Remembrance of the Life of Sister Theresa Louise Wiseman SL
Mary Theresa Wiseman was the oldest child of Charles Bernard and Christine Margaret McMillen Wiseman, two Catholics from the area around Elizabethtown in Hardin County, Ky. Their family grew to include five girls and two boys. Bernard was a farmer and the family moved from time to time. Theresa was born in Hodgenville in Larue County in early March of 1921 and was baptized at St. Ambrose in Cecilia in Hardin County, in mid-June. Six years later she made her First Communion at St. James Church in Elizabethtown. By time Theresa was 9 years old, she and her brothers and sisters were living on a farm near Charlestown, Ind., where she was confirmed.
In her elder years, Theresa and her next in line sibling, Sarah (Sister Bernardine) talked with animation and joy about growing up on a farm, about the animals and the vegetable garden and being outdoors and about the wholesomeness of hard work, the details of which they recalled vividly.
In her brief 1976 autobiography, Theresa explained that “in Indiana we were not close to a Catholic school so had to attend a public school. My junior and senior years of high school were spent at Bethlehem Academy, St. John’s, Ky., as a boarder. I graduated from there in June 1940.”
Immediately after graduation Theresa wrote to Reverend Mother Olivette: “I have finally decided it is my vocation to be a nun. I hope it will be convenient … to become a novice right away. Please write and let me know as soon as possible.” The application form which 19-year old Theresa was sent had a question about her motive in wishing to become a Religious; Theresa wrote, “I feel sure that God has called me, and I know I will always be near Him.”
Theresa arrived at Loretto on Oct. 25, 1940. She was received into the novitiate April 25 the next year, taking the name Sister Theresa Louise, by which she was known the rest of her life. She made her first vows two years later and immediately went to live at Lafayette Academy in St. Louis, from which she traveled daily to one of three assignments: St Ann’s in Normandy, north St. Louis, to observe classroom practice; St Cronan’s in St. Louis City to conduct the kindergarten, and Webster College in the suburbs to work on her undergraduate degree. She completed her bachelor’s degree in social studies and education in 1954, by which time she had served 11 years in three parochial schools.
Theresa Louise said of herself, “I have been a primary classroom teacher all my adult life.” In 1947, Theresa Louise was assigned to help open Immaculate Conception School in Hawesville, on the Ohio River in Kentucky near Owensboro. Theresa Louise tells about it in her autobiography: “I was one of the three sent to help open the new school. For three months Sisters Bernadette Bowling, Marie Ender, and I lived with the Ursuline sisters at Cloverport and would commute the 21 miles to school. On Sundays, Father Higdon would come in his jeep to take us to eastern Kentucky, to Paintsville, a distance of 250 miles. He would say Mass in one of the homes. For an hour after Mass we three Sisters would teach religion to a handful of children. Because of the hills and roads, we had to go in the jeep or we would never have made it.”
Theresa Louise was transferred for a brief three years to St. Mary’s in Sterling, Ill. Then, for the next 30 years, Theresa Louise’s assignments as a primary classroom teacher took her in a wide arc around central Kentucky: St. James in Elizabethtown, St. Jerome’s in Fairdale, St. Benedict’s in Louisville, St. Augustine’s in Lebanon, and back to Elizabethtown for a final 12 years at St. James.
In 1976, Theresa Louise chose to go to Ascension Parish in Chesterfield, Mo., joining Sister Bernardine (her younger sister Sarah). The two renewed close friendships with other Loretto members with whom they had taught in Kentucky over the years and who taught various years at Ascension: Mary Joyce Reasoner, Charles Maureen, Leone Rock, Alma Riggs. The Heritage Center holds photo albums of some memorable trips these friends enjoyed to Alaska and Washington, D.C.
When the classroom became too demanding, Theresa Louise followed Bernardine’s lead and took on part-time volunteer jobs as parish secretary and sacristan at Ascension. Each of the sisters in turn celebrated her Golden Jubilee at Ascension in Chesterfield.
Retirement to Loretto Motherhouse came in 1993 and more volunteer jobs—driver, shopper, visitor in the Infirmary, protector of barn cats and bright smiling presence in the dining room. Theresa Louise and Bernardine were never far from one another, exploring the computers or completing another of many, many picture puzzles in the convent library. Faithfully every morning and evening the two carried food to the barn cats; when walking that far became impossible, they drove, in cold weather and hot, to tend the little cats. 2002 found Theresa Louise and Bernardine in new quarters, on the assisted-living floor of the Infirmary. Soon their friends Mary Joyce and Charles Maureen came from St. Louis, bringing with them the laughter of old times. Later a younger Wiseman sister, Doris, also came to live in the Infirmary.
Those of us who have lived at the Motherhouse during these decades know of the religious constancy of the Wiseman Sister-sisters, their presence at prayers and Mass, their daily quiet hours in the chapel. They were women of steady routine, willing work and joyful play. “We’re very close to one another,” Theresa Louise said when Bernardine died in 2016. “My goal is to go to heaven; I think we all want to be in heaven some day.”