Ursuline Sister Teresa Riley may have been content to work at the Woolworth Ten Cent Store if her parish priest hadn’t suggested she become a woman religious.
Sister Teresa grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Mayfield, Ky. She was the seventh of 10 children born to Jake and Lucille Riley. Her dad was a livestock dealer and a farmer, her mom a homemaker.
“We had lots of cousins we visited on Sundays or they visited us. We had horses and ponies to ride,” she said. The children did a lot with their parents on Sundays, and during the week helped with farm and garden work or household chores.
“My mom quilted a lot; she taught me to do that,” Sister Teresa said. “When we got home from school, she’d let us quilt and crochet some. I still do it if I have time.”
Sister Teresa went to public school through the fifth grade. The family lived seven miles away from St. Joseph School in Mayfield and it was difficult to get the children there, so her father wrote each year to Bishop Francis Cotton for permission to send the children to public school. When Sister Teresa was to begin the sixth grade, the bishop stopped granting that permission, so Sister Teresa, two sisters, and four brothers transferred to St. Joseph, a school begun by the Ursulines in 1934. All her teachers at St. Joseph were Ursuline Sisters.
After Sister Teresa graduated from St. Joseph High School, she worked for a year at the hardware counter at Woolworth’s in downtown Mayfield. “I loved it,” she said. She was going to Mass almost every day. Once a month Father Leo Dienes would bring Communion to her grandmother, and Sister Teresa would ride back to church with him for Mass.
“One day Father said, ‘When are you going to enter the convent?’ I hadn’t even thought of that,” Sister Teresa said. “It just bothered me. I went to talk with Father and he said, ‘I didn’t know if you knew what you were going to do with your life.’ So I gave it a shot. I’m still here,” she said with a smile.
She’d originally thought she would enjoy being a missionary, like the woman who would become her patron saint, Saint Therese of Lisieux, also known as the Little Flower.
Sister Teresa entered the Ursulines as a postulant in 1954, breaking the news to her boss at Woolworth’s, Mr. Kipp. “I’m not surprised,” he told her. She became a novice in 1955, making this her 60th year as an Ursuline Sister.
“My family was fine with it,” she said. “They told me, ‘If that’s what the Lord wants you to do, we’ll support you.’” When I entered we were not allowed to go home unless a parent was seriously ill, and we couldn’t eat with our parents if they came to visit,” Sister Teresa said. “I never heard them complain that I couldn’t come home.”
There were 18 members in Sister Teresa’s postulant and novice class, and six of those remain: Sisters Francis Louise Johnson, Marietta Wethington, Margaret Marie Greenwell, Catherine Marie Lauterwasser, Marie Michael Hayden, and Sister Teresa.
“My life as an Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph has been both challenging and fulfilling,” she said. “As I look back, I realize that our loving God chose me, and He has certainly guided me all the way. I have tried to be faithful to Him and to serve Him to the best of my ability. I have had the opportunity of a good education, and I have tried to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ through my various ministries. I pray that I can remain faithful to the end.”