Interview with Margaret Malsam, Colorado, Woman of Wisdom
by Millie Foster, Still Water Community, Fort Bend, Texas
Margaret told me that her Theresian experience was wonderful. She loved the meetings where she had the opportunity to get to know her Theresian sisters. She also loved participating in the Theresian International gatherings which she and her late husband enjoyed attending together. She cherishes the fact that Theresians is a faith and truth group that helps us grow closer to God.
Margaret lives in Colorado, the state in which the first Theresian communities were formed. There are currently no active communities remaining in the state. I asked Margaret about this. She explained that the communities in Colorado were not able to survive the challenges posed by Covid. She also told me that there is still a great deal of fear associated with meeting in groups as a result.
We discussed what Margaret thinks is important for prospective Theresian members to know about our organization. She would want women to know that membership in a Theresian community is a gift! Prospective members must be aware that it will be necessary for them to give of themselves to get a successful community started. She feels that women need to see tangible items that help them to embrace the beauty of a Theresian community. Margaret stressed the importance of prayer in getting a new community established. I told her that I think that is the easiest part!
Margaret again expressed the concern that she and others feel about contracting a virus in a group setting - which is a common format used for most Theresian community meetings. She thinks it would be helpful to our growth if we could foster some different formats in addition to meeting in homes and breaking bread together. She and I discussed the thought that this concern may not be an issue for younger members, but it is for older Theresians. Since Margaret resides in a care facility, I suggested she share her experiences with her fellow residents so they can, in turn, share the Theresian story with their extended family. Many people are not familiar with our organization and anything we can do to extend the blessing of a Theresian community to as many women as we can is well worth the effort!
I would suggest that we make it a priority in our communities to connect with our area Women of Wisdom to brighten their days and let them know we love, respect, and value them. Margaret’s greatest request was to ask for prayers without ceasing for her and her friends and for prospective new members.
I made a new friend, and I will be keeping in touch with Margaret.
Margaret Malsam on St. Therese
Margaret Malsam on Parents of St. Therese
A Book Review: I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean D’Elbée
by Melanie Hartshorn, Spiritual Springs Community, Fort Bend, Texas
I am a long-time subscriber to the monthly publication Magnificat. There is a daily section called “Meditation of the Day” which follows each day’s readings and never fails to give me pause. It often contains quotes from Fr. Jean D’Elbée. Recently, one of those quotes was from Fr. D’Elbée’s book, I Believe in Love, published in 1969. This book is subtitled, “A personal retreat based on the teaching of St. Thérèse of Lisieux.” I discovered that Fr. D’Elbée is one of the world’s foremost scholars on St. Thérèse. What a coincidence, I thought to myself (since I am a Theresian, after all)! Of course, I don’t believe in coincidences but rather recognized that the Holy Spirit was moving me to delve into this book. I decided that it could be a rich source of prayer and meditation – truly a personal retreat - for me during the upcoming season of Advent 2023.
The book has an unusual format, but one that works very well to allow for progressing at one’s own pace through the ten conferences (as Fr. D’Elbée calls them). The conferences build on each other and are packed full of insights – many of which seem so simple but had never occurred to me! Excerpts from the writings of St. Thérèse are an integral part of each conference. More than a few of these quotes were familiar to me, but when placed in the context of a more complete passage and Fr. D’Elbée’s commentary, they took on much deeper meaning. I found that I could relate to St. Thérèse in a new way - as a “sister in Jesus” and not just a canonized saint who has received the title of Doctor of the Church.
The first three conferences – “Love for Love,” “Humble Confidence,” and “Unshakeable Confidence” - set the stage for all that follows. I found myself rereading each of these before I could move on (and emptied two highlighters in the process). Each conference seems more beautiful than the one before it! The Holy Spirit was blessing me with wisdom, knowledge and understanding as I prayed and meditated on each topic. Then, after completing the conference on “Eucharist,” I finally understand what St. Thérèse meant when she expressed her deepest desire to be “a victim of love” for our Lord.
In the Forward to this book, the author says that its purpose is “to help us comprehend the love of God for us and to respond to it more fully.” My faith has been deepened and enriched by Fr. D’Elbée’s spiritual insights accompanied by St. Thérèse’s wisdom and love for Jesus. It is my hope that anyone who undertakes this retreat with an open, loving heart and trusting spirit, will have the same beautiful, soul-altering, experience. All that is necessary is to believe in love!
