Sister Thecla (Mutusye) Tsuruda, MM

Born: May 14, 1924
Entered: October 14, 1948
Died: April 5, 2023

When we heard the announcement of the death of our dear Sister Thecla Tsuruda early in the morning of April 5, 2023, one song resonated with all of us. It is a hymn to the Blessed Mother, but the words describe Thecla as we all knew her: “Gentle woman, quiet light, morning star, so calm and bright…teach us wisdom, teach us love.” Amen. Sister Thecla was 98 years old and had been a Maryknoll Sister for seventy-five years.

Mutsuye (her birth name) Tsuruda was born in Sacramento, California, on May 14, 1924, to Ishigoro and Sumo Shimazo Tsuruda. She had one sister, Mikiye, and four brothers, Ray, Ben, Tom and Satoru, all of whom have predeceased her; she is survived by some nephews and nieces in the next generation. Mutsuye attended Lincoln School and then Sacramento High School from which she graduated in 1942. She received a two-year diploma from the Metropolitan Business School in Los Angeles in 1946, and another in stenography from the Merchants and Bankers’ Business and Secretarial School in New York in 1963.

As with many Japanese-Americans, Mutsuye and her family were interned from 1942-1946 in Tule Lake and Manzanar Camps in California, and Topaz Camp in Utah where her mother died in 1944. We neither know nor can we understand what seeds of compassion were planted in this time of family separation and loss. It was in the camp that Mutsuye met the Maryknoll Sisters. When released in 1946, she relocated to Los Angeles; from there she entered the Maryknoll Sisters at Valley Park Missouri on October 14, 1948, and was given the name, Mary Thecla, at her reception on June 29, 1949. Her first profession of vows was at Valley Park on May 8, 1951, and she made her final vows in Japan on May 8, 1954. Thecla was first assigned to the development department at Maryknoll, NY from 1951 until she was assigned to Japan in 1953. Even though she knew some Japanese language, the adjustment to Japan was not easy as she had grown up in the United States and the Japanese culture was as “foreign” to her as it was to other western missioners. From 1953 until 1973, Thecla was in various ministries in Japan, mostly doing parish work and teaching English to children and adults. She also generously volunteered in Congregational Service throughout these years.

In 1975, she requested and was granted a transfer to the Central Pacific Region, serving at first as parish assistant in St. Patrick’s Church in Honolulu. But, it was in two subsequent periods that Thecla’s special gifts came to the fore—1981-1985 and 1991-1995. She worked for Catholic Social Services and then for Catholic Charities, both times in service to the elderly.  As her co-worker at Catholic Charities, Iris Hiramoto, wrote: “She was a kind and gentle person who never complained about some of the more difficult clients that we had,” and “she had such a calming presence and was so sweet.”  And another colleague, Judy Taketa, said: “She was a woman of few words but her actions and continual support to the seniors was ever present….she bought joy to their lives.” Joyann Yoshikawa added: “Sister T will always remain one of my favorite people—humble, compassionate, and hard-working.” This is the kind of praise that resonated throughout this period of Thecla’s long life.

Thecla often expressed her desire to live in a large community as the stresses of small group living were very hard for her, both in Japan and in the Central Pacific.  From 1985-1988, Thecla did Congregational Service with our elderly sisters at Monrovia and loved it—so much so that, when it came time for her to retire in March 1996, she returned to Monrovia where she was a valued volunteer, giving service as a driver, a sacristan, a portress, a home assistant for those who needed it, and as a valued friend to many sisters.

In 2013, Thecla was assigned to the Chi Rho Community and in November 2019, she transferred to Eden where she had loving support until she died on April 5, 2023.