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.
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.