Sister Teresa Agnes Rorke, CSJ

Sister Teresa Agnes Rorke, CSJ, the former Sister St. Thomas, died on October 14, 2023 in the 76th year of her religious life.

We come together to celebrate and to give thanks for the faith-filled life of Sister Teresa Rorke, formerly Sister St. Thomas, a Sister of St. Joseph for 76 years.

This sacred space was very central to Teresa’s life ~ it was holy ground and her presence at Eucharist and communal prayer services gave her deep peace.

We welcome Father Tom Poth, dear friend to many, as our celebrant today.

A heartfelt and warm welcome to Teresa’s family ~ the wonderful Rorke Clan.  Teresa treasured each and every one of you!  Family was her precious gift.

Gratitude and welcome to the Administration, Nurses, Aides and housekeeping staff of MRR, with special thanks to Sister Cathi, Teresa Roche and the Pastoral Care Department, whose tender and loving care was the FACE of God on a daily basis these past 6 years to Teresa.

Always proud to be a Brooklyn native, Teresa and her siblings Mary, Thomas, Anne, John, George, and Charles grew up with St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, Flatlands, the center of their lives.  Their loving parents Anna and Thomas nurtured their family with values of faith, a strong work ethic, and the joy of celebrating family life together ~ a tradition that proudly continues today.
Having her brother, Tom, killed in action in WW II two years before she entered left an indelible mark on Teresa’s heart and deepened her sense of patriotism and valor

After graduating from St. Brendan’s and completing a year at St. Joseph’s College Teresa entered and started her life-long, stellar journey in the field of Catholic education.  Teaching elementary school in 5 different Brooklyn parishes while obtaining her BS from St. John’s in mathematics eventually brought Teresa to serve in our community high schools.

Students in Sacred Heart Academy, Stella Maris, and St. Angela Hall benefitted from Teresa’s expertise and love of learning.  Teresa always saw the uniqueness and potential of each student and exhibited kindness and empathy that endeared her to all.

Teresa went on to obtain an MS in Math from Catholic University and an MS in Administration from Pace University.  She certainly was no slouch!

Called to serve as principal at St. Joseph’s HS for 10 years offered Teresa the opportunity to work with an amazing team of dedicated people who created a vibrant gospel-focused community.  She often said that her life perspective was forever changed at 80 Willoughby Street.   To keep it real, it was also said by many, “Don’t mess with Sister Teresa Rorke, especially if you tried to cut out at lunchtime to go to A & S.

After St. Joseph’s, Teresa enriched her ministerial focus by attending the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley, CA.  She always claimed that getting Sister John Raymond to agree to that decision was the real win of her life!

She finally got Religion!

Teresa spent the remaining years of her active ministry assisting teachers in Catholic education and Parish Ministry at the Diocesan level in Brooklyn and Rockville Centre, ensuring that the vibrance and call to action of the Gospel of Jesus were at the center of all learning.  The word retirement was not in Teresa’s DNA ~ Volunteer service at ROTA-CARE, which provided free health care to the poor and indigent, brought her kindly presence to many.

Health challenges brought Teresa to the welcoming community at Stella Maris in 2012 for 5 years and later to Maria Regina Residence.  Both communities offered Teresa the graced time for prayer and spiritual nourishment as well as the wonderful care and comfort she needed.

Over the course of her long and rich life, Teresa was blessed with the gift of meaningful relationships that brought her great joy and countless memorable moments.

Sister Jeanne Ross, Teresa’s postulant ~ and former SHA student has been a steadfast and faithful companion ~ and we’re privileged to have her share a reflection.
Tesa Fitzgerald, CSJ

The prayer card you received this morning proclaims who we seek to be   as Sisters of St Joseph. It says ~ A life that is simple, prayerful, courageous, and compassionate. I would like to use these qualities to try to capture the life of Sister Teresa Rorke, formerly Sister St Thomas, a Sister of St Joseph.

Teresa was not complicated; she was who she was. Clear and straightforward, honest, joyful, generous, and smart! I met her in 1963, She was my geometry teacher at Sacred Heart. She loved Math and was an excellent teacher. She made us want to learn Math!

