Posted July 20, 2007 in Memorials:
A Lifetime of Service

by Paulette Curran.

One of Thérèse’s early memories of Madonna House is of Catherine Doherty waking her in the middle of the night to go and assist her in delivering a baby in the local area.

Thérèse was a practical nurse, and delivering babies was one of the things Catherine and others with nurse’s training did in the 1950s—in the early days of Madonna House Combermere.

Yes, Thérèse was one of our pioneers, and they are very special in our apostolate. It is they, along with Catherine, who laid the foundations of Madonna House.

When they came, there wasn’t much of anything to join—just Catherine and Eddie and a few other people living under physically hard conditions, building a community physically and otherwise, and helping in the local area in whatever way they could.

Thérèse had been looking for a place to pour out her life, and she found Madonna House in an interesting way. Her fiancée took her to a lecture by Catherine! Thérèse was so deeply moved that she went to "check out" Madonna House. Here, presumably to the sorrow of her fiancé, she found her vocation.

Unlike some of the early staff, Thérèse came from a background that had prepared her, in some ways, for the poverty and hard work she found here.

For one thing, she was already a pioneer. She’d grown up as one of eight children on a homestead in Manitoba in western Canada, and had also nursed on native reserves in the North.

Her time in the North also gave her a special love for the native people, a good preparation for her work in Madonna House in Edmonton, the Yukon, Regina, and northern Saskatchewan.

There were many facets to Thérèse. She was French—her parents came from France—and Thérèse had a certain flair. She was artistic, a quality that came out in drawing, in making delightful greeting cards (each one suited to the person receiving it), and in the way she dressed. And she often used her sense of clothes to find just the right outfit for someone else.

Her great love, however, was music, particularly classical. She sang and danced and played the accordion and piano, and in the early days especially, she contributed significantly to the music, songs, and folk dances that help so much to build community. Then in her sixties, she took up the violin becoming good enough to fiddle with local fiddlers.

Thérèse was a good cook and seamstress and ingenious with both. She could put together a meal surprisingly quickly, and she could mend anything.

At our "Memories Night," after her funeral, people told stories of Thérèse’s thoughtfulness, generosity, sense of humor, even temperament, and her going the extra mile.

After Thérèse had lived a long and active apostolic life, God led her into a new and mysterious dimension—Alzheimer’s.

She was the second person in our young community to have this disease, and through Thérèse, we experienced something of the struggles and pain that families suffer in a similar situation.

At first we were able to care for Thérèse, though not without difficulty, in Our Lady of the Visitation, our residence for the elderly. But as time went on, we gradually had to face our inability to ensure her safety.

After much thought and prayer, we regretfully came to the decision to put her in a nursing home.

Though she seemed to adjust there, and though she was visited by someone from Madonna House at least once a week, this was hard for us.

In the beginning, we brought her home for visits, but it wasn’t long before she no longer recognized us, and we could see that being away from what were now her familiar surroundings was very stressful for her.

Then when she was dying and we wanted to take her home, we were told by the nursing home that moving her would be very hard on her.

So one of us, Deirdre Burch, went to be with her and stayed with her until she died.

Who knows the meaning of such a time in someone’s life? One of our nurses, who took care of our elderly, including Thérèse, for several years talked about the fact that, even in Alzheimer’s, in some mysterious way, the spirit of the person, what is essential in who he is she is, remains.

Who can say what God is doing in someone’s heart and soul during such a time—both for the person and, through her, for others?

At Thérèse’s and others’ 50th anniversary in Madonna House, a celebration Thérèse, due to her illness, was not able to attend, Susanne Stubbs, director general of women, said, "The lives of these jubilarians speak so loudly. Few are aware of the glory inside them. Also, few are aware of the power of lives laid down for fifty years… Thérèse, where she is, may be the most powerful witness of all. Her life lived out is consecrated, and it is powerful."

Thérèse, even when she was pouring out her life in loving service, was a hidden person, and, now that she is gone, we don’t have writings from her. She did not keep a journal, and she did not write for Restoration. But in a notebook she had written a quote from St. Bonaventure. "I have found the heart of the Lord, my King and my Brother, my Friend, my good Jesus. And this heart is mine."

The peace in her face when she was in the coffin gave evidence that this was true.


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