SMWC students draw inspiration, strength from institution’s foundress

October 14th, 2016 | SMWC

The 10th anniversary of the canonization of Saint Mother Theodore Guerin is Saturday

Kelli Seida and Mary Alvanos
Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College senior Kelli Seida and sophomore Mary Alvanos explain the inspiration they draw from Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the College's foundress, during an interview Monday at the Rooney Library.

Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College students Kelli Seida and Mary Alvanos may be from hometowns several hours away, but they have found a mother-figure at school.

They call her “Mama Teddy.”

This affectionate nickname, which gained popularity among students in recent years, refers to the College’s esteemed foundress, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, who became a saint 10 years ago Saturday.

Seida and Alvanos’ families may not live in the area, but they have formed a family of their own at The Woods, with Guerin taking the honored position of a mother-figure.

“We’re all brothers and sisters. We are a family,” Seida said.

Seida, a Catholic, said she sometimes asks the saint’s intercession when she is facing challenges at school. She sometimes thinks of her while doing day-to-day activities such as walking to class or sitting in her room.

But a recent life event caused her to turn to the saint on a deeper level. “A couple weeks ago, my grandma passed away. That was the first loss in my life,” Seida said.

She left the campus to grieve with her family. She was gone for a week and a half. “Then, I came back and I really looked to her [Saint Mother Theodore] to help me transition back into getting through classes and getting back to my everyday life.”

Upon her return, she not only found comfort in spirituality but also understanding from her caring professors. “I just felt at peace,” she said.

Saint Mother Theodore Guerin may be America’s eighth Catholic saint, but at the SMWC campus, the students say she’s simply, “Mama Teddy.” They learn about her life through her writings and various campus activities. The Catholic tradition and her legacy are felt throughout campus, but these are not demanding, Alvanos, a non-catholic, said.

“I’m so close with everyone here,” Alvanos said. “She’s definitely the mother above all of us.”

When Seida and Alvanos reflect on the life of the foundress, they find one particular part of her experience relatable: her journey away from family and finding a new home.

Both students now live on campus, but they are from hometowns several hours away. Seida, a senior, is from Traverse City, Michigan, around eight hours drive away; and Alvanos, a sophomore, is from Charleston, South Carolina, 12 hours away.

“She came over from France and had nothing,” Seida said, referring to Saint Mother Theodore. “And built a new life here. This became her home.”

In the same token, “we come here to build our home,” she said passionately.

Born in France in 1798, Saint Mother Theodore and five other sisters made a home a few miles west of Terre Haute after 40 days of stormy ocean crossing and train, canal, stagecoach and ferry rides.

Out of adversity, she founded a new congregation, the Sisters of Providence, a girls' academy (now SMWC) and several Catholic schools around Indiana. In 2006, she was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI following two authenticated miracles associated with her intercession: the healings of a nun in 1908 and a non-Catholic Sisters of Providence employee in 2001.

One hundred seventy-six years after Saint Mother Theodore arrived in the woods of Indiana, her presence is still felt by the students of the school she built.

Because of her, feelings of nurture, comfort and peace surround the campus, the students say.

“You can feel what her dreams were for the school,” Seida said.

She is especially felt in the beautiful outdoors. “She brings a sense of community,” Alvanos said. “You feel Saint Mother Theodore Guerin [here].”

“I don’t constantly think about her … but I constantly sense her,” she said.