Theresa Really Loved

by Fr. David May, Julie Coxe, friends from Winslow, Arizona, and the editor

What do you do?  It’s a question we, the staff of Madonna House, are often asked. One answer: well, we try to love—one another and each person we meet. Each of us does this uniquely—sometimes well, sometimes poorly, according to who we uniquely are. And God works through our efforts.

In his wake homily, Fr. David May talked about one of the numerous ways in which Theresa Marsey loved.

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“Theresa was one of the pioneer staff,” he said. “They were the ones who day-by-day were taught personally by our foundress, Catherine Doherty. From her they caught the light and fire of God, and for the rest of her life, Theresa tried to pass on to others this love of Christ she herself knew.

“She had a maternal concern for your eternal salvation, and she wasn’t afraid to go after the darkness in you. And she had suggestions for your improvement.”

Needless to say, this wasn’t always appreciated, and she sometimes got negative reactions.

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But there were two sides to this quality in Theresa. Julie Coxe, at our memories night, the evening we share memories of the person who just died, told the following story.

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One man who had been sober for a long time and had recently started drinking again, visited our house. I had thought we always try to be delicate and sensitive about such things, but Theresa just seemed to plough into him:

“What are you doing?” she asked. “And why are you drinking again? You shouldn’t be doing that. You can do better than that. You can clean yourself up.”

She was so direct but with a maternal quality. I was horrified at how direct she was, but two weeks later this guy came back, and he had turned himself around. He stopped drinking, and he started to do what he knew he needed to do. I could see that it was because Theresa really loved him.

She wasn’t accusing him; she wasn’t berating him and that was the huge difference. It was astonishing to me really, and it taught me a lot.

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Theresa really loved. It was astounding how many people she took into her heart and how many took her into theirs. After she died, our house in Winslow, Arizona, where she had served for 33 years all together, received many messages of condolence. Here are some quotes from them:

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 “Theresa Marsey was the kind sweet grandmother that I never had.”

“She had faith. She brought me love and faith when I lost my son.”

“We loved visiting her and her cat Michael. She had cookies for my grandkids after they stacked her wood on her porch or visited her.”

“Words cannot describe what Theresa means to our family. She has always been part of our family. She was fearless, kind, and supportive. I know she’s up there giving my dad some grief and laughing with my mom about it. They were great friends.”

“I met Sister Theresa when I was a little girl and loved the 4-H classes we had. The cookouts were so much fun. Thank you, Sister Theresa for being in our lives, especially when we needed your prayers.”

“She was like a mama to me in every way—a tender, loving, warm, beautiful lady.”

“She was so special to my Mom and they enjoyed many conversations together. She was also such a big part of my spiritual growth as she helped me prepare for my first poustinia.”

“Over the years, she became family. She always knew how to cheer me up when I was having a bad day, and she was one of my biggest prayer warriors. She taught me so much about my faith, love, life, forgiveness, and surrendering to God’s will for our lives, and loving and serving him with all our hearts.”

“She was my mentor and my teacher since I was a tiny girl.”

“She was always here if you needed it or whether she was sick or not. She was the best person to listen to our problems and have good advice to solve them.”

“She was always there when I needed a shoulder to cry on.”

“She was family. She became a part of my family when I was a child, and she changed my life. I joined Madonna House in part because of her, and I will never forget her.”

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I (editor) would like to end with just one more story about Theresa, one I was told when I was stationed in Winslow by a veteran of the Vietnam War. Theresa was not there at the time. I paraphrase.

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I became an alcoholic in Vietnam, and when I came back, I was going out of my mind.

Every night I would walk the llano (treeless, grassy plain around Winslow) with Theresa. I talked, I yelled, I screamed, I cried. Night after night after night. Theresa walked with me for hours and hours and listened. If she hadn’t done that, I don’t know what I would have done. Theresa saved my life..