Eulogy for Sister Therese Blecha — April 15, 1941 – Jan. 4, 2021

January 6, 2021 by

All of us, when reflecting on who Therese was at her core, have our own descriptions. What comes to mind for me is faithfulness. Faithfulness. When writing to Mother Helena asking to enter the novitiate in 1963, Therese wrote, “I have learned a great deal about God and loving and doing all for Him; the more I learn the more I desire to know and serve Him alone and so goes the cycle of love.” She further asked for God’s grace to “help her with that until He shall call me from this life.” That was Therese’s deepest hunger all those many years ago. Even with her diagnosis of Wegener’s Disease and especially in these past weeks we saw her remain resolutely steadfast in that desire.

Therese was born in Belleville, Kansas, on April 15, 1941 and baptized Eloise Ann. She was the second of six children born to Ernest and Eleanor Baxa Blecha. She had an older brother, Richard, and after her came Marjorie, Marie, Cathie and David. They grew up on a farm. She was educated in a one-room school house but said there were always three or four other kids in my elementary classes.

Therese’s main interests in high school were studying science, playing the flute in the band and singing in the chorus. She was homecoming queen during her senior year.

Therese had gone to public schools and so did not have contact with religious sisters except during Vacation Bible School in grade school.

After high school graduation one of her friends enrolled in Marymount College in Salina and so Therese was attracted to Marymount. Her advisor was S. Mary Grace who deepened her interest in chemistry. After her sophomore year she did mission work with Fr. Wempe in Alma, Kansas. This mission work including visiting all the homes in his parishes to talk about their family life but also to talk about their religious beliefs and practices. The home visits included non-Catholics as well as Catholics. Therese found this time very inspiring and life-giving. It helped her decide what she wanted to do with her life. She remembered the sisters from Vacation Bible School and those she knew at Marymount and entered the Sisters of St. Joseph at the end of her junior year. Incidentally, she entered the postulancy on her parents’ 25th wedding anniversary.

When she received the habit in August 1963 she was given the name Mary Therese. Later, in writing to Mother Helena asking to make temporary vows, Therese said, “The novitiate has enabled me to gain a deeper insight into religious life. I have begun to realize that the ordinary religious doesn’t travel the road the sanctity by jet but rather she must travel it day by day, sacrifice by sacrifice, trial by trial, with untiring effort. It may indeed be stormy weather at times but it is these difficulties which add to the joy of the religious for they are only visible proofs of God’s love.” After novitiate she returned to Marymount and graduated with a double major in chemistry and biology.

She began her teaching career at Saints Peter and Paul High School in Boonville, Missouri. As Therese said, “This was a challenge as I thought I knew everything about teaching but I quickly found out that I really didn’t know much at all. With the help of Sister Alexine Marie, I made it through the first year.” It was an exciting time because in addition to teaching all day, she helped with the music program, started the science fair, was in charge of class plays and proms, was the girls physical education teacher as well as head coach for girls’ softball, basketball and track. It was while coaching that Therese changed from the habit into secular clothing discovering it made running up and down the basketball court much easier.

Therese had a healthy ability to laugh at herself. She tells the story of being at Sacred Heart High School in Salina and deciding to change her teaching method from one of lecture-based to hands-on learning. After a while she asked the students how they liked this new method. They said, “Sister, this is so much better because you are so much less grouchy.” With a laugh Therese said she interpreted that in the most favorable sense and decided that meant that they got more individual attention.

Therese was asked to be a house parent at St. Joseph’s Children’s Home in Salina. She found working with children who are not wanted by their parents a real challenge but Therese threw herself into that and worked to make each child feel cared for and loved. Throughout the years since then Therese often told many stories from the Children’s Home because that ministry touched her so deeply.

Therese was an educator par excellence. She was a lifelong student herself. She had a degree from Marymount with a double major in chemistry and biology, a Master’s from the University of North Dakota in chemistry and biology, a second Master’s from Kansas State University in organic chemistry and a PhD from Kansas State University in chemical education.

Therese continued to be fascinated with nature, astronomy and natural things created by God. She had a special passion for wanting to teach people about science who were not scientifically minded. Her dissertation for her PhD was on the “Development of Demonstrations and Models to be used in Classes for Non-chemistry Majors.” Her whole purpose was to enable those students to develop a positive attitude and appreciation of science. She wanted others to experience that same joy of being in awe of God’s creation that she did.

After Marymount College closed she taught at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, where she earned full professorship and tenure. Again, wanting to impart her love for science she developed a curriculum for teachers of elementary students enabling them to teach physics and chemistry to younger students. They were hands-on courses and she wanted teachers to teach the basic principles of science in a way that was fun and would encourage students to continue learning throughout their life.

In 1993 the Leadership Council challenged her again asking her to become treasurer of our Congregation. She accepted that position after much discernment and prayer. Therese acknowledged that she had no knowledge of accounting and financial management so, characteristic of Therese, she immediately threw herself into taking classes at the local community college and Kansas Wesleyan. Therese did find it difficult to go from being in a classroom interacting with people to being somewhat, as she said, “cloistered” in an office. In fact, she described that as quite traumatic for her but again we see the thread of faithfulness throughout her life. She threw herself into attending national meetings of treasurers, working with sisters and continuing to educate herself. That was Therese – willing to do whatever was needed. She held that position for 14 years leaving it in June 2008.

More recently, Therese served on the Leadership Council and served a second term as Vice-president of the Congregation She was just a few months into serving as vice-president when she became critically ill and was diagnosed with Wegener’s Disease. The disease affected her eyesight, her hearing, the loss of her hair, kidneys and more. Although Therese never complained it was a terrible burden for her to constantly wonder if her next pain or cough was a simple everyday pain or cough or whether it was the disease flaring up. Yet, when she could Therese continued to go into the office and serve the community as best she could.

Therese’s fervent desire prayed as a very young woman, “To know and serve God alone – the cycle of Love” can be seen in everything Therese did – her various ministries, her love of family and her Czech heritage – so proud of the people of Belleville, Cuba and surrounding areas, her appreciation for tasting beer from other countries, her affinity for music often cantering at mass, her true delight in following favored sports teams, her joy in God’s creation. One of Therese’s most notable attributes was her acceptance of people just as they were. Therese genuinely assumed the best in people.

Therese always said that her most precious possessions were her faith and her prayer life but quickly added that these would not be possible if not for the faith and prayer life of her community, family and friends. We bid farewell to Therese trusting her words that we have influenced her life and knowing that she has gifted us with her life and example in more ways than we can even know.

 

 

 

Comments

One Response to “Eulogy for Sister Therese Blecha — April 15, 1941 – Jan. 4, 2021”

  1. Helen Kearney, CSJ Brentwood on January 8th, 2021 2:03 pm

    Our prayers and condolences on the death of Therese. I had the privilege of serving with Therese on the Federation Council. She was so capable, focused and so responsible. She enjoyed the simplest of God’s gifts. I cherish a time when the Council met in our house in Hampton Bays on Long Island. Because of travel plans Therese stayed over and this allowed us to go to the North Fork have lunch at dockside, visit the beach and watch the ferries dock.. Her serene pleasure was a gift to remember and a reminder that all of life is gift.
    Helen

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