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Therese Maxwell: A Daughter of the Woods

Pictured below is Therese Maxwell, in her days known as Sister Pauline Therese. (Photo courtesy of Sisters of Providence Archives)

“I am a daughter of Mother Theodore with all that implies,” said Therese Maxwell, a former Sister of Providence. “My foundation in prayer and service began under the tutelage of this woman’s descendants and is so much a part of me that I can’t separate myself from the community.”

That tutelage began when Therese was a high school student at St. John Academy, Indianapolis.

“The sisters at St. John worked very closely with the girls and took a sincere interest in our lives. They encouraged scholastic achievement as well as service to others and our spiritual development. It seemed quite natural for me to want to be like them,” said Therese.

After graduating in 1953, Therese entered the Congregation the following February. She received the religious name Sister Pauline Therese. During her time in the Congregation, Therese earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and a master’s degree in education from Indiana University.

For 16 years, Therese ministered as a junior-high teacher or teacher/ principal. She was challenged, most especially during those years when she wore the two hats of teacher and administrator, but she found strength from her Congregation.

“I always enjoyed community living — praying, working and playing with women of all ages; learning skills from seasoned professionals; enjoying the inspiration of so many great women; and experiencing emotional, spiritual and educational support,” continued Therese.

The winds of change, however, were blowing as the effects of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) were felt not only in the pews of the church, but in religious life as well. One of the aspects of the council was for religious congregations to re-examine their roots and to adapt and renew life for the “conditions of our time.”

“The community was going through a painful period of great transition,” said Therese, who left the Congregation in June of 1972.

Some of those issues related to the transition included the obvious — like no longer wearing the habit and people leaving religious life. However, other changes were not as evident. More and more sisters were leaving the classroom — the traditional ministry for Sisters of Providence — for other ministries. Therese came to accept the Congregation’s new direction for missions. One part of the renewal that she resisted was some sisters’ decisions to live singly. To Therese, this was a movement away from living in community and all that she cherished.

“This unrest caused me to question what witness we were giving to the world that we had dedicated our lives to serve. I decided that I could live this kind of life as well outside of community without all the inner conflict, and I have found this to be true. I have never once regretted my decision to leave,” said Therese.

Although she left the Congregation, Therese’s ties with the Sisters of Providence were never totally severed.

I soon realized that there was no separation.
– Therese Maxwell

“When I first left the Congregation, I felt great sadness at separating myself from this wonderful family of friends and companions. But I soon realized that there was no separation,” said Therese.

Sister Adele Beacham, realizing that Therese would need employment before she started her teaching position at an Indianapolis public school that fall, offered her a position with the Head Start Program at All Saints School, Indianapolis. Although she wasn’t “officially” a member of the Congregation, her sisters were still concerned about her welfare.

She and other women who left the Congregation stayed connected with the community by attending reunions in 1983 and 1990. This eventually grew into an organization of former members of the Congregation known as Women in Providence (WIP).

“The community invited us back to the Woodsand assured us that it would always be our home,” continued Therese, who participates regularly in WIP activities.

This daughter of Saint Mother Theodore has continued a life of service to others that she learned in her early years as a sister. She taught school for another 26 years, and she has volunteered in a myriad of ways including at a family shelter, school library and a free medical clinic. Out of thanksgiving for her education, experience and spiritual foundation, Therese has financially given to the Congregation over the years. She has also remembered the Congregation in her will.

Photo below: To this day, Therese thinks of the Sisters of Providence as her family.

“I decided to remember the Sisters of Providence in my will because they are family. They cared for me for 18 years, providing love, support and companionship as well as a good education,” said Therese.

Indeed, Therese has never separated herself from the Congregation.

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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