Exile or Inheritance?
“This land was no longer for me the land of exile; it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.” –St. Mother Theodore Guerin
As Sisters of Providence, we celebrate our Foundation Day on October 22, the day our six foundresses arrived at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, after a long journey from France to establish a new community in the wilderness. It was a heart-wrenching journey, which Mother Theodore details in her journals: “It would be difficult to describe what passed in my soul when I felt the vessel beginning to move and I realized that I was no longer in France. It seemed as if my soul were being torn from my body.”
As a mission novice (in my third year with my community and preparing to take first vows this summer), I started teaching at a small Catholic school in Illinois, two-and-a-half hours away from home (Indianapolis) and two-and-a-half hours away from our motherhouse at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, which has become my second home. I moved in with just one other sister, who I don’t know very well, in an area where I knew nobody else.
Yet, for some reason, it’s not this quote I think of when I feel myself to be in exile but a later quote, also from her journals, that Mother Theodore wrote when she was returning to Indiana from a fundraising trip to France: “This land was no longer for me the land of exile; it was the portion of my inheritance, and in it I hope to dwell all the days of my life.” Maybe it’s the strength of the word “exile” that draws me to this quote. Or maybe it’s offering me the opportunity to be patient and open to the life that’s unfolding in front of me.
If I’m being honest, even as I’m coming to love the faculty that I work with and the students at the school, there are days when I still hope that this is simply an exile and I will have the opportunity to return to one of the two places I consider home. As Mother Theodore reminds me, though, “God can do beautiful things even out of our sorrow and loss.”
And I cling also to the words of a modern prophet and saint, Martin Luther King, Jr.: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.” As I live this first step in my life as a missioned Sister of Providence, I try my best to ask the questions without need for an immediate answer, trusting that the staircase will unfold before me as I need to take each next step.