The college I attended, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, was founded in southern Indiana in 1840 by a small group of French nuns led by Mother Theodore Guerin. From a wilderness, they carved out the first Catholic liberal arts college for women in America, a paradise of 300 acres of certified natural forest land, filled with magnificent buildings, some brought stone by stone from France. The sisters have educated generations of women there, dating back to the days when the idea of women getting a higher education was not only frowned upon but forbidden by members of the medical profession: Women's delicate constitutions could not handle the rigors of prolonged study, it was said.

To do what Mother Theodore and her compatriots did took a will of iron. Sister was no pushover. Her letters, which still survive today, show a gal who knew how to get things done. Her clear impatience with the local bishops and her students' ignorant parents speak volumes for the capacity of the human spirit to persist and succeed.

And now she's a saint, canonized by the Pope just a few years ago. Saints like Mother Theodore give us something to aim for — a level of holiness that seems possible to attain purely because it has been attained by an honest-to-goodness, flesh-and-blood person. St. Mother Theodore Guerin is very real to me. I hear her voice in her writings. She, like other saints, opens a door and allows us a view to the other side. Maybe I can never be as holy as she was, but I can try.

After all, she was just a woman, too.


Unbelievable. Unattainable.
My quick, loud words and selfish fear
make perfection seem as possible
as pigs in flight.

Yet You are perfect,
and in You, I feel what might be
if only I could get closer.

I will spend my life working for this.
I see myself rocketing skyward,
falling up like a freak of gravity.
I may not ever be perfect,
but my faith in You
brings me closer every day.

-Lori Strawn


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