Remembrance of the Life of Jane Willett Harris CoL (formerly Sister Jane Therese Willett SL)
Mary Theresa Willett Harris was born and raised in Howardstown, Ky., by Catholic parents, Lawrence Edward Willett and Genevieve (Jennie) Boone Willett. Baptized on the same day as her birth, Theresa was one of a family that ultimately included four sisters and two brothers. She said of her growing up, “Our home had much love in it.”
Theresa attended elementary school at her parish, St. Ann’s, and completed one year at St. Charles High School after which she lived and worked in Louisville until she was 18 years old. She was related to the Bowlings and Boones of New Haven, Ky., and had met Sister Bertina Boone at Loretto High School in Louisville; so when it came to deciding that she had a vocation, she picked the Loretto Sisters rather than the Ursulines who had been her teachers at St. Ann’s.
Theresa joined the October postulant class in 1940. On April 25, 1941, she received the habit and the name Sister Jane Therese. Two years later she made her first vows and was sent to Loretto Academy, Kansas City, Mo., to help with domestic and kitchen duties. In 1945, she went to Loretto Heights College in Denver, where she completed two years in dietetics and home economics while working in the college food service department for four years. From 1949 to 1958, Jane Therese reigned over the kitchen at Loretto Motherhouse. Stories and fond memories of her kindness to nervous novices abound from this era and from the succeeding six years when she returned to Loretto Academy in Kansas City to manage the food service.
In 1964 Jane Therese was assigned to the newly built Loretto Education Center in Littleton, Colo. Sister Rose Patricia Doyle wrote, “Jane and I were members of the Kansas City Community at Loretto Academy in the 1940s. I admired her generous and cheerful spirit then. When the Loretto Center opened in Denver we were pioneers — she was in charge of maintenance, the kitchen, and many other areas. I, as acting superior, found her invaluable in her abilities and generous efforts.”
Jane Therese served at the Denver Center until 1972 when, at the age of 50 she asked to be dispensed from her vows. She told Loretto President Sister Helen Sanders that she had always enjoyed her work as a Sister of Loretto, that she loved many of the Sisters and was grateful to have been so well cared for. And yet, for years she had been weighing her delight with her Loretto family against a persistent tug for a closer relationship. She had become acquainted with Fred Harris, the comptroller at Loretto Heights, and by the summer of 1972, with the advice of people who had known her all her life, Jane Therese had concluded to marry Fred. Jane entered into that new commitment on Dec. 26, 1972.
At the time of Jane Therese’s dispensation, Helen wrote to her, “You know, of course, that I am grieved that you have come to this decision, though I understand your reasons. … Be sure that Loretto will always be interested in you, so try to keep in touch with friends you have made during these years.”
Individually and as a couple, Jane and Fred Harris devoted themselves to management of retirement centers in Denver and Fort Collins, Colo., and for 20 years at Casa Grande, Ariz. They were active in their parish wherever they lived. In 1985 they attended the Loretto gathering of members and former members at Estes Park, Colo. Later that fall, Jane wrote to Mary Fran Lottes who was coordinating co-membership.
“I have been wanting to write to you ever since Sister Susan Howard said I could be a co-member. I did not realize this since I am married. I think it would be great! All the Sisters of Loretto have a special place in my heart and always will. I have many great Loretto friends and love them very much.”
Helen wrote in affirmation of Jane’s application, “In 1939, when I first went to ‘Broadway,’ Sister Bertina was involved in helping Mary Theresa Willett get things together for the novitiate. So, for almost 50 years, I have been aware of Jane and her activities. As Sister Jane Therese she served in various houses for almost 30 years. I was in a position as president to know Jane better and to counsel her when she decided to leave in 1972. Since then I have continued to be interested in her activities, both at home and at work. … The associations one builds up in over 30 years of community living are not really broken off by a decision involving separation — nor should they be, unless the party leaving desires it so. … Jane has many friends in the order, and is interested in their life and apostolic activities. … I think caring is a mutual benefit, also sharing in whatever ways are possible, particularly mutual encouragement in the pursuit of values and aspirations.”
Both Jane and Fred became Loretto Co-members on Oct. 17, 1987. When they were able, they participated in Loretto events in the Denver area and maintained contact when they lived at a distance. They were each interested in Loretto affairs, helped individual members in many small ways and shared their home with Loretto friends.
Fred died in December 2015 and shortly after, Jane returned to Colorado. She was living in Arvada with Fred’s daughter Janet Hutchinson when she died after a short illness, March 11, 2017.
On her application for co-membership Jane Theresa Willett Harris wrote, “I have a positive attitude and love working with people. I am self-motivated and like to get things done. My faith and love of God is important and I put my trust in Him. I have always put my heart and soul into whatever God gave me to do. … I love the Sisters of Loretto, and you will always be a part of me.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL