop of Vincennes threatened to derail the fledgling school.

But St. Mother Theodore and her companions persisted; and after a harrowing trip years later back to France to secure more funds for the project, the college began to grow and the effects of these brave women increased. By the time of her death, the sisterhood had grown from six members to 67 professed sisters. Across the world, more than 5,200 women have entered the sisterhood since 1840. St. Mother Theodore, who died in 1856, eventually was recognized internationally for her leadership, service and fervent faith.

In 1909, a cause was opened for her sainthood; and after 97 years, Pope Benedict XVI canonized her in 2006. Ten years later, our family found themselves in the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The grounds had become a shrine to her and the Sisters of Providence. Later in the day, we visited the shrine, where her remains were kept above ground so that pilgrims might pay homage and pray.

But on this particular day, during the memorial Mass, a Sister of Providence of more than 70 years spoke of what the founding story meant to her. She was followed by a novitiate of just six weeks. The novice reflected on the story and highlighted the one word that spoke to her most. It was “unknown.”

For, in the midst of the unknown of her new life in this order, she found solace that St. Theodore Guerin had faced the ultimate of unknowns. St. Mother Theodore knew nothing of where she was going, where it would lead, and even how Thy will would be done. But she and Ralphie had one thing in common; they didn’t stop until the prize was theirs. In her case, the prize (beyond the ultimate one of salvation) was the legacy of her faith – known to the world over for the saintly woman who turned the back woods of Indiana into a bona fide shrine.

This reflection is from Jim Schroeder’s book “The Evansville Diocese Historical Tour: Footprints of Our Catholic Brethren.” Jim, his wife, Amy, and their kids live in Evansville. They are parishioners at Holy Redeemer Parish. Jim is a pediatric psychologist and Vice President of the psychology department at Easterseals Rehabilitation Center. “The full story, including illustrations, is available on Amazon or with his other books and articles at”