Sister Theresa Killoran, MM

Born: October 10, 1900
Entered: May 24, 1926
Died: May 24, 1994

It is only when one of our Sisters completes her earthly journey that we become more aware of the fullness and depth of God’s love for her. Sister Theresa Killoran died peacefully in her sleep at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday, May 24th. She was almost 94 years of age. This day marks the 68th anniversary of her entrance into Maryknoll and the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, a very important date for her. Theresa has blessed us by her presence in life as well as in death and has inspired us to become better persons and happy Maryknoll Sisters.

Formerly known as Sister Mary Mark, named after the first Evangelist, she was a cheerful person, a thoughtful sister, a compassionate guide, a committed disciple, an indefatigable worker, and a faithful friend. It is said she embodied the ideal Maryknoll Sister as envisioned by Mother Mary Joseph. Because she was so human and life-sized she also became a legend in Maryknoll. She was assigned Superior here in the Motherhouse and four other communities, and graciously and competently handled many responsible assignments be it bookkeeping, candlemaking, doing portress duty in the Cloister, feeding the refugees in Hong Kong and listening to the grief of parents whose children have preceded them in death. She was a Superior for almost half of her religious life and continued to have many friends.

Theresa Cecilia was born on October 10, 1900 in St. Mary’s Ontario, Canada to Mark Killoran and Elizabeth McDermott. She was one of 8 children, 2 boys and 6 girls. After grammar school she attended Central Business College in Stratford, Ontario. Her father died in 1906 and the financial situation at home prompted her to begin office work before graduation from Business College. She worked in Michigan as Asst. Bookkeeper and Cashier at the L.B. King China and Glass Co. for five years before joining Maryknoll. During this time she also attended night courses at Detroit Eastern High School in order to obtain more business education. Thinking that she would never need a Business degree in the convent, she did not return to graduate, a decision she often regretted.

Theresa came to Maryknoll in 1926 from St. Bernard’s Parish in Detroit. She made her First Profession on October 28, 1928. Three years later on the same day, she made Final Profession. In the same year, she was assigned Assistant Superior of the Motherhouse community. In 1937 she became the Motherhouse superior; in 1943 was assigned Superior in San Juan Juan Bautista, California, and in 1946 was assigned to Hong Kong as Superior. In 1954 she was sent to Monrovia, CA to oversee the building of the new Maryknoll Hospital and Convent. Later in 1965, she served at Valley Park, MO to help in the closing of Our Lady of Maryknoll Novitiate.

In between terms as Superior caring for various Maryknoll communities, she did Promotion work in Detroit in 1952, was in charge of Promotion at the Center in 1960, and again in charge of the Promotion Department sometime between 1973-83. She related and wrote stories very vividly and captured the hearts of those who listened to her mission experiences. It was in Hong Kong that she touched many as she responded to the needs of the refugees who had escaped from the persecution in China by feeding, housing, caring for them and re-kindling their spirits.

Story is told of a Chiang Kai Shek Army General whose 6-year old boy, Joseph, received Baptism before dying from a serious illness. Chu Wha Ming was only one of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who fled from China swarming into Hong Kong in the early 1950s. They lived in shanty towns on the mountainsides around the city. In a tribute given when Sister Mark was leaving Hong Kong in 1952, General Chu Wha Ming likened her to “a living fountain watering a dry branch and causing it to shoot forth anew”. He wrote:

“Because I can show my deep gratitude for God’s mercy and your kindness in no other way for having made our child the instrument of leading us all into the church, I promise to firmly and faithfully believe all that God has revealed and you have taught. I further promise to obey and follow the instructions given by you and Sister Li in regard to the life of a Christian.”

He continued: “Hui Mu, you sent my child to Heaven and my whole family relies on God’s goodness…you not only saved us all then but you continually think of us and assist us; to mention only one instance – the matter of giving us a new house in which to live. This we cannot ever forget.”

This General who called himself “the Lord’s Little Soldier” brought in more than 250 of his men and their families and said this to them: “We have all suffered much, but all our suffering and loss was a very small price to pay for the great treasure we have received, the gift of Faith. Let us live it and preserve it well, and take it back to our people and our home when China opens up again.” This story makes one think of the Acts of the Apostles being re-lived in her life.

In 1951, the December 11th issue of Michigan Catholic ran a story on the “Detroit Nun runs ‘Mart of Mercy in Hong Kong.” Theresa’s appeal was to raise enough money to reach her goal to build 100 fireproof cottages in two patches of land donated by King’s Park and Tung Tau Village in Hong Kong. She and Sister Imelda Sheridan directed religious programs and relief operations for the refugees in Hong Kong.

Sister Theresa loved people, especially the Sisters who were given to her care as Superior. She is lovingly remembered by Sisters who knew her. She was very thoughtful of those who were in need in any way. She loved life and enjoyed it to the fullest; had time for pinochle, bridge and many a celebration. When asked in 1941 what she as Motherhouse Superior would like for her feastday, the feast of St. Mark, she said, “something living”. Theresa picked out a three-foot copper beech sapling and planted it in front of the Main Building. The tree has given us not only a sense of beauty and majesty, but also coolness and color. This tree, in many ways, is a reflection of Sister Theresa who was big-hearted and a pervading presence. In 1991, Sister Frances Venard sent her a picture of her beech tree in all its finery celebrating its Golden Jubilee!

This beautiful 53-year old tree symbolizes the life we celebrate today. We thank God for all that Sister Theresa has meant to us.

We welcome Fr. Joseph Veneroso, our Maryknoll brother, who will lead us in thanking God for a life so rich because it was so fully shared with us in community and with God’s people. Let us join together in asking her to be the bridge that she had always wanted to be, to be the tree of strength and courage, and to be the gentle spirit that dwells among all of us.