Sister Teresa Costello: Love for learning and a healing touch
As a 14-year-old in 1948, Teresa Costello embarked on a journey from her home in County Galway, Ireland, to the United States. A life of service as a Sister of Providence would eventually lead her through New England classrooms to teaching English to migrants in Florida and into her current ministry as a practitioner of healing touch to the elderly infirm.
With Irish eyes smiling, Sister Teresa (formerly Sister Ellen Maureen) says, “I was born in Ireland but I was a U.S. Citizen because my dad had served in the U.S. Navy. I was sent to the United States so I could get more education than I could in Ireland at the time. Though I came alone, my mother and family joined me a year later.”
New ways of thinking
Sister Teresa characterizes herself as a lifelong learner who thrives on facilitating learning for others. “I love asking questions. I find asking questions leads me to more of them which brings me to find new alternatives and ways of thinking,” she said.
As a young sister in the 1960s, Sister Teresa earned degrees in education from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Indiana State University. She taught 25 years in schools in Illinois and New England.
Filled with more questions to answer after Vatican II, she earned a master’s degree in pastoral studies. She began ministering to divorced Catholics in the Diocese of Norwich, Connecticut. She also became a licensed social worker and worked in bringing affordable housing to elderly and disabled persons.
Next she earned a doctorate of ministry in theology studies in 1993.
An invitation from her friend Sister Carolyn Glynn to assist with educating migrant workers led Sister Teresa to Bradenton, Florida, six years later.
“We taught English to the workers so they could communicate with the farm owners and their field bosses,” she said. “We rented an apartment to serve as our classrooms right in the complex where farmworkers lived. They loved having us and the presence of Providence right there with them. We had 27 volunteers working with us.”
Healing and injury
While in Bradenton, Sister Teresa says she learned about healing touch and techniques for doing the shoulder and hand massage at a local spirituality center. She uses these today in her volunteer ministry at Providence Health Care at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
On a visit to Boston in July 2010, Sister Teresa suffered life threatening injuries in a horrific automobile accident. “I was given a 10 percent chance of recovery. I decided that if I lived, I would be as well as I could be and would minister to others the best I could. I came to Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 2014 when I turned 80,” she recalls.
Today she ministers in healing touch among the infirm sisters at Providence Health Care at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
“I love working with the sisters and other elders in health care. I enjoy learning from them as they share with me as I give them a shoulder massage or rub their hands,” she said. “It is comforting to them.”
Her second volunteer ministry is sorting vegetables from the harvest for the Community Supported Agriculture program at White Violet Center for Eco-Justice at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. This takes Sister Teresa back to her childhood in Ireland. “I grew up on a farm, so it is very life-giving to me to get these foods ready for sharing and for selling at the Terre Haute Farmers’ market,” she says.
But that’s not all. Still committed to lifelong learning, Sister Teresa recently convened a weekly group of seven sisters to discuss articles in the latest issue of America magazine. With the twinkle of a leprechaun in her eye, Sister Teresa says, “I never want to stop learning.”
(Originally published in the Fall 2015 issue of HOPE magazine.)