News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 31, 2013

Sisters open ‘Watershed Moments’ display documenting impact of river

TERRE HAUTE — In conjunction with the 2013 Year of the River initiative, the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary-of-the-Woods opened a new display this month documenting the impact of the Wabash River on the life and the mission of the Sisters.

The display, “Watershed Moments,” is in the Heritage Museum at the Providence Spirituality and Conference Center at St. Mary-of-the-Woods, and will remain open until the end of the year.

The arrival of St. Mother Theodore Guerin and her small band of sisters from France to St. Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840 was directly related to the river.

In response to an influx of Catholic immigrants to river towns in the early- to mid-1800s, Bishop de la Hailandiére of the Diocese of Vincennes asked the Sisters of Providence in France to send sisters to found schools in Indiana and surrounding areas.

Thus began the relationship between the Congregation and the Wabash River.

The Wabash River appears in the journals and letters of Guerin, from her treacherous first crossing of the flooded river upon her arrival at St. Mary-of-the-Woods to keeping abreast of the river conditions so vital to transportation and communication in the early years.

The exhibit highlights early schools and orphanages founded by the Sisters as canals opened to towns such as Evansville, Lafayette, Peru, Vincennes and Fort Wayne. The timespan encompasses a 35-year period beginning in 1840 and details hardships of the pioneer sisters during cholera epidemics, bank failures, the Civil War and in the face of anti-Catholic bigotry.

“While the canal system was short-lived, a number of the establishments of the Sisters of Providence lasted more than 100 years. From the humble beginnings of the Academy at Saint Mary’s, we have Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College that has educated generations of women for more than 170 years,” said Sister Donna Butler, archives assistant for the Sisters of Providence and coordinator for this historical exhibit.

The display highlights the Riverscape Project, which the sisters support. Butler said that current ministries of the Sisters of Providence, such as White Violet Center for Eco-Justice and their work initiating the Our Green Valley Alliance for Sustainability, also bring a positive impact to the local environment.

The Sisters of Providence Heritage Museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

For more information contact Sister Mary Ryan, director of Archives, at 812-535-2880.

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