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The Deacon's Bench

It’s amazing what a little sainthood can do. A shrine in Indiana is turning into a major tourist destination, and place of pilgrimage, a year after the woman who founded it was declared a saint.

From the Indianapolis Star:

Peace and tranquility are still treasured commodities on the grounds once walked by Indiana’s lone Catholic saint.

But in the year since Blessed Mother Theodore Guerin became St. Theodore — or St. Mother Theodore, as some have it — things have gotten a little busier in the place most simply refer to as The Woods.

Though still modest as a tourist attraction, the shrine of the new saint who founded the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods is showing signs it could become a new destination for Catholic pilgrims, Hoosier history buffs and others.

In the year since she was canonized, the number of tour groups visiting this idyllic retreat northwest of Terre Haute has tripled, to 45, bringing an additional 1,500 visitors with them. And an untold number of others have found their way off I-70 to see the shrine, attend Mass in the ornate Italian Renaissance-style church or simply walk in the footsteps of a saint.

There are plans to build on the momentum.

Shooting begins Tuesday on new films that will be used at tourism expos across the country and at video kiosks on the grounds.

A campaign expected to begin in January will unveil plans for a permanent shrine to house the saint’s remains. Now the remains of St. Mother Theodore, who died in 1856, are encased in a wooden coffin at the front of the campus’s Church of the Immaculate Conception.

A new 6-foot bronze statue of St. Mother Theodore is scheduled to be unveiled in the spring.

Already Terre Haute hotels are seeing an increase in St. Mother Theodore-related stays, said David Patterson, executive director of the local Convention and Visitors Bureau, which is promoting the shrine in religious tourism magazines and motor coach expos.

“I think it is one of those things that have great potential,” Patterson said.
The video kiosks reflect an interesting aspect of the expected visitor demographics. They will be especially suited to disabled and infirm visitors, who are expected to come in search of healing through a saint whose intercession was credited with at least two miracles.

Providence Center director Barry Donaghue said the shrine has been the main destination of new visitors. But he’s also trying to draw attention to other aspects of the Sisters of Providence: their commitment to the environment through organic farming, alternative fuels and wool-generating alpaca herd. That aspect, he said, builds on St. Mother Theodore’s love and appreciation for the natural world.

Pope Benedict XVI declared Mother Theodore a saint on Oct. 15 at an elaborate ceremony in the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Square. More than 1,400 fans, most of them from Indiana, made the journey to honor the French-born saint, who came to the state in 1840. The event drew extensive media coverage.

Besides prompting visits, the exposure has generated more letters and e-mail inquiries from people ranging from schoolchildren to the elderly. A recent weekend event aimed at potential recruits to the Sisters of Providence drew 12 people, the largest number in years. And officials at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College say the exposure might have played a role in increasing the size of the next class of women in the traditional four-year undergraduate program from 75 to 100.

You can find out more about St. Mother Theodore Guerin and her shrine right here.

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