Interview with Brenda Hawes, Agape Garden Community, Woman of Wisdom
"by Toni Hare, Agape Garden Community, Lafayette, Louisiana
It was with eager anticipation that I pulled up to Brenda’s house on that warm, sunny Friday afternoon. The stately home was obviously southern in its architecture while at the same time, welcoming with the grace of southern hospitality. Before I even walked up the brick steps to her porch, I knew at once that my time here would be amazing. As the hours with Brenda unfolded, I was truly not disappointed.
Brenda’s husband Truman, a tall, grey-haired, distinguished retired physician, answered the door saying, "You got here before I could complete my assignment. I was told to open the curtains before you arrived." Truman escorted me into a beautifully appointed, formal parlor where he immediately pushed open the heavy brocade drapes to allow the sunshine in, telling me that they tried to keep the curtains closed to prevent the sun from fading the fabric on the furniture and damaging the artwork. As he motioned me into the room, Truman pointed to a blue wingback chair, which he said was where his wife sat. Taking his cue, I sat opposite that chair on the sofa. He called for his wife saying that I had arrived. Brenda came into the parlor with the sweetest smile and gave me a warm, welcoming hug, which is our southern way. I had sent Brenda these interview questions a few days before. Truman reported that she had been giving much thought to how she would respond to them. Then he departed and we began our incredibly open and personal conversation, laced with laughter and tears.
Brenda has advanced macular degeneration. Since her eyesight is drastically impaired, she makes use of technology to aid in reading and responding to emails and texts. Brenda said, "I appreciate having the interview questions ahead of time, but I have to let you hear how the questions were read to me by my phone." Everywhere that the word “Theresians" appeared, it was interpreted as "virgin"! After listening to the recording, I replied, "Can you imagine how many Theresians there would be if it was a requirement to be a virgin!" We both had a good laugh which allowed us to relax as we began our time together.
Brenda, let’s talk about your experience as a Theresian.
How long have you been a Theresian? What drew you to join a Theresian community?
I have been a Theresian for twenty years. When my husband and I moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, we moved into the heart of the Acadian culture, better known as Cajun, a wonderful French community filled with faith filled Catholics. I was raised in the Baptist Church and later joined the Episcopal Church here in Lafayette. In the early 1990’s, thanks to Robin Hebert, many Theresian groups were started. As a devout Christian, I was curious to learn about the Catholic faith. A friend invited me to the Theresian community.
How has being a Theresian enriched your life?
My wonderful Christian Catholic Theresian sisters embraced me warmly and taught me so much about the Catholic faith that my own faith was deeply enriched. Much misunderstanding between the Protestant and Catholic faith evaporated in my mind when I realized we were of the same heart and soul.
Are there any Theresian programs you remember which meant the most to you?
Absolutely, one year at each meeting, the members of our group took turns sharing their spiritual journey. Their testimonies were so powerful. You sit with women monthly, maybe not knowing the trials and hardships of their journey. That year we all grew so much closer in love and respect for each other. Another program I enjoyed was when we had different speakers come in to teach us about their religion. This was truly eye-opening. There is so much we do not understand about other religious beliefs in the world. One other impactful program was when Fr. Champagne spoke to us about the three "Theresas" —our St. Therese, St. Theresa of Avila, and Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
What would you tell a young woman who is discerning joining a Theresian group?
I would tell her of my very positive experience and the lifelong friendships that I have made being a part of a Theresian community. I grew in my faith tremendously and I would recommend that she seriously consider joining Theresians. “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
A note from Brenda: I would like to share with you the rest of the story. While we were visiting Toni shared her spiritual journey with me. It touched me deeply. As she left, I gave her an emotional hug and as she walked away, I thought, Toni is not only my Theresian sister, but a sister of my soul. Surely, St. Therese was with us, and she was smiling. I thought of my favorite words that she spoke when she was alive, “I want to spend my Heaven doing good on earth.” I never truly understood what that meant until that moment. To me, it means that as women who call themselves Theresians, we should endeavor to help her carry out her mission.