When she saw a puzzled or confused face while teaching, she would present the material again, in a different way, giving her students another opportunity to get it. And she was delighted when they did.

Teresa would always begin a class or a meeting with a simple prayer asking the Holy Spirits guidance to bring the session to completion and a happy ending. She was convinced of the power of prayer and made sure it surrounded her work.

Teresa had a great love for her family. She was the youngest of seven children and always reflected how she grew up in a loving, competitive, faith- filled home. It was a good foundation for her life as a Sister of St Joseph. She knew how to work with others, when to ask for help when she needed it and enjoy get-togethers which brought much joy and happiness to those in attendance. Her willingness to begin and lead the singing only added to parties and celebrations.

Being a born and bred Brooklyn girl, at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Brooklyn Bridge, she had the entire St Joseph High School at the parade in downtown Brooklyn. They cheered for the land mark we all claimed as our own. We studied its history and our classes walked across the bridge during the following week to celebrate its big birthday. It was an event that faculty and students will always remember!

As a teacher and administrator, Teresa was sensitive to the needs of others and would always try to help out. She was kind to parents who were struggling to keep up with tuition payments and when working with parish schools which faced closure she tried to keep the best educational option for the children as the focus. Amid the pain of the parents wanting their particular school to remain open, she tried to get them and the parishes involved to make an equitable, fair and caring decision.

Prayer was so important to Teresa. When I asked her about entering the Sisters of St Joseph, She asked me, Are you in love with God? She asked if I ever thought about what that might mean. Was I ready to make God number one in my life?

She said family, friendships, recreation, career or ministry are important but your involvement in these must be sustained and nourished by a deep commitment to God and to God’s will and all that that would imply. I did not realize that these were the questions that Teresa was possibly grappling with in her own life as a young sister in 1965. After Vatican II the church and religious life were at a new time in our history. Teresa continued to make God number one in her life.

In 1985 after her tenure as Principal of St Joseph HS, Teresa applied to the Jesuit School of Theology for a year of study, a sabbatical.

In reading a copy of a letter Teresa wrote to the school when she applied, she wrote and I quote” I’ve been absorbed with earning degrees in Math and Administration.  I’ve attempted to train teachers,  replace 70 year old boilers and design just salary scales. This has claimed huge investments of time and talent. It is time to stop, study the Lord, to grow again, to make sense of the who, what and where of it all and of me. I hope a year of study will help me better understand the essence of ministry in the church and how I can continue to be part of it. And she went off to Berkeley, California to study with the Jesuits.

When Teresa returned home after her year of study she was engaged in facilitating parish councils, parish planning, especially with issues of school consolidation. She also began being part of directed retreat teams and giving spiritual direction.

I said earlier that Teresa knew that God was number one in her life. Even as her memory and mobility began to fail, she maintained that prayerful presence. One beautiful day, I was visiting her at Maria Regina. As we were walking past the chapel, she pointed as if she wanted to go in for a visit. I took her in right up to the front. I observed a great calm come over her as she looked at the tabernacle. She was still in touch with her God. After a few minutes she was ready to leave.

I think that as the years continued to pass, she still had that awareness of that presence, God’s presence in her life   There was a peace that she continued to communicate to those who visited. When family came and read her letters or told her stories she would pay attention, even smile as her loved ones talked to her.

On Saturday evening of Oct. 7th, Teresa gave her final yes to God. She surrendered her life, her spirit into the loving arms of her God. I would like to close this reflection with the words of a prayer of St Ignatius. I think this was the prayer of Teresa.

Take Lord, receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my entire will. You have given all to me and I return it to you.  Give me only your love and your grace for this is sufficient for me.

Thank you, Teresa for a life well lived. A life that was simple , prayerful, courageous and compassionate. Now Be at Peace with Your God.
Jeanne Ross, CSJ 

Gratitude Jeannie for capturing the goodness and heart of your dear Teresa.  Be assured that her bright eyes and gentle smile bless you with great love.

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