Sister Thérèse Benedict McGuire died at Saint Joseph Villa on March 18, 2022, and was buried on the feast of the Annunciation. Therese fulfilled many roles and duties from teacher to artist. Perhaps her most fitting title is faithful and humble Sister of Saint Joseph. She spent 65 years in the classroom, from her novice days when she was able to put 90 first-grade boys into 60 desks, and be a little mother to them, to her later travels in Europe with first generation adult college students. Therese believed in first-hand experiences for learning. You need to assemble sets for a show, see a play, visit a museum, create a silk-screen or a piece of jewelry. She was awarded the Lindback Award for distinguished teaching, and she also deserved an award for distinguished caring.
Sister Thérèse Benedict McGuire was a scholar. She often spoke of the value her parents placed on education. This couple made deep sacrifices to send their children to the best schools in North Jersey. For Thérèse and her sisters this meant Holy Family Academy in Bayonne. She treasured the education she received there, and it served as the basis of her later studies. Our gentle Thérèse was a committed feminist. Her main focus was Hildegard of Bingen, about whom she spoke and wrote and admired and imitated. She organized the International Hildegard Symposium at Chestnut Hill College in 2008. Time and deadlines were less important than the project, and her dissertation could include the names of the sisters who typed, copied, pasted, and drove it to New York just in the nick of time.
Sister Thérèse was an artist. Paintings, silverwork, jewelry, stage sets, costumes: so much came from her gifted hands. She spent many sleepless nights sewing costumes and preparing for a show. When asked for a minute of advice for a fledging Christmas production, Therese gave them a weekend of her time. In 2009, Thérèse suffered a stroke and lost the use of her right side. Without a word of self-pity or complaint, she immediately began painting with her left hand. These later pieces were executed with the same inspiration as the ones produced prior to her illness.
Sister Thérèse gave us the gift of humor. When asked by the nurses at the Villa how she felt today, her quick reply: “If I felt any better I would think I was sick.” Three days before she died, she and her bother John harmonized to “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on Face Time. Although confined to a wheelchair for many years, she assured us that she would dance in Heaven.
Sister Thérèse gave us the gift of beauty. She saw nature in all its shades and colors. She left us beautiful sunrises and sunsets, skies, mountains, rivers, and waterfalls. In her artist’s statement to Moss Rehab where she exhibited several times, she said, “I have created several works dealing with abstractions, nature scenes, and spiritual inspiration. I feel that my art is intuitive and an expression of beauty as I see it.” Her silver chalice was used in the liturgy celebrated at her funeral.
Finally, Sister Thérèse gave us the gift of love. Her love for her family was deep and true. “Bea,” as her sisters and brother called her, held a special place in their hearts. Many of her nieces and nephews traveled to the Villa for Christmas, Easter, and birthday celebrations. Therese’s love spilled out to the nurses, aids, staff, and doctors at the Villa who showed her so much kindness. She loved her friends in a gentle, quiet way, but never hesitated to “tell it like it is.”
So often Thérèse would say, “I want what God wants.” As her strength diminished, her faith increased. Her favorite painting, “The Living Flame of Love,” from St. John of the Cross was in the Chapel the day of Thérèse’s funeral. In it, she painted her soul and the flame of love that burns there. God has heard her prayer and welcomes her into the eternal banquet of beauty and art and love .