Theresa Lesnak was born on December 20, 1928 to Theresa Malacina and John Lesnak. Her mother, father and oldest sister, Mary were born in Slovakia. They emigrated to the United States and settled in Chicago. They attended St. Cyril and Methodius Church where there were many other Slovakians. Theresa was baptized on the feast of the Three Kings, January 6, 1929. The family grew in America - first John, then Theresa, a baby Joseph, who died as an infant and Helen. Theresa’s mother, Theresa and her baby sister slept together and they would say the rosary in bed. Theresa usually fell asleep. They would poke her and then Theresa would say very loud, “HAIL MARY.” The children all attended St. Cyril and Methodius School taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. Her sister Mary, 8 years older than Theresa helped the first graders to speak English even though she had just barely learned it herself. Theresa was very impressed with her first grade teacher, Sr. Charlotte, and wanted to be a Sister like her. She announced this to all the students and those around her. They admired her and began to call her Sister Theresa. Theresa’s father worked as a security guard at a Maytag Company with washing machines. He helped the Sisters purchase and repair their washing machines as needed. In 1939, when Theresa was in 6th grade, her father died. At this time, John was in the Navy and Mary worked at a restaurant that provided for her lodging and needs. Her mother got a job as a cleaning lady for Marshal Field and Company. Because of her mother’s working hours, Theresa became more responsible for her little sister, only 3 years old at the time. She also did the house cleaning and laundry. Theresa remembers how hard it was to get little Helen up in the morning. After calling again and again, she would have to pull her out of bed. She likened her to a “stubborn old mule”. The School Sisters were exceptionally kind to their family by letting the 3 year old come to school and be with the first graders and providing lunch for them at noon. This was a difficult time for Theresa and Helen as they missed their father and the presence of their mother.
After 8th grade, Theresa asked her mother if she could enter the Convent. In 1943, her mother and little sister Helen took Theresa to St. Joseph Convent. They would visit her every month. There was one Sunday that her mother skipped and Theresa cried and cried because she had made a small dress for the Convent Sale and wanted to show her. When the next visit came, her mother told her that her brother had had a nervous breakdown and was released from the Navy. For many years Theresa felt guilty for leaving her little sister alone.
Theresa attended St. Joseph High School at the Convent for 4 years. During this time she and several other aspirants had to take a special English class. Because of this and being trained as a teacher/organist, she did not graduate with her class. She remembers having to serve the other classmates at their graduation. On June 13, 1946, Theresa was received into the Community and given the name of Sister Edmundine. After 2 years of novitiate, Theresa did graduate and she was fortunate to start Alverno College for 2 years as a Junior Sister. From 1950-1971, Theresa taught in elementary grades and helped as an organist in many schools in Illinois, Wisconsin, Nebraska and Iowa. During the summers, Theresa continued studying at Alverno College. She received her Bachelor degree in 1955 with a minor in music and history.
Theresa remembers an incident that happened in Pesotum, a small town in Illinois. Everyone seemed to be related to each other. When Theresa told the janitor that a radiator was leaking, his response was: “Don’t get excited about that. It has leaked for the last 100 years.” At Pesotum where Theresa had all 4 primary grades, a diocesan priest came to evaluate her teaching. After observing her, he remarked, “Any Sister who can teach 4 grades in one room is a super teacher.” He left her with a blessing. The next year another young priest came to evaluate her teaching, but he complained when he saw the older children helping the younger ones. He said, “No way can you can teach 4 grades in one room.”
From 1971-1972, Theresa studied at Northern Illinois University and received a Master’s Degree in Education. She continued teaching until 1975 in Illinois, but then after 25 years, decided to do something different. She became an administrative secretary for Smoler Brothers, a clothing factory in Chicago for five years, and from 1980-1984, taught business at Madonna High School in Chicago. For a few months in 1984, she went home to Omaha to take care of her brother, and returned again to Madonna High School. This was a very large school with many teachers. Theresa taught typing and computers and she remembers how strict the discipline was for the students. She taught there until 1994 and then went on to teach computer science at St. Benedict High School and Wright College in Chicago until 2005. Finally after teaching for many years, Theresa helped at St. Priscilla Convent as a Coordinator and bookkeeper.
Theresa’s life was not all work. When she was young, she enjoyed crocheting, going to parks, swimming, sports like table tennis and ping pong, and going to movies. With her computer background, she enjoyed playing games which also helped to improve her memory.
When one of her uncles died, Theresa became interested in learning more about her roots in Slovakia. In 1979, the Community gave her permission to visit the place where her mother and father were born. She was fortunate to find her mother’s sister still living. After many questions, Theresa learned that her mother came from a family of eleven children. Her mother was the second youngest and the aunt she was visiting was the youngest. The entire trip was a tremendous event for her and it got her started writing the Family Tree. Theresa did have an opportunity to return to the Czech Republic 5 more times to visit her relatives and she always returned with a happy, light heart, and huge thankfulness to the Community for these extraordinary trips. Being able to write her Family Tree recalled all her joyful memories.
When St. Priscilla’s Convent closed in 2007, Theresa asked to go to Campbellsport. She served as a volunteer there until 2015. It was a wonderful time to be able to enjoy the country, the excellent nurses and aides and the atmosphere of the birthplace of our community. Here she was able to help the Sisters with their correspondence and help the neighboring farmers with picking apples and vegetables. When Campbellsport had to close, Theresa moved to Sacred Heart Center for a short time and then was given the opportunity to move to Our Lady of the Angels Convent. Here she could continue her mission of prayer and presence. It was a time for Theresa to let go of her many activities and have more time to make new friends and rest in God.