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From educator to contemplative life

Left 47 years of active religious ministry to pursue the contemplative life.

The Catholic Voice

From international travel and work with the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres to the private rooms and prayer of The Poor Clare Sisters of Omaha.

The journey of Sister Theresina of Jesus Santiago, OSC, which began 50 years ago in the Philippines, takes another turn Feb. 2 when she professes her final vows of the Order of Saint Clare in Omaha.

The journey to Omaha, the Poor Clare Sisters and to contemplative life was long and Sister Theresina feels her path was led by God.

'God is just so giving and when he called me to contemplative life in the form of asking me to leave everything, including my country and come here," said Sister Theresina. 'I was ready."

Sister Theresina, who holds a bachelor of arts in journalism, a master of arts in theological studies and a doctorate in sacred theology, began her work with the Sisters of St. Paul as a university president, vice president and seminary professor in the Philippines, and as a translator in Rome.

Although Sister Theresina was successful in her work in education, she felt a call to contemplative life. Upon telling her provincial and superior general about her call, she was sent for a period of discernment with a Jesuit priest in Manila, Father Thomas H. Green.

'I went to him for a discernment of over a year to see if what I was feeling was really a call to contemplative life," said Sister Theresina, who was also writing a book at the time about the 100 years of the Philippine province, as a condition of her release to contemplative life.

While writing the book, Sister Theresina happened on a Poor Clare Web site. 'It was quite the experience," said Sister Theresina. 'The monitor was going to swallow me and take me into it. I had to hold on to my chair!"

She informed Father Green about the experience with the computer and they decided to write letters to Poor Clare monasteries in the United States and Canada, but Omaha wasn't on her list.

Sister Theresina was not even aware of the Poor Clare Sisters of Omaha until she received a phone call from Father James Ryberg of West Point, an Archdiocese of Omaha priest who had met her in the early 1970s in the Philippines when he was working with the Movement for a Better World.

'Out of the blue he called to ask what I was up to now," said Sister Theresina.

After the call with Sister Theresina, Father Ryberg went to the Poor Clares, spoke to Sister Mary Clare Brown and gave her Sister Theresina's address in the Philippines. 'Just before I was going to answer a community in Canada, a letter from Sister Mary Clare arrived," said Sister Theresina.

Sister Theresina was invited to Omaha for a period of discernment and she quickly accepted.

'I emptied my files, I gave away things and only brought with me what was necessary to come," said Sister Theresina. 'I am very grateful to Father Ryberg. He is the link, he is the instrument the Lord used to bring me here and he was even the one who picked me up at the airport."

Sister Theresina arrived in Omaha Oct. 12, 2003, and began her discernment with the Poor Clare Sisters of Omaha.

'I learned later that that was the same day in October that the founders of the Poor Clares arrived in Omaha more than a century ago," said Sister Theresina. 'It is amazing."

'For me this is not so much a profession of vows, but a jubilee profession of love," Sister Theresina said.

The Feb. 2 ceremony will be the first profession outside the monastery for the Poor Clare Sisters and will take place at 8 a.m. in St. Bernard Church in Omaha.

'Sister Theresina has been enthusiastically preparing for this event in her life and she expressed the desire to have it at St. Bernard's Church," said Sister Mary Clare, abbess of The Poor Clare Sisters. 'May it be a means of attracting vocations to our contemplative way of life."

Sister Theresina hopes her ceremony in the church will open the door for all other Poor Clare ceremonies to be held in the church. 'Our chapel is so small," she said. 'We cannot even fit all the family members of a sister in."

Father John Doctor, OFM, provincial minister of the Province of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in St. Louis, will preside over the ceremony, assisted by Father Kenneth Capalbo, OFM, provincial vicar.

'I thought it would be wonderful for all of our benefactors, friends and parish families to be able to witness and join us in the event because we are suppose to be the heart of the church and they are the body," said Sister Theresina. 'Why should the heart separate and the body not know what is happening with the heart?"

The Catholic Voice

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