Sister Paula Therese Starke, MM

Born: January 2, 1918
Entered: February 1, 1953
Died: July 11, 1995

On July 11, 1995 Paula Therese died in Residential Care. She was 77. During the months of illness and waiting, Paula Therese, because of her strong will, made the time one of fortitude and patience, offering every day to God with love and gratitude for all that she had received in life and the care and kindness experienced, especially in Residential Care.

Helen Pauline Starke was born January 2, 1918 in the Bronx. She saw many events of her life as special graces received from God and one of them was her parents, Edward William Starke (deceased in 1949) and Maud Duryea Keating, who provided a loving and caring family. Helen had one brother, who, with his wife and son, are with us. We extend our sympathy as well as to the other nephews and nieces who cannot be here.

Helen attended St. Thomas Lutheran Parochial School and a public school in the Bronx. High school was attended in the Bronx and Ridgewood, New Jersey. In 1941, Helen graduated from Duke University with an A.B. in Math and a M.D., with specialization in Internal Medicine. She always considered it a special blessing that she was received into medical school without a pre-med background and also because not one woman classmate, who had taken medical courses, was accepted in medical school that year. Helen’s internship and residency were at Duke Hospital in North Carolina and Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. From 1944-45 she was a Fellow in Medicine at Duke University and Instructor and Associate at the University’s School of Medicine until 1953.

About the age of 12 Helen joined the Presbyterian Church, only at her parents’ urging, but considered herself agnostic. In the late 40’s while teaching at Duke University, a Catholic volunteer, a Sister, a Monsignor and a Jesuit priest provided a new context for Helen’s searching mind and heart. Their witness and the books given her helped Helen understand the existence of God, the nature and person of Jesus and, as Helen said, “the fullness of truth in the Catholic Church.” In early 1950 while immersed in so much philosophical and theological readings, Helen was physically exhausted. On the night of June 29th, all of a sudden, she said, in a flash, the fatigue and discomfort left her. Later she asked her Sister-friend if June 29th was any special day. It was the feast of SS. Peter and Paul. St. Paul became special for Helen as she felt his letters helped explain the meaning of the Gospels for her. Helen was baptized on November 11, 1950.

When studying doctrine books and reading the New Testament, Helen said that she fell in love with Jesus and wanted to serve Him and His Church to the utmost of her being. For her that meant dedication in religious life. Three communities had been recommended to her; two did not appeal. One day she stopped at Maryknoll on her way elsewhere. It was Departure Day and Sister Paul invited Helen to the Departure Ceremony. The celebration and a talk with Sister Paul solidified for Helen her decision to enter Maryknoll.

Helen entered Maryknoll on February 1, 1953 at Valley Park at the age of 35. She received the name Paula Therese and made her First Profession on September 8, 1955 at Valley Park and Final Profession on the same date in 1961 also at Valley Park. Shortly thereafter, Paula Therese came to Maryknoll, New York, and was here on October 7th for a celebration of Sisters leaving for their missions. It was a happy time and Mother Mary Joseph was there enjoying everything. That night, Mother became gravely ill and Paula Therese was called in on consultation. She considered the opportunity to spend those last hours with Mother one of the special graces of her life.

Paula Therese was assigned to Queen of the World Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri and was there from 1956 to 1964. She thought it was a wonderful opportunity to be in the medical apostolate and was happy to be at Queen of the World. Paula Therese found the black people to be a source of strength because of their beautiful confidence in God. She also found the Maryknoll Sisters at Queen of the World a source of strength because of their common commitment together to care for the sick whom she felt were the jewels of the Church. The bond formed among our Sisters at Queen of the World was long-lasting. When Paula Therese came to Residential Care at the Center, her most faithful visitors were Sisters who had been at Queen of the World with her.

In mid-June, 1962, Paula Therese was called back temporarily from Queen of the World to the Center. She and the staff were not happy about it and did not understand the need. On June 22nd, her mother died after a few days illness. It was the providence of God, Paula Therese felt, that she was close enough to be with her mother before she died and to help console her brother.

