Any time I met Therese at a congregational meeting or event, she would always say: “Helen, what a wonderful congregation.” In recent times, she would look at me with that warm smile and say: “Helen, I am so grateful to the congregation; I really mean it.” Well Therese, we are all here today to say: Therese we are grateful to you and want to tell you what a wonderful woman, what a wonderful Sister of St. Joseph you have been for seventy-three years. We really mean it. “Wonderful” means a woman of compassion, vision, justice, and faithfulness, truly a holy woman.
Therese was born in Brooklyn to her immigrant parents Rose and John who would nurture thirteen children instilling in them a deep faith and the value of service. Therese was the youngest.
After attending the Juniorate, Therese entered our congregation and taught elementary grades in Immaculate Heart of Mary and St. Anthony of Padua in Brooklyn. In 1957 she began her long time ministry as an educator in Puerto Rico. Initially teaching in Colegio San Conrado and Academia Santa Maria, Therese served as Principal of Academia San Ignacio.
An experienced educator, a woman with vision and a missionary spirit, Therese saw a need for young women in Puerto to be empowered by education. She wanted them to be prepared to engage in meaningful professions and be a transforming presence in our world. With the original Board of Parents, Therese gave life to that vision and Academia Maria Reina was founded in 1966 with Therese as the Principal. The school has thrived for over 50 years and the founding vision is alive and strong, empowering young women and forming their hearts for justice and peace.
During her twenty five years ministering in Puerto Rico, Therese also served in congregational leadership as Vicar for the sisters there.
When Therese returned to the states in 1982, she continued to serve in leadership as a regional Superior. She and the sisters in her local community of St. Martha’s in Uniondale responded authentically to God’s call to act with justice, love tenderly, serve one another and walk humbly with God. Therese inspired her sisters to see the underlying causes of poverty, violence and injustice and to do something about it through prayer, protest, action, such as welcoming a needy family, and letters to those who had power and influence. Supported by so many in our Non-violent Group, Justice Committee and the community in our Pax Christi House with Eileen and Fibronia, and Alice by her side, Therese continued to act with justice.
Therese’s action was grounded in a deep faith and openness to God as the way, the truth and the life. She knew God’s ways and was confident that God walked with her through it all. This may have been why Therese was such a calming and encouraging presence to all especially to the patients, families and staff at Methodist Hospital where she served for many years as Chaplain.
Therese, we reiterate our gratitude to you for your truly holy ways and for the witness you have given that has touched and transformed the lives of thousands, including your family, our congregation and the countless persons who were drawn to your kindness, authenticity and deep joy. Last Friday you gave the ultimate gift of your life, asking God to take all, because all is God’s now. All of us here today must promise Therese to continue to seek what is holy in our own lives. It is a huge task but Therese has made it easy for us because she has shown us the way with her very life. Thank you Therese. We are indeed grateful.
Sister Helen Kearney
Sister Therese Marie Camardella, CSJ died on August 31, 2019 in the 73rd year of her religious life.