Eulogy for Sister Teresa Rigel, May 5, 1923-April 6, 2016

April 8, 2016 by

Sister Teresa Rigel

Sister Teresa Rigel

VIGIL: April 8, 2016, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Sylvia Winterscheidt

I would like to begin this eulogy by quoting from a poem by Robert Browning, which I think captures Sister Teresa’s attitude toward life as I saw her live it: She loved nature!

Perfection

The year’s at the spring
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven —
All’s right with the world.

Sister Teresa’s life bears testimony to Robert Browning’s philosophy penned nearly 200 years ago. “God’s in His heaven — All’s right with the world.”

When I asked some of the sisters and employees here what they remember about Sister Teresa, there were often repeated images: Her ready smile, her basic kindness, quiet and gentle ways, her readiness to help others, bearing no grudges but always grateful. Now doesn’t that sound like, GOD IS IN HIS HEAVEN — All IS RIGHT WITH THE WORLD?

Sister Teresa was born in 1923 near Waterville, Kan., the oldest child of Emil and Anna Sedivy Rigel. They named her Gladys Marie. Her sister Irma was born in 1926, then her brother Kenneth in 1931, and her sister Dorothy in 1934. They lived on several farms, all near Waterville, and attended country schools. During this time, Teresa said, “We were poor as these were the Dust Bowl and Depression Days.” Kenneth is her only surviving sibling.

During high school, Gladys began staying in town and working for her room and board. Besides earning a high school diploma, Gladys made new friends. She began going to the Methodist Church with one friend, and this began the exploration of religion for her. An adult friend, Anna, ran a boarding house and Gladys lived and worked there. Anna was a Catholic and prayed her rosary every night. Gladys was impressed and wanted to learn more.

When Gladys graduated that year, Anna loaned her $50 to be able to go to Manhattan and enroll in a School of Nursing. Actually, Gladys had first wanted to become a librarian but the cost of college was too high so she chose nursing. Before going to Manhattan, she had finished a correspondence course in religious instruction in the Catholic faith so in 1941 she asked Father Menard to baptize her.

After graduating from St. Mary’s School of Nursing in 1944, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph. She received the habit March 18, 1945, and was given the name of Sister Ann Teresa. She made her first vows in 1946 and her final commitment in 1949.

In 1950 she received a bachelor’s degree in Nursing Education from Marymount College; in 1953 a master’s in nursing from Catholic University; in 1960 a master’s in Library Science from Rosary College. She shared both her nursing and library science knowledge throughout the rest of her life in CSJ hospitals, Marymount College, Red Cloud and Pine Ridge Indian Reservations, Salina Public Library, and wherever her skills were needed. Many of us remember her helping us update or remove our convent libraries. Sister Teresa was widely gifted and very generous in sharing those gifts.

In her own autobiography, Sister Teresa focuses on her spiritual growth, grateful for resources readily available to her. She moved from wanting to be a Methodist missionary to wanting to be a Catholic missionary. She appreciated the sacraments and liturgy of the Catholic faith, but also was at ease and open to ecumenical activities. She includes her experience with the Focalore Movement and then especially the spirituality of the Sioux Indians. She said their love of nature, profound simplicity in experiencing God, and their acceptance of the cross of Christ “overwhelms me.”

Sister Teresa’s spirituality becomes evident in her ministry. Her CSJ charism of loving God and loving the dear neighbor shines in many places, and in many ways, always with compassion. Here are a few examples from her life:

1). Teaching in our Schools of Nursing and at Marymount College
2). Ministering to African-American children in Chicago
3). Working with handicapped clients through OCCK
4). Volunteering with hospice care
5). Visiting with residents in nursing Homes
6). Communion Minister to patients in the hospital
7). Caring for the elderly in their homes
8). Working as a teacher and librarian to Native Americans on Indian reservations.
9). House sitting – cat and bird feeding – taxi-ing

It is well to remember that Teresa continued these ministries, sometimes in the midst of dealing with migraine headaches and depression.

But her days were not filled completely with work. Simplicity was the hallmark of her life. She loved outdoor walks and ice cream cones, a swim in the Motherhouse pool, a game of bingo, a drive in the country on nice spring and fall days, and, oh yes, her glass of wine before bed. She enjoyed life, SIMPLY.

During this Year of Mercy, it became obvious to many of us here at the Motherhouse that Sister Teresa lived Mercy. Her life was absorbed with the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. And she didn’t just pray the Memorare and the Magnificat; she lived it.

After a full life with us, Sister Teresa Rigel died April 6, 2016. She died just as she lived – with a smile on her face. I think she must have been mindful of a saying I found in her file folder. It’s from the teachings of the Indian Chief Wabasha:

“When your time comes to die, sing your death song and die pleasantly, not like some whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so when their time comes, they weep and wail and pray for a little more time so that they live their lives over again in a different manner.”

Yes, Teresa, thanks for teaching us how to live and how to die, with the assurance that “God’s in His heaven – All’s right with the world.”

Comments

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