Don’t you wonder what Christmas time was like for Saint Theodora/Mother Theodore and her sisters? No doubt, their home in the mid-1800s was not as warm and cozy as ours today. Nor was their table filled with the abundance most of us enjoy.
The simpler time was less stressful in some ways and more challenging in others. On one hand, there wasn’t any email or voice messages to check or a long list of errands to fulfill in heavy traffic. On the other hand, wood needed to be cut for fire to heat their home and cook their modest meals. Laundry was done by hand. Food had to be raised and prepped before eating. We know from Saint Theodora’s journals that they farmed growing potatoes and other vegetables and raised livestock which was not only to feed the sisters but their students as well.
The French brought Roman Catholicism to the state before 1750 although most residents of Indiana were Protestant until immigration from Germany and Ireland began to change that ratio in the mid-1800s. The sisters arrived to respond to that increased need for Catholic churches and schools.
Most students paid tuition which assisted with their housing and educational expenses, however, if they couldn’t pay, the sisters did not turn them away. Indiana University opened in 1825 but few, if any women received higher education prior to the opening of what is now known as Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.
Saint Theodora and her sisters may well have taken part in Indiana’s long history of women’s activism. The Indiana Woman’s Suffrage Association was founded in 1851. At the Indiana State Legislature on January 19, 1859, they called for women’s suffrage, temperance, and equal rights.
Saint Theodora encouraged cleanliness. She understood that infections were spread through contacting germs from one another and the environment. Such attendance to hygiene was not common practice among the public during her time and resulted in many early deaths from disease.
Life expectancy averaged under 39 years due in great part to the lack of sanitation. In spite of Saint Theodora’s life-long illness, the demanding physical responsibilities of the convent, schools, and farm in the harsh, and untamed wilderness, she surpassed that average surviving until the age of 58.