October 3 – Dionysius the Aeropagite; Théodore Guérin

Dionysius the Aeropagite (d. ca. 95) was in Egypt studying astronomy when our Lord died. Seeing the darkness that covered the land (actually you can’t really see darkness, can you?), he said, “Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end.” Upon his return to Athens he got both married and Aeropagified, which is to say made a member of the Aeropagus Council (the Athenian high court).

When the Apostle Paul preached in Athens, Dionysius believed him, and he and his family were baptized (Acts 17:16–34.) He accompanied Paul for three years, then Paul made him bishop of Athens, and he stayed put. (Not because Paul got sick of having him around, as has been suggested by—well—nobody, really.) In 57 he traveled to Jerusalem to see the Theotokos, of whom he said, “It is impossible to stand before greater blessedness than that which I beheld.”

After Paul died, things get fuzzy. Some say Dionysius went to western Europe and died in Paris, while others claim that was a different guy (now called Denis of Paris, due in part to the inability of Parisians to spell “Dionysius”). We do know that he was martyred for his faith. He and two companions (the priest Rusticus and deacon Eleutherius) (whom Parisians call “Rusty” and “Elly”) were beheaded by the usual method (surgical bronze). Denis then picked up his head and walked to the church, where he fell down at the feet of a woman named Catulla, who buried him. In another version his head rolled all the way to the church on its own. It’s hard to say which is more disconcerting.

A group of writings from the sixth century were made under his name, but most scholars apparently believe they weren’t by him, partly because the sixth century is so long after the first, and because they contain neoplatonic ideas that weren’t extant in 95 AD. These scholars refer to the author of these writings as “The Pseudo-Dionysius,” as well they might. The real Dionysius is the patron saint of lawyers, people suffering from headaches, and, I think it’s fair to conclude, people suffering from headaches caused by lawyers.

Théodore Guérin (1798–1856) was born in Brittany, as a not insignificant number of French women are. Wait, did I say “women”? How silly. Anne-Thérèse Guérin was born a girl; she became a woman later. On the day of her first communion (at 10), she confided to the village priest that she wanted to become a nun. When she was fifteen her father was killed by bandits, and her mother fell into a debilitating depression. Little Anne-Thérèse stepped up to the plate (or the nearest French metaphorical equivalent, baseball not being known there at that time) and took care of the family. When she was 25, her mother agreed to let her nunnify, and Anne became Sister St. Théodore of the Sisters of Providence of Ruillé-sur-Loir. She went on to become an award-winning teacher (literally) in Angers (“makes mad”).

In 1839, the bishop of Vincennes, Indiana, sent an emissary to France for workers for his (metaphorical) vineyard. The bish died, the emissary became the new bish, and he asked the Sisters for helpers. After a lot (I mean a LOT) of thought, prayer, and so on, Sr. St. Ted and five companion nuns shipped out. Upon arrival in (or just outside of) Terre Haute, they became the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-in-the-Woods. Over the course of Mother Saint Ted’s life they opened multiple schools, including the first Catholic boarding school for girls in Indiana, as well as two orphanages and two free pharmacies.

Mother Ted died after a period of (unspecified) illness, and fifty-one years later her brain was found to be fully preserved (I’m not asking; neither should you). She was declared a saint in 2006 by Pope Benedict XVI, and is the patron of the Diocese of Lafayette, Indiana.