Sister Frances Teresa Hesse, MM

Born: March 15, 1897
Entered: October 1927
Died: September 28, 1977

Since the members of the Central Governing Board are away this week attending our Inter-Assembly Conference, I have been asked to prepare a resume of Sister M. Frances Teresa Hesse’s life at Maryknoll and add a few reflections concerning her.

Although we were aware that Sister’s health had become very frail, these past months, most of us here at the Center were surprised to learn yesterday morning at the seven o’clock Mass that she had quietly slipped into eternity just two and a half hours earlier. As we commended her precious soul to God, through the Eucharistic celebration, the thought came to me that if Sister could have chosen the manner of her going home, that would have been her choice, no fanfare, no fuss, – a quiet, gentle exit. That was the way she had lived her days with us.

Elizabeth Agnes Hesse was born on March 15, 1897 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, the eldest of 8 children, six girls and two boys. Elizabeth completed her grade school and high school studies in Pittsfield and in 1919 was graduated from St. Elizabeth’s College, Convent Station, New Jersey, with a BA degree, a major in German. Elizabeth was also an accomplished musician, having studied piano and cello. Through the next eight years, Elizabeth taught Mathematics in a local high school. She was an excellent teacher, and loved her work; but God had other designs for her. On October 15, 1927 she came to Maryknoll. From the very beginning, she joyfully entered wholeheartedly into the life of the Community always generously sharing her many talents. When Sister was received into the Novitiate on April 30, 1928, she was jubilant to learn that her patron would be St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and she would be called Sr. Frances Teresa. Throughout her life at Maryknoll, Sister had great devotion to St. Therese.

Shortly after her profession in April 1930, Sister was assigned to Korea. Her first two years were spent as a language student in Gishu. At the same time, Sister was diarist, Church organist, and gave some piano lessons. In 1932, she went to Yengyou where a new sisterhood, the Sisters of Perpetual Help, were being organized under the direction of the Maryknoll Sisters. Sister Frances Teresa joined the staff, and later the same year went to Peng Yang when the novitiate was transferred there. In 1933, Sister made her final profession retreat in Fushun, Manchuria, and pronounced her final vows there. In those years, there were no border restrictions between Korea and Manchuria, and the Sisters from both countries, which constituted one Region, shared retreat facilities each year. The novitiate at Peng Yang was the setting for Sister’s apostolate until 1940, when after a severe bout with typhoid fever, she returned to the Motherhouse. After her recovery, Sister was eager to go back to the missions, and this time, in 1941, she was assigned to Hawaii where, at Punahou, she taught music in the school, conducted the Convent choir, taught piano lessons, was part-time Church organist, and always was an active member of the Community.

After some ten years in Hawaii, Sister Frances Teresa’s health again become frail, and she returned to the Motherhouse in 1956 for medical attention. The following year she was assigned to St. Teresa’s where she helped out as portress and with other Community tasks until 1965 when she joined the staff at Bethany. Here, as everywhere else, Sister generously entered Community life, and carried a full share of the activities. While at Bethany she assisted with the canceled stamp project and for a number of years took over the responsibility of the department.

In reading over Sister’s diaries and travel letters, I was struck by her keen interest in everything – people, events, places. Her kindly perceptiveness and delightful humor bubble up through the pages.

The Sisters who knew Sister Frances Teresa best, those who have lived with her, make very similar comments about her: “Sister was a beautiful religious, a joy to live with, a fine ‘community’ person.”

They speak of Sister’s unfailing fidelity to duty, of her gentleness, her graciousness, particularly in expressing gratitude for the slightest favor. Sister had firm convictions and was forthright in expressing them; but she knew how and when to do so, in a manner that never gave offense. She habitually put kind interpretations on the foibles of others, and carefully avoided passing judgment on them.

I believe that Sister had the grace of perceiving God’s will quite clearly in all that happened to her; for example, she wrote, while recovering from an illness in Hawaii, “I can never be grateful enough for the graces of this illness.” Chardin once wrote, “Christ is shining diaphanously through the hole world for those who have eyes to see. I think Sister Frances Teresa had those eyes.”

The group who entered Maryknoll with Sister will celebrate their Golden Jubilee in a little more than two weeks, Certainly, Sister will share their celebration in a special way from her place with God. When the Bridegroom came to meet Sister yesterday morning, there must have been a kindly judgment, for we have His own promise in Matthew 7: “Do not judge and you will not be judged, because the judgments you give are the judgments you’ll get.” Those who knew Sister best tell us that she did not judge.

This morning at 11:00 o’clock, the Mass of the Resurrection was concelebrated in the Center Chapel by Maryknoll Bishop Edward A. McGurkin and Maryknoll Father John Kelly Walsh, Father Frank S. Meccia, M.M. led the prayers at the grave. The weather was perfect – a beautiful, crisp, clear, cloudless October day.