Sister Regina Therese Shaughnessy
“Jesus told many stories in the form of parables, such as this one: ‘Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still, other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!’”
–A reading from the Gospel of Matthew (13:2-8)
Regina Dolores Shaughnessy, whose life of 95 years we celebrate today, was born Dec. 16, 1921, in Indianapolis, to Edward and Kathleen Walsh Shaughnessy. She was the second child among four brothers: Paul Quentin, the oldest, and then the younger three, Joseph, Donald and Edward.
She attended Catholic schools in Indianapolis and was taught by Franciscans at Our Lady of Lourdes and St. Mary Academy. Briefly, she went to St. Patrick grade school, where she was taught by the Sisters of Providence, a long enough encounter, evidently, to have her enter our Congregation on July 22, 1949, 10 years after her high school graduation. She was received into the novitiate, professed her first vows and perpetual vows all on Jan. 23, 1950, 1952 and 1957, respectively. So, the family has a long tradition of coming to the Woods in winter, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Regina Therese Shaughnessy, who died Thursday, Feb. 4. She was 94 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 66 years.
Sister Regina Therese, as she was now called, earned degrees in English – her bachelor’s from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s from the University of Notre Dame.
Regina was a high school teacher throughout her teaching career, which spanned 32 years. Her first assignment was teaching high school sophomores in Chicago. After that, she was mostly in an English-teaching groove, at secondary schools, in Indiana or California.
Besides her teaching career, Regina spent many years in supportive roles here at the motherhouse – in the Office of Records and Archives, as administrative staff secretary, as Our Lady of Providence Shrine coordinator and in Residential Services.
Her dear friend, Sister Ann Stephen Stouffer, experienced her in such a role. She was her bookkeeper at St. Anthony’s School, Gardena, Calif., for nine years. Ann Stephen recalls that Regina always “loved what she was doing; she was a good listener and not easily upset. She was a wonderful support, a quiet, steady presence, with strong convictions and deep religious values.” And, she added, even though Regina was in California a total of 17 years, “she never lost her love for and allegiance to her dear Notre Dame!”
Typical of Regina’s quiet ways, in her file I found only one example of what I would call Regina’s own thoughts – a quote when she was a delegate to the 1981 General Chapter, whose theme, by the way, was “We are challenged to ‘Re-Foundation’”! As we prepare for the Chapter of 2016, 35 years later her words still ring true: “Our challenge, I believe, is to show new growth from our strong roots. These shoots of new life should evince at once, our bonds with our past heritage, our renewed dedication in present service … and our openness and sensitivity to current and future needs of the people of God.”
I have had the privilege in the last couple of days of hearing from some of Regina’s former students, mostly those she taught at Ladywood-St. Agnes High School in Indianapolis, where I was principal in the early 70s. From what they wrote, it is obvious that the seeds of knowledge which Regina imparted fell on good soil in their regard. One wrote, “To say that having ‘RT’ (as we referred to her out of earshot!) for class was an experience is an understatement. I was thrilled when I wasn’t assigned to her class my junior year because we all knew she was tough! However, fate stepped in and due to a schedule conflict, I was transferred into her class. Looking back, that was a good thing, not only for that year, but the next when she taught me senior English as well. Yes, she had high expectations and knew her subject. I am thankful to her for instilling in me the basics of English and a love of reading (I have edited this email numerous times … give credit to her for that!).”
Another former student, Steve Butler (whose sister is Sister of Providence Sister Donna Butler), had Sister Regina Therese at Central Catholic High School in Fort Wayne his freshman year for homeroom and religion. He reports that his father, a strict Catholic, was not at all pleased when he arrived home with a report card showing “F” in religion. This, after Regina had already taken him out in the hall and told him very bluntly, “Young man, if you think because your sister is in my community that you can just skate through my class, you are in for a rude awakening!” After that talk, Steve says, “I went on to be an honor roll student, all because of her.” Fast forward some 50 years later, when Steve met Sister Regina while here for Donna’s jubilee. Sister didn’t recall that she had ever flunked anyone in religion, “unless you just didn’t do anything or hand in homework.” To which, Steve raised his hand and said, “That would be me!”
Another student who had Sister Regina for senior English at Ladywood-St. Agnes shared that it was “a source of great interest to her to learn that her freshman English instructor at Butler University was Dr. Edward Shaughnessy, Regina’s brother!”
Known for being “tough” and “running a tight ship in the classroom,” Regina is also remembered as having a “softer, compassionate side.” One student recalled Regina’s attentiveness to a girl who could not stop crying in her class because of a previous encounter with another teacher. Sister comforted the student and then accompanied her to an office where she could be listened to and counseled. Steve Butler recalled having a severe mouth injury which caused him great pain. He still remembers Regina coming to his desk, giving him a holy card and quietly saying, “I’m sorry for all the pain you are going through.”
One student shared, “Sister Regina Therese was probably the best teacher I had at LSA. At the time, I didn’t think so – she told me I didn’t know how to write and she had me rewrite almost every composition I was assigned. I actually had sister in both junior and senior years. Sister had a love for literature and writing that she lived to instill in all of her students. She was very strict, but we benefited from that and everyone respected her (OK, sometimes we feared her) but boy did we learn … Sister was the ultimate educator, one of a kind. Because of teachers like her and how they impacted me, I also became a teacher.”
Forty years after having Regina as her teacher, another student reported her overriding memory of Sister Regina was that she started each class with an inspirational or thought-provoking quote. The former student still remembers one in particular that stayed with her, saying “I suspect that it made such an impression on me because her peaceful composure conveyed to me that the quote reflected something she truly lived by. The quote shared was: “St. Francis of Assisi was hoeing his garden when someone asked what he would do if he were suddenly to learn that he would die before sunset that very day. He replied, ‘I would finish hoeing my garden.’”
Her own garden now splendidly finished, her own seeds of teaching, mentoring and companioning now plentifully sown, ever the teacher, Sister Regina has one last quote to share with all of us as she begins her new “class” – her new life with God. The words are of Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman and Regina asked that they be read at her commentary.
O Lord, support us all the day long,
until the shadows lengthen,
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
and the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then in your mercy,
grant us a safe lodging and a holy rest,
and peace at the last.
May it be so for you, Regina!
Funeral services for Sister Regina Therese took place Friday and Saturday, Feb. 12-13, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
A wake took place at 2:30 p.m., on Friday, Feb. 12, with Vespers at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Saturday, Feb. 13.
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