Sister Theresa Panther

Sister Theresa PantherWhen asked what advice she would give to a younger person to live a wholesome life, Sister Terri gave three suggestions. “Talk everything over with God. Ask how he would like me to handle this,” she said. “Next, learn how to forgive and forget and let go of those little things. And when there are hurdles, be a good jumper!”

The Panther family of five boys and three girls kept their mom and dad very occupied. Dancing was an evening activity in the family. Terri’s grandpa – who was also Sister Helena Steffensmeier’s dad – played a squeezebox accordion, which provided the background music for all tiny feet to be active.

Terri’s mom valued and appreciated music and fine arts, and she passed that on to Terri. Terri’s Dad was very proud of her and supported her decision to become a School Sister after she completed high school and two years of employment as a secretary.

Sister Helena and Sister Arelia Steffensmeier were the drawing cards to the School Sister community. When Sister Terri entered the community, she wanted to become a missionary in South America. “That never happened, but I was satisfied with every ministry I was involved in,” she said. Being a teacher gave Terri the opportunities she desired: to help others overcome adversity and solve problems. Special education classes were not yet very available, but Terri found classes in Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, to help her develop effective skills in teaching special ed students.

As a teacher, Terri was able to put her beliefs into practice. Her skills and patience proved to her that there was no child who was not able to learn. She enjoyed working with kids with problems and always challenged herself to find out what was holding them back.

The students Terri helped would describe her as “caring, someone who rejoiced when they made progress, and was famous for contests and charts to encourage motivation and learning.” Terri recalled one boy who could not read at all. “I was determined to get him to read,” she said. By providing patience and incentives, there was success.

With her background in special education, Terri continued to tutor adults and children well into her retirement. Most satisfying to Terri was to “see students overcome obstacles and deal with what was holding them back.” She wanted to enable them to handle life’s challenges.

“Sister Helena was my attentive mentor and was eager to help me grow, both in my professional life and in my personal and community life. When things were difficult, she took me back into a little room and let me cry my eyes out!” Her care and support quickly solved those little difficulties.

Friends describe Terri as a person with a good sense of humor; one who reads ravenously and keeps up with the times; is dependable and will never give up until a solution is found; and is very kind and accepting of all others. Sister Toni Palermo shares that Terri is “a very loyal friend and is always true to her word. You can count on her loyalty and friendship – and I do.”

In speaking of her relationship to God, Terri shared that God is so present in all of nature, in animals, in all creation. She delights in the flowers, trees, and singing birds just outside her window. Her name for Jesus is Love. Her cat’s name is Angel and is a constant comfort and companion. Terri explains, “My Jesus is always with me just like that, too.”

When talking about the sisters in her reception class, Terri added a prayer in recognition of each sister and the gifts they shared. Terri clarifies that, “if I am not able to be physically present for Jubilee day, I will be there in spirit.” Terri’s whole being reflects her calm, patient self and her concern, care, and compassion for others. As age creeps up, Terri says that she “would rather serve than be served. But accepting that may be gift to others.” Thanks, Terri, for sharing you loving, caring, compassionate, gentle spirit.

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