Sister Therese DeMeulenaere, MM
Born: March 22, 1918
Entered: September 6, 1945
Died: November 20, 2002
We gather this morning to remember and to celebrate the life, death and entrance into eternal life of our sister and friend Sister Therese DeMeulenaere, who died peacefully in our Residential Care Unit on Wednesday evening, November 20, 2002. Mother Mary Joseph’s description of the ideal Maryknoll Sister, which we will hear in this morning’s First Reading, beautifully reflects the lifelong commitment to mission of our Sister Therese. She was “marked with graciousness… a lively spirit of gratitude… a joyous spirit… a ready smile… a tender solicitude for all.” Sister Therese died as she had lived, surrounded by her Sisters whom she loved and with whom she had shared life, faith and her Maryknoll vocation for fifty-seven years.
Therese Celine DeMeulenaere was born in Victor, Iowa, March 22, 1918, one of seven children – four daughters and three sons – to August and Katherine Michalek DeMeulenaere. Therese received her early education at Rural School in Poweshiek County and St. John’s School in Victor. After graduating from St. John’s High School, she continued her studies at Mount Mercy Junior College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Eager to use her newly learned teaching skills and techniques, Therese immediately began teaching primary school children first at the Poweshiek County School and then at St. Cecilia School in Ames, Iowa. Six years later, at the age of twenty-seven, she entered Maryknoll on September 6, 1945.
Therese’s interest in mission and Maryknoll was enlivened by a visit of the late Maryknoll Father Leo Hewitt to her parish. When she applied for admission she wrote: “Maryknoll was the first community that I inquired about and I liked it.” Fifty years later, on the occasion of her Golden Jubilee, upon reflecting on the question “What made Maryknoll right for you?” she responded: “The children I had been working with seemed to have so many advantages – good homes, education, etc. I felt I wanted to reach out to others who did not enjoy all these privileges. We had a mission club in the school and I became very interested in the foreign missions.”
At Reception, Therese received the religious name of Sister Marya Celine. She made her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1948 at Maryknoll, New York, and her Final Vows on the same date three years later in the Caroline Islands, on the Island of Palau.
Shortly after First Profession, Sister was assigned to the Philippine Region which was to be her home for twenty-six years of her mission life. The first fifteen years were spent on the Caroline Islands of Palau and Yap teaching primary school students and, during school vacation months, traveling among the islands teaching catechism and preparing parents and their children for the sacraments. The remaining eleven years were spent on the Philippine Islands of Lupon and Mindanao.
In 1960, eleven years after arriving on the six-mile long and half-mile wide island of Palau, Therese returned to the Center for a period of renewal. During this time, she received a Bachelor of Education degree from Rogers College and visited schools in Iowa to update her teaching skills. Upon her return to the Philippine Region, she went to Yap and taught primary grades seven through nine for three years before going to the Philippine Islands of Luzon and Mindanao where, for eleven years, she continued her education ministry in teaching and administration.
Sister Therese was one of the twelve Maryknoll Sisters who survived sixteen hours of immersion in shark-infested waters off the coast of the Philippine island of Mindanao after their outrigger canoe capsized. When speaking of her twenty-six years in mission in the Philippines, however, foremost on her mind was her love for the little islands of Palau and Yap. “Life was simple there,” she said. “There had been a lot of destruction during World War II, the school system had to be started all over again. Many of the children had not been in school for several years and were eager to study again. There was no TV to distract them.”
In 1975, Sister Therese returned to Maryknoll, New York. As Housekeeper and Laundry Supervisor for Central Services she lovingly and generously answered everyone’s needs and calls and was the first to introduce flowered and colorful bed sheets to our lifestyle! She also assisted in setting up our present Residential Care Facility.
When Sister’s father became ill and needed assistance, she returned to her home in Victor, Iowa, to help care for him. Three years later, in 1981, she returned to the Center and began which was to be almost eighteen years of invaluable service as Cataloger in Rogers Library. Failing health necessitated her admission into Residential Care in July 2002.
We offer our deepest sympathy to Sister Therese’s family. We also extend our condolences to Sister Anne Karen Brannick and to Sister Marie de Lourdes Nassauer who will greatly miss their long-time friend and co-worker in Rogers Library.
We welcome and thank our Maryknoll brother and Philippine co-missioner, Father Gerald Nagle, who will preside at this Liturgy of Resurrection as we celebrate and thank God for the gift of life and joy Sister Therese has been for each of us.