Sister Therese Thoenen remembers well that pre-dawn foggy morning of Aug. 22, 1947, when she boarded the train to Milwaukee to begin her life as a School Sister of St. Francis.
She entered the convent at age 14, hoping to become a teacher, but her mother superiors had much bigger plans for her.
This farm girl from Frankenstein was destined for team-building and development, going from teacher/organist to education administrator and even leadership of the congregation’s United States Province.
When she joined the community, Sr. Therese was given speech lessons to make her Missouri accent easier to understand.
Without a trace of that drawl left, she tells this story with great humor.
Where does her down-to-earth nature come from? She was the second of nine daughters accustomed to milking cows and boxing eggs.
She fondly describes her father’s comic timing and work ethic and her mother’s hospitality and gentleness.
Those are characteristics she inherited, and they have served her well.
She holds a bachelor’s degree in education from Alverno College in Milwaukee, a master’s degree in religious education at Loyola University, Chicago, and a professional certificate in spiritual gerontology.
Her teaching ministry began in the primary grades and later moved in junior high.
After 11 years of teaching, she served as an elementary school principal for the next 30 years at St. Walter School in Roselle, Illinois, and at St. Philip the Apostle School in Addison.
She served on various educational and parish committees and boards in the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, and was an organist and director of the parish choir.
From 1995-2003, Sr. Therese served on the Provincial Leadership Team for the School Sisters of St. Francis United States Province in Milwaukee as team member and Provincial.
She traveled to Austria and Germany, and recently joined a pilgrimage to Assisi.
From 2003-11, she served as director for the Sacred Heart Convent Nursing Home in Milwaukee.
She continues to work with the U.S. Province leadership, associates and Mission Advancement office and spends her time volunteering in the community.
Sr. Therese laughs as she recalls that in the 1960s, when sisters were changing out of their habits, she rushed to Kmart, having been away from dress-shopping since the 1940s, only to purchase what she now realizes were unflattering styles.
Her self-assured elegance enables her to see life philosophically.
“It is a wonderful life and I would choose to do it all over again,” she said. “I’m grateful and amazed at what I’ve been called to do. With God’s good graces, I walk on, hoping for the best.”
She is grateful to her parents who taught her to pray, love the Church, work hard and do her fair share.
“These values serve well in religious life,” she said.
Founded in 1874, the School Sisters of St. Francis (SSSF) is an international community of Catholic sisters who unite with others to build a just and peaceful world.
The sisters and associates work to address the needs of those who are poor and marginalized by society.
The SSSF mission is thriving, with five provinces serving the United States, Europe, Latin America, India and Tanzania.