It was at Queen of the World that Paula Therese had the opportunity to take up clinical training in Cardiology. Her interest in the field grew. After decennial in 1964, in a conversation with Mother Mary Coleman about her future and the possibility of going to Hong Kong, Paula Therese suggested that she go into academic medicine because she felt she had no aptitude for any language, much less Chinese. With approval, in 1965, Paula Therese first did an internship at Bellevue which was a new and special experience for her.

Paula Therese then received a Cardiovascular Fellowship at the University of Kansas Medical Center from 1965-68 and was then an Instructor there for a year. Until 1988 she was an Instructor and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Nebraska Medical School in Omaha. One of the important things she tried to do with the students was to emphasize respect and concern for the patient as a person.

Paula Therese was a Fellow in the American College of Physicians and the American College of Cardiology. In 1978 she received the University of Nebraska College of Medicine distinguished teacher award. She was cited in 1980 for meritorious service at the University of Nebraska Medical Center and was given the Faculty Service Award in 1982 by the National University of Continuing Education Association for creative contributions to the advancement of continuing education. She received the scientific merit award for research in 1984 and was named Teacher of the Year in Cardiovascular Diseases given by the Council on Clinical Cardiology in May 1986. Paula Therese had 34 publications, individually or with others.

At the age of 65, because of the University of Nebraska Medical School policy, Paula Therese lost tenure. However, she was allowed to stay on staff with an annual renewal until she was 70 years old. After unsuccessful inquires about medical work in Lima, Taiwan, Mexico, Africa and U.S.Indian Health Service, Paula Therese moved to a community medicine program at Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, Texas. After two months renewal at Maryknoll and study for Texas Medical Boards, Paula Therese began at Ripley Clinic run by Baylor University. She enjoyed her work where she was able to join other professionals who had a desire to serve people, especially those who were poor and whose social and economic problems were often worse than their medical ones.

One blessing Paula Therese mentioned frequently was that being in Houston she was closer to her brother and his family. Sister always felt a great fondness for him, respected him as a person and was appreciative of the thoughtfulness of he and his family for her.

When Sister Paula Therese came to Maryknoll in November 1994 she said it felt like she was coming home again. She had a number of friends, many of whom she considered important Maryknoll friends. Sister Paula Therese said that “geography has very little bearing on friendship, one of us is in Peru, one in the U.S. and it makes little difference.” She also said that love needs to extend farther than our own Maryknoll community, that it has to extend to the entire world and that this is part of our mission vocation – to see Christ in others and to bring Christ to others. Even with all her gifts, positions and awards, Sister Paula Therese lived simply, even frugally. She kept little for herself as an expression of her vows and a life dedicated to God.

Paula Therese’s faith was rooted in her devotion to the Trinity, to the lives and writings of St. Paul and St. Therese. She was a woman of strong faith. She was a woman of the Church which was the framework for her life. Her energy, time, medical skills were given to the Church and God’s people. This is what Paula felt gave meaning to her life.

Sister Paula Therese’s life was also rooted in Maryknoll and she had an abiding love for Maryknoll, its purpose, its members, and all its activities. Even during the many months of illness, she always wanted to know how things were going with Maryknoll, what the trends were, what the future holds. Paula Therese felt that when our major work is done we come home to our Maryknoll Center and ultimately have direct union with Jesus eternally. One of her favorite sayings was of St. Paul (Gal.2 1:19-20), “I live now not I, but Christ lives within me.” Sister Paula Therese now lives in Christ. We are happy for her and will remember her with fondness and respect.

Together with family members, we extend our sympathy. Members of the Western Region were unable to come although they have been in faithful contact these many months. The Region sent flowers as did family members, and staffs of the Nebraska Medical Center and the Department of Community Medicine at Baylor in Houston.

Our Maryknoll brother, Fr. Jim Nieckarz, visited Paula Therese periodically. With him let us begin our Liturgy of the Resurrection and rejoice in Paula Therese’ s new life in God and the fulness of peace at last.