Sister Teresa Riley, OSU: Always ready to listen and affirm

Sister Teresa’s duties include gathering information for the weekly bulletin, and visiting the homebound.

“Every other week I visit those who don’t have someone to bring them Communion on Sunday,” she said.

That includes a visit to New Haven Assisted Living Center in nearby Kevil to bring Communion to Mary Vandini, Gus Kirn, and Pearl Vinson. It’s clear by their reaction that they appreciate the sister’s visits.

Evelyn McGowan works on the bulletin with Sister Teresa every Thursday.

“There’s something about her. She has a way of really touching people,” McGowan said. “She visits the sick and shut-ins, it means so much to them. She does a lot that people don’t realize.”

McGowan has worked on the bulletin with Sister Teresa for six years. “If I have any problem, she’s always ready to listen. We lost a son three years ago, if I’m having a bad day, she senses that, and always has time to listen,” McGowan said. “I can’t imagine this parish without her.”

Sister Teresa sorts the mail, sees that bills get paid, and keeps the RCIA class organized. There are four people becoming Catholics on Easter at St. Mary.

She works with the catechists on faith formation classes. “A lot of our kids go to St. Mary School in Paducah, but we ask them to come to our parish faith formation so they’ll get to know the other kids,” Sister Teresa said.

“She has a talent for finding the right people to take care of something,” Elaine Wood said. “She utilizes the people in the parish and their talents.”

Shirley Marshall and her husband run the food pantry with the help of volunteers, and said Sister Teresa “does just about everything (in the parish).

“She keeps all the records, and if you need anything done, you ask her. She visits the sick and comes to all the meetings,” Marshall said. “If someone is joining the church, or getting baptized, she takes care of all of that.”

Sister Teresa works with Evelyn McGowan each Thursday to prepare the Sunday bulletin. Here they enjoy a laugh following St. Patrick Day Mass at St. Mary. “I can’t imagine this parish without her,” McGowan said.

Being a small mission church means none of the priests stay very long, Sister Teresa said, but all the priests in her tenure have been great.

“I like it, I do the best I can,” she said. “Bishop (Emeritus John) McRaith thanked me for bringing stability to the parish.”

Now in her 55th year as a sister, her missions have taken her from teaching first-graders, to helping new college students, to office work. But it’s her ministry at St. Mary that has been her favorite.

“I have more opportunity here to help people find God in their lives,” she said. “A lot of people think they’re doing fine without God. I feel for people who don’t have God in their lives. I don’t know how they do it.”

In an area where Catholics make up less than 3 percent of the population, Sister Teresa knows she’s touching more than just the people in her parish. “I don’t know who some of these people are, but they know me. They associate me with the Catholic Church.”

Farm girl

Sister Teresa grew up on a farm on the outskirts of Mayfield, Ky., about 40 miles southeast of La Center.

“We usually went to Mayfield on Saturdays. The kids would go to the movies, there were two theaters in Mayfield,” Sister Teresa said. “It cost 25 cents to see a movie, usually a Western with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.”

She was the seventh of 10 children born to Jake and Lucille Riley, and all her five brothers and four sisters are still living. Her dad was a cattle dealer, her mom a housewife.

“We had lots of cousins we visited on Sundays. We had horses and ponies to ride,” she said. The children did a lot with their father on Sundays, and during the week helped with farm work or household chores. “We’d stuff sausage meat, we had a smokehouse for ham and sausage.