Remembrance of the Life of Sister Theresa (formerly Sister John Bosco) Coyle SL
Editor’s note: This is Theresa Louise Coyle’s own account of her life, pieced together from much longer essays which
she composed in the decades since her Golden Jubilee in 1998.
“In 1929, when I was born in the small town of New Haven, Ky., our country was on the verge of the Great Depression. Times were already challenging for most rural people, but my parents, who were old enough to be my grandparents, were courageous enough to begin a family — the second one for my father. He already had two daughters, Margaret and Mary Cecilia, finishing high school when I was born. So I got my start in a household of adults. My half-sisters told me that they taught me to say words by the time I was 8 months old and that I was quite a toddler by the time I was 10 months old. When I was two and a half, my sister Ethel Rita was born, fragile and sickly for the first year of her life. Fourteen months later Rose Marie was born and sixteen months after her, Mary Bernadette.
“As my little sisters arrived, my mother found it hard to keep up with her active first born. So my Dad took me with him on his daily rounds. Dad had started his funeral business in the very early 1900s in New Haven. My Dad’s aunt, Sister Callista Robinson, was a Sister of Loretto. Shortly after my dad went into the funeral business, he became the undertaker for Loretto. He also provided many ambulance trips into the Louisville hospitals for the Sisters. His service to Loretto Motherhouse lasted until he died in 1945.
“My mother and her sisters had been boarding students at Loretto’s Bethlehem Academy at St. John, Ky. In our childhood, Mother often came into our bedroom at night and prayed with us after we got into our beds. We prayed, ‘Into your hands, O Suffering Jesus, O Sorrowful Mary, I commend my Spirit. O Suffering Jesus, O Sorrowful Mary, receive my soul.’ On my first night in Loretto novitiate I was startled when the novice, Sister Cecily Jones, gave out that prayer. At first I thought I must be dreaming. At home, I had never realized that this prayer was one my mother was faithfully passing on from her relationship with the Sisters of Loretto.
“As a young child I was very familiar with the term ‘Will of God.’ My parents spoke of God’s will at times of death or when searching for an answer to prayers of petition. I came to the conclusion early in life that the “Will of God” was very important. During my teenage years World War II was going on. In my small town, several young men were killed. These deaths were challenging to my faith.
“My father died suddenly when I was 16. I worked very hard trying to look at his death as being the ‘Will of God.’ In my senior year of high school, at St. Catherine’s in New Haven, I was constantly searching and praying about whether or not I should enter a convent. I really did not want to think about leaving my mother; she had not been well before my father died. I did not have much peace of mind during that time. I prayed every novena I could think of. It was the little novena to Blessed Martin de Porres that enabled me to trust that maybe the convent was what I should do.
“At graduation I learned that I had received an academic scholarship to the Ursuline’s Mount St. Joseph Junior College near Owensboro, Ky. In August I went with a group of girls to make a young women’s retreat at the Sisters of Loretto Motherhouse. It was during this retreat that I knew I would need to try religious life or else I would never have peace of mind. ‘Why not Loretto?’ I asked myself. I went to see the Mother Superior … and soon after I introduced myself, Mother Edwarda asked, ‘Are you related to the Charlie Coyle who so faithfully buried the Sisters of Loretto for many years? ‘I was thrilled to hear this question. I left Reverend Mother’s office with papers to fill out.
“I entered Loretto as a postulant in October 1947, received the habit [and the name Sister John Bosco] in April 1948, made my first vows on April 25, 1950, and began life on the missions [the very next day]. My assignment was to replace a sister at Rockford, Ill., who had become ill and could not finish the year. I was to teach first grade. This was the beginning of my happy teaching career for the next 32 years.
“In August [that year], I received a new assignment as a third grade teacher at St. Michael the Archangel, a very poor parish in St. Louis. I had been on this assignment two months to the day when I received news that my mother had died suddenly. This was a real test of my vocation. My siblings were all younger than myself and discerning ‘God’s Will’ for me at that time was very difficult. Ethel Rita, at 19, took over responsibility for 16-year-old Mary Bernadette and the family home. Rosie was already a novice with the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth. [So I returned to St. Michael’s], but it was a difficult year for our family.
“Almost 23 years of teaching in St. Louis amounted to: four years at St. Michael’s; three years at Immaculate Conception on Lafayette; one year at St. Ann’s, Normandy; eight years at Mary Queen of Peace; four at the Archdiocesan Reading Center and two at Holy Ghost-Visitation. In one of the schools I was hired by Webster University to assist students who were doing their practice teaching. This school was also a demonstration center for visiting teachers for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. In 1973 I was invited to Divine Savior in Los Angeles for a year to set up a reading program, which would benefit first generation Mexican- American children. I then taught in Denver, [four years each] at St. Mary’s and Havern Center.
“In addition to living at various parish convents, I had the happy privilege of living in varied and larger communities —Loretto Academy on Lafayette Street and the White House on the Nerinx Hall campus. The years at Loretto Academy provided me with rich learnings about ‘who was who’ in the Community. Lafayette was the great stop over place for Loretto Sisters traveling to points west and southwest from the Motherhouse and elsewhere. Overnight stays were frequent. The young sisters met guests at the door, carried their bags up the stairs to their dorms or rooms and guided them to chapel and dining room. By the end of my three years there, I felt I had met over half of the 1,100 members in the Community in 1957. Altogether I lived for 35 years within the framework of Community and loved it. I had never thought about living alone.
“I retired from teaching in 1982. After a sabbatical year, I worked for a year in secretarial responsibilities with Sister Loretto Anne Madden at the Colorado Catholic Conference — a whole new world of social justice issues opened up to me. I returned to Louisville in 1985, to be nearer my sisters who were ill. I lived and worked at St. Joseph Home for Children on Frankfort Avenue, a supporting experience for me as I grew used to being in home territory again. After two and a half years, my job at St. Joe’s was ended. As I began to look for work and a place to live, I realized that I was in considerable pain. It was TMJ and I was unable to work for a year. I learned more about myself during that year — y great impatience and how much time it took to care for one’s self. As I began to recover, I left the house for three hours each morning to take computer classes. It was slow, and my concentration span was limited, but I persevered through four basic programs of learning.
“After a year of recovery, I was out looking for work and heard that the Sister Visitor Program was having a hard time finding someone to do computer work. I was hired and was able to set up what was needed to get going. I also assisted Sister Rose Colley, taking care of her home office. Later I worked for the Council on Peacemaking which later changed to Just Solutions Mediation. These have been exciting jobs, and my services in administrative office work have been very rewarding to me.
“I retired in 2000 and moved into my sister Rosie’s home to assist with her affairs. In 2004 we were privileged to bring her to the Motherhouse Infirmary, which enabled me to come home. I have had time to engage in volunteer works for the Motherhouse Community; I take Holy Communion to the sick in the Infirmary, and drive to and from medical appointments. I visit about five of our residents on a regular schedule. I have time to reflect, pray and read many of the recent publications pertaining to religious life and spirituality. I am not a visionary, but my personal vision of religious life is to continue being open to the Spirit in finding ways to serve God and the people of God in a loving and giving community.”
Sister Theresa died July 14 at Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in Nerinx, Ky. She was 92 and in the 74th year of her Loretto commitment.