Message from the USA NLT Co-chairs
On behalf of the USA National Leadership Team (NLT), we welcome you to a new year! At the annual meeting of the NLT in June, we discerned new leadership positions. Instead of a chair and vice chair, this year we will have two co-chairs, Mary Schreiber and Gretchen Penny. Mary is a member of Women at the Well in Dubuque, Iowa. She has been a Theresian for over 30 years. Gretchen is a member of Seekers in Houston, Texas, and she has been a Theresian for about 7 years. We both served on the NLT spirituality committee together, and we are delighted to be working together again as co-chairs in this last year of our three-year terms on the NLT.
We are looking forward to the year ahead and encourage members to consider taking leadership roles in the local, district, and national leadership teams. If you want to find out more about the roles and responsibilities, feel free to reach out to us with your questions or interests, or contact the TI office for more information about leadership opportunities within Theresians.
Speaking of leadership, we are excited about this issue of Dimension Connections because we will be profiling a few of our Women of Wisdom - women who have been leaders in their Theresian communities and have valuable insights to offer us. We all have women of wisdom in our midst. We can gain wisdom from women of all ages and in all varieties of relationships with us, including our Theresian sisters, and our mothers, daughters, sisters, friends, and teachers. Look for the wisdom that women in all stages of life can teach us. Encourage the Women of Wisdom in your Theresian communities to share their stories, memories, and insights with you. The wisdom you gain is a valuable gift.
Mary Schreiber and Gretchen Penny
by Carol Landry, Journey Community, Austin, Texas
Latin. Hebrew. Academia. Vincentians. Theresians. How do these themes converge? Meet Dorothy Stewart, an 89-year-old member of the Theresian community, Companions on the Journey in Austin, Texas. While not officially a “Woman of Wisdom,” Dorothy is an inspiration to her community and has much wisdom to share with us all.
Dorothy craved books and knowledge at a young age growing up in New England yet was often deterred by her teachers and even librarians, as was the case, sadly, for many young girls in the early 20th century. She pressed on and fortunately through the years had some teachers and nuns who were willing to help her advance, one even teaching her to sing Gregorian chants and another from the Jewish Theological Seminary who taught her the story of Esther. However, when Dorothy had a class in Latin, she felt a real calling. She received a scholarship to college and chose to study Latin. She went on to teach at several universities in the US. Even now, Dorothy has a full schedule tutoring students in Latin and English.
Dorothy has been active in the St. Vincent de Paul Society for many years, and only somewhat recently discovered Theresians. Now, she considers Theresians her sisterhood. She does not have a sister of her own; her Theresian community members are her sisters. They are her safe place. They are her rock.
And this very special, very humble lady is a guide and mentor and inspiration to many.
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
In Mary Oliver’s poem “Six Recognitions of the Lord,” she writes:
Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with
the fragrance of the fields and the
freshness of the oceans which you have
made, and help me to hear and to hold
in all dearness those exacting and wonderful
words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:
My husband and I have been watching The Chosen, slowly working our way through each episode. As I watch the show, I am always a little jarred when Jesus says, “Follow me.” (Watch a compilation of scenes from The Chosen here). What does it really mean when Jesus says, “Follow me”?
I understand Mary Oliver’s desire to be fed by the Holy Spirit with the “fragrance of the fields” and the “freshness of the oceans.” But the simple words “follow me” seem so much more complex.
What do the “exacting and wonderful” words “follow me” mean to you?
For an interesting exploration of “those exacting and wonderful words of our Lord Christ Jesus,” consider listening to a few of the Old St Pat’s Podcast episodes (available on Spotify). I especially recommend You Can Never Get Enough of the One You Love 6.4.23, Transforming Hearts 6.13.23, and A Little Help for My Friends 7.9.23.
Yes, tranquility can exist with chaos
Things are a bit chaotic at home these days. One of the “offspring” (a term of endearment my husband and I use to refer to the four children in our blended family) is raging through our house like a Category 5 hurricane. Just when we think we’re nearing a moment of calm at the eye of the storm, another round of 160 mph winds hits us. It is an exhausting, soul-tearing experience!
The storm has my husband and me pulling out all our survival supplies: prayer, love, healthy (and enforced) boundaries, and support from our circles of community. And we’re finding moments of rest and connection, like a Sunday bicycle ride along the river or picking mulberries off the trees in our backyard.
Our experience reminds me of something author Parker Palmer recently posted on his Facebook page. He writes, “When the world’s heartbreak threatens to take me down, it helps to remember that this is not the only world to which I belong.” He goes on to describe how each of us is part of a “vast and very real world of nature” that stretches from the “cells in our bodies” into the “immensity” of the “cosmos.” We are members of a vast and interconnected community of life. But experiencing our connection to this great whole “is not about evading heartbreak,” Palmer says. Rather this connectedness is a way of entering into life’s ups and downs “neither crushed by a sense of futility nor lost in fantasy.” (I admit I’ve fantasized about moving into a tiny house in the middle of the woods and not leaving a forwarding address.)
As part of his Facebook post, Palmer shares the William Stafford poem, “Time for Serenity, Anyone?” The poem begins with a “reminder” that “this world still is alive… and I’m part of it.” Stafford writes of “tranquil chaos” and “motionless turmoil” that co-exist in the “great peacefulness” of “wilderness.”
Yes, tranquility can exist with chaos. Yes, there can be peace even with turmoil. Yes, there can be bicycle rides and berry picking even when the winds of a hurricane-force “offspring” threaten to blow the roof off the house. We can, in the words of Stafford, embrace this “everything dance.”
What is your hurricane? When the storms of life surge, are you dancing with the winds or are you hiding under the bed? Are you connecting with God, your Theresian sisters, and your other support communities or are you being crushed by a sense of futility?
Wherever you find yourself, I invite you to join me in this everything dance. I’m going to look very silly if I’m the only one on the dance floor in the middle of a hurricane!
P.S. For those who would like to explore more about nature’s interconnectedness, I am currently reading Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest, by Suzanne Simard. It is a bit of a dense read, but Simard’s discoveries about interdependence among trees are fascinating.
Community, vocation, ministry, synodality, and hope
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
On the May 30 episode of the podcast Beyond the Habit, Sisters of St. Joseph Erin McDonald and Colleen Gibson interviewed Sister Nathalie Becquart, a Xavières Missionary Sister who currently serves as the undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops in Rome. (To learn more about the Synod, click here.)
As women in support of women reaching out with Gospel values, it is important for Theresians to pay attention to the work of people like Sister Nathalie who is the first woman to hold her position at the Vatican.
During the interview, Sister Nathalie offers insights into community, vocation, ministry, synodality, and hope. She also talks about women and young people in the church today. She believes that “the driving force of synodality and solidarity are young people and women.”
Take some time to listen to this “Journeying Together” episode. (Click here to listen.)
By Tammy Townsnd Denny, TI Executive Director
My spiritual director recently shared with me a reflection called “Morning Rituals” from the blog Sunflower Seeds: Celebrating Everyday Spirituality. Written by Sister Melannie Svoboda, SND, the reflection asks us to think about how we begin our days. Do we rush around grabbing coffee on our way out the door? Or do we pause and pray, maybe even bowing to the wonder of the world around us?
A morning pause can be challenging, though, especially if we have kids and pets and spouses vying for our attention. But, it takes less than a minute to look out the window and say, “Thank you, my dear, sweet God—for everything!”
Read Sister Melannie’s “Morning Rituals” here.
By Tammy Townsend Denny, TI Executive Director
The Theresian Foundation recently held their annual meeting and call to serve. Join with me in welcoming the new officers and members of the Foundation Board of Directors:
President - Stephanie Hawkins, Illinois
Vice President - Sharon Staffel, Texas
Secretary - Marilyn Arendt, Texas
Treasurer - Stephanie Wallace, Montana
Lynn Moroux, Louisiana
Mary Anne Camello, Philippines
Claudia Pieske, Illinois
The Foundation’s mission is to provide financial support to Theresians International in perpetuity. The Foundation Board of Directors achieves its mission by meeting investment goals established by the Foundation Board, receiving contributions and donations, conducting fundraising activities that are related to and support the work and mission of Theresians, making an annual distribution to Theresians International (TI) in accordance with policies and procedures established by the Board, and balancing investment growth goals with current spending needs of Theresians International.
While the Theresian Foundation and Theresians International work in collaboration with each other, each ministry is a separate legal entity with separate boards of directors, separate reporting requirements, and separate bank accounts. The Theresian Foundation is focused on managing the investment funds that began with an endowment fund established by our founder Msgr. Voss. These funds have continued to grow thanks to the generosity of Theresian benefactors. The Foundation distributes a set percentage of these funds annually to Theresians International.
To learn more about the Theresian Foundation, please visit Theresian Foundation FAQs. If you would like to consider a contribution to the Foundation, please visit Giving to the Foundation to learn more.