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

Sister Michele Morek was one of the sisters who enjoyed living with Sister Teresa when they both ministered at Brescia.

“She enjoys community life, and I for one was glad to have another card player in the house,” said Sister Michele, now congregational leader.“She loved the students she had in Student Support Services, and was very creative in finding ways to nurture and support them. She’s a hard worker — good at seeing things that need to be done and then quietly getting them done.”

Sister Michele also appreciated Sister Teresa’s green thumb.

“The tiny garden she planted behind a garage at Brescia produced and produced! We had tomatoes all summer and spaghetti squash all winter from that little plot.”

In 2000, Sister Teresa went back to teaching for a semester at Owensboro Catholic High, but after being away from the classroom so long, it was not a good fit. The following January she worked in purchasing for the Motherhouse until July.

“I loved living there at the Mount,” she said.

That summer, she came to La Center to be closer to her mother, who was in her early 90s. “I needed and wanted to be with my mom,” she said. “The job was advertised as part-time, that’s what I wanted, so I could give my mother’s caregiver a break. Believe it or not, the job is still considered part-time.”

Her mother died in 2002, at age 92. “It was wonderful to have her so long,” Sister Teresa said. “She was so darling.”

In all of Sister Teresa’s ministries, a common theme is how much she enjoyed living with a community of sisters. Since she’s been at La Center, she’s lived alone, which she said was a big adjustment.

When someone being served by the food pantry needs refrigerated items, Sister Teresa gets a voucher from the pantry to shop for them. Here she gathers some items for two brothers living in nearby Bandana.

“There are parts I like and parts I don’t,” she said. “It would be nice to go out to eat, or to play cards.”

She gets together monthly for a meal with her bonded group of Sister Mary Jude in Paducah, Sister Cecelia Joseph Olinger in Benton, Ky., and Sister Mary Sheila Higdon in Van Buren, Mo., about two hours away. Monday is her day off, so she drives to Paducah for a water aerobics class, goes to Mass at St. Francis DeSales and sees Sister Mary Jude and Sister Martha Keller.

“She’s so good to me, I don’t drive anymore and she takes me everywhere I need to go,” Sister Mary Jude said.

The future

Sister Teresa lives in a house beside the 103-year-old church, which was renovated in 2008. She likes the location, within walking distance of the bank, the grocery, and the post office.

In her spare time, Sister Teresa can be found in the raised garden between her house and the church cemetery. Among the plants she grows are jalapeno peppers, which she shares with a Hispanic woman in the parish, who reciprocates with homemade salsa.

Despite her affection for the people of St. Mary that has grown during her nine years, Sister Teresa doubts she’ll stay long enough to break her 14-year record at Brescia.

“It’s in the Lord’s hands,” she said. “I try to listen, try to hang in there.”

By Dan Heckel