Sister Therese Whitsett
Favorite movie: October Sky. It’s about people who were coal miners in West Virginia and the struggle they went through. And this little boy did not want to go in the coal mines, like his father, so he had this little riff with his dad. He wanted to go to school and learn to be a scientist and his hero was Van Braun the scientist. It’s kind of quirky, but it shows how a kid can reach his goal, but not without struggle, with his father, oh my.
Favorite sport: I love baseball and the poor Cubs
Favorite dessert: My all-time favorite dessert is cherry pie
Favorite time of day: morning
Favorite saints: my mom and Mother Theodore
Contact Sister Therese at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sister Therese Whitsett’s 50-plus years as a Sister of Providence have been a journey of discovery. She’s been stretched by change, her vision of service has expanded, and she learned from strong SP role models. And looking back she can clearly see God’s Providence continually guiding her path.
Sister Therese grew up in St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis. She recalls the fun of being a young child and rolling down the ravines and enjoying the beautiful space of nature at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. The middle child of nine, the family would often visit first one then two older sisters who had joined the Sisters of Providence.
It was with great excitement and visions of being a missionary and going to far-away places to be of service that right after high school Therese too joined the Sisters of Providence.
The year was 1962, and two months later the Second Vatican Council would begin. With it would come many changes in the life and routine of the Congregation of sisters. Over the next two decades those changes resulted in many of Sister Therese’s era leaving the Congregation. In time, both of Sister Therese’s older sisters would choose to leave.
“I could see myself as a Sister of Providence so I couldn’t understand, and the leaving of friends was difficult, but for myself, I felt it was my best way to serve. I would not have been able to have the experiences or be with people as I have had if I were not a Sister of Providence, and to be able to serve as I have,” Sister Therese said.
“Change is hard. You think you’re ready for it, but you’re not. You grow into change, I think. You have to,” she said.
Sister Therese has also grown through a variety of ministries. She started out teaching in Fort Wayne, Ind., then she went to Bolivia to study Spanish. After that she taught in a school in Peru, South America. Since 1979 her ministries have continued to involve education with the Hispanic community.
Currently Sister Therese teaches English as a new language at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis.
“It’s my dream ministry,” she says. “I can have contact with every grade level. I love being able to help the children and also speak with their parents. I feel very blessed and privileged to be part of their life and culture.”
She enjoys seeing the transformation that comes with learning.
“Once there was a little boy in third grade from Honduras who had never been to school before. He cried for the first six weeks. Not a word of English did he know. He was never in a school with a desk, let alone 25 kids, so without a word of English, he was very scared. Over time and with lots of patience, the expression on his face began to change. Now he is in high school and is doing very well,” she tells.
“Everything is easy when you know how. That’s what I tell the kids all the time. Especially the older children who are in sixth grade, who are trying to learn a new language. It’s going to take at least five years to learn a new language. Be patient. Here I’ve been at it how many years, 30 plus years, and I’m still struggling with the language, learning new words all the time.”
Another special connection for Sister Therese is that the Sisters of Providence started teaching at St. Philip Neri School in 1910. “That’s another reason I feel really great about being at St. Philip Neri,” she said.
Sister Therese has been inspired by many of the women with whom she has lived and ministered. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, the founder of the Sisters of Providence, also holds special meaning for her.
“I think that for me knowing that she came from France and that she had to learn English struck me as something to consider. It did not deter her from what she was able to do.”
“So I sometimes say this to the kids, ‘Look, yes, it’s a struggle.’ We have this saying in Spanish, ‘Aunque sea difícil, no es imposible. It may be difficult, but it’s not impossible.’
I think about Mother Theodore. She spoke French, learned English, and was able to work with people, start schools and accomplish many other things,” Sister Therese said.
Trust in God
Sister Therese says being a Sister of Providence has enriched her life. She has been able to grow in and share Providence spirituality and touch the lives of many. And along the way, she’s learned to always stay open.
“You never know where God’s Providence will be leading you next,” she says. “You don’t know what’s around the next corner.”
But for Sister Therese there is one thing of which her life experience has left her confident: God’s loving Providence will continue to be present wherever life leads.
Her favorite quote by Corrie ten Boom speaks to that very thing. “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.”
Favorite Holiday: Christmas, I guess because that’s when a lot of people get together, families and so on.
Favorite childhood activity: playing with kids in the neighborhood. In those days you could run around barefoot up and down the streets. Now you can’t go, some of our poor little kids they never leave the house, because they’re afraid. But anyway we would run over to the park and run back, play ball.
When I am not at work or involved in ministry you are most likely to find me: probably reading or watching sports on TV or cleaning around the house or visiting family.
One thing most people don’t know about me is: I rode a camel and I’ve branded a calf. I had no idea that the little calves cry. It was a sad thing.
My biggest pet peeve is: when drivers, persons, pass you on the right side and cut in. I’m not going to talk about road rage, but that’s how it feels.
Least favorite subject in school: Math
Favorite hobby: it used to be cross stitch, needle work, but now my eyes won’t let me do that. I guess reading.