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

She left because the school dropped first grade, so she moved on to Precious Blood School in Owensboro, Ky., for two years of teaching first and second grade. Her fondest memory was the small community of sisters she lived with.

“Sister Fidelis (Weise) was a retired sister who lived with us, she helped out with cooking and cleaning. She was a ‘sunshine sister,’ always joyful, always had a funny story,” Sister Teresa said. “She loved to feed the birds. In those days it was a government requirement that every student got a piece of bread with lunch, and half the kids wouldn’t eat it, so they’d give it to Sister Fidelis for the birds.”

In 1969, she moved to her next ministry at Seven Holy Founders School in Affton, Mo., a suburb of St. Louis.

“Dad was concerned about me going there,” she said. “The people were really great. We probably had 1,000 kids in the school.”

It was in Affton that she learned to drive. Previously, sisters were not allowed to drive and had to stay on school property. “My siblings said Mom and Dad would need me to drive,” she said. Her teacher took her out onto one of the busiest streets in St. Louis to learn. “I’ve always been grateful, traffic has never bothered me,” she said.

During her sixth year in Affton, 1975, her father died. When the school year ended in 1976, she got permission to return to Mayfield to teach at St. Joseph School and live with her mother.

“My mother had never been alone,” Sister Teresa said. “It was hard going back, but after two years, Mom had adjusted well. She told me she would be fine if I moved on.”

Sister Teresa and Fr. Julian Ibemere share a light moment with the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults class at St. Mary. Four adults are joining the Catholic Church on Easter.

In 1978, Sister Teresa left teaching to become office manager for the admissions office at Brescia College in Owensboro, the school the Ursulines founded.

“I was ready to get out of teaching. John Wilbur was the admissions director and really wanted a sister in the office,” she said. “I really loved it.” She handled a lot of mailings and kept in touch with new students.

“We rejoiced every time we got a new student,” she said.

In 1980, Wilbur left the college and Sister Teresa decided it would be a good time to find a new ministry. She moved back to Louisville and took some classes in counseling at Spalding College, while also tutoring students in reading at the Saint Angela Education Center for a semester. She decided counseling wasn’t the right fit, so she began looking for employment.

A few days after contacting Bellarmine College, she was interviewed and hired as an administrative assistant in the education department. She is the only Ursuline Sister of Mount Saint Joseph to work at Bellarmine. “Those were good years,” she said.

She lived with 10 sisters in the former Ursuline house on Edenside Drive in Louisville, and that’s where she rekindled her love of gardening. “I don’t like to be inside when the weather is nice,” she said.

Without much yard there, she and another sister discovered community gardens in Louisville where the land was more prevalent. Since that time, Sister Teresa has had a garden every year.

“I like to raise anything that will grow – tomatoes, squash, okra, flowers, green onions, even jalapeno peppers,” she said.

Helping different students

In 1986, she returned to Owensboro for her longest ministry, director of Student Support Services at Brescia. The program offers support for first-generation college students, which Sister Teresa did for 14 years.

“I never felt ready to leave. There were always more kids that we could help,” she said. The reward was “just to see the difference after they got a little help,” she said. “To picture them on graduation day, seeing the joy on their faces and their parents’ faces.”