Sister Theresa Panther

Sister Theresa Panther


Born to Life
December 13, 1927
St. Paul, Iowa

June 13, 1948

Born to Eternal Life
June 21, 2023
Agrace Hospice
Fitchburg, Wisconsin

Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


I was born on a farm at the edge of a small town. I had seven older brothers – two of whom I never knew, as they died before I was one year old – and two younger sisters. My big brothers taught me to climb trees, pole vault, fish, shoot a rifle, roller skate and dance, among other things. Everything they did, I tried.

Even though we were poor in those Depression years, my childhood was happy and carefree. During World War II, four of my brothers had to go to war. One brother had to stay at home to help on the farm. One fateful day, a naval officer delivered a telegram to our home stating that one of my brothers had given his life for his country. My mother worried more than ever until the war was over and my other brothers returned home.

I wanted to go to the convent right after eighth grade, but I was discouraged by our pastor. While in high school, I was having too much fun dating to even think of convent life. After high school, I worked at Hanson Manufacturing and John Deere as receptionist, typist, and file clerk. After helping a close friend prepare to join the Mercy Sisters, I decided that God was calling me, too.  Having been taught by our sisters from first through eighth grade, and having two aunts in our order, I was easily drawn to the simplicity of the life I observed.

My first mission was St. Monica’s in Whitefish Bay, teaching second grade. Then on to Schiller Park teaching second, fifth, and sixth grades. Because I had joined the Western Province, I was sent to Davenport, Iowa, for grades three and four. After that, to my dismay, I was appointed superior and principal at Pierce, Nebraska, along with teaching grades six, seven, and eight, at the same time that I was getting my master’s degree in administration from the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

Then I worked in Petersburg, Nebraska, as superior and principal; Mary Our Queen in Omaha for my practicum in administration and teaching English in grades six, seven, and eight; Fordyce, Nebraska, as principal of West Catholic Elementary; Protovin, Iowa, to set up cross grading in reading and math;and Des Moines as principal of All Saints School.

Before going to Des Moines, ill health had necessitated my taking time off to recuperate in Omaha. During that time, I became co-directress of St. Vincent de Paul Senior Center. There, I enjoyed planning activities for seniors and participating in card games, discussion groups, and dancing with them at socials. Then I resumed being a principal at All Saints School in Des Moines.

After six years in Des Moines, I decided after 20 years of being a principal to give it up and go back to classroom teaching. I chose first grade because experience had taught me that the primary years are the most crucial years in determining success in a child’s learning. St Anthony School in Milwaukee drew me because 90 percent of the students are Hispanic, and many come from homes where English is not spoken. Teaching reading successfully was only achieved because of all the help I received from the sisters at Marian Hall and Sister Dorothy Schaller.  Sisters Dorothy, Frances Ann Cullen, Rebecca, Albetha, and Marie Burgireno helped me on an almost daily basis doing group work with the youngsters. Sisters Catherine Ruskamp and Noel helped teach English. Many others helped by making learning games, sorting or correcting papers, and doing other preparations for me. I loved those three challenging years, but I knew it was getting to be too much for me.

Sister Therese Marie Kluthe asked me to join her in Madison, Wisconsin, with early childhood education. After several years we had to give that work up, so I did private tutoring for an average of three hours a day. It was very fulfilling to be instrumental in the success of those kids.

For many years, I took care of a dear friend, Janet, who had Alzheimer’s. When she went into a nursing home, I continued to visit her until I could no longer drive to see her. Giving up my car and not being able to get around as I did before helped me really realize that my age and health issues were beginning to put limitations on my activities. My health challenges of dealing with my kidney failure and poor eyesight kept me more at home with Angel, my compassionate and understanding cat.

My love of reading was not squelched due to poor eyesight, and my friend managed to keep me supplied with good large print and audio books. Many friends assured me and provided for any needs that I expressed. A good friend even provided the opportunity to get to participate in a few more trips to the studio for some exhilarating dances.

As the need arose, my religious community, especially Sister Rosemary Rombalski, provided me with in home companionship. My stamina changed from time to time, and I again lived alone until there was the need for more direct help and nursing care. I was blessed to have my nieces Pat and Beth stay with me frequently and take care of my needs. Besides attending to my needs, they saw that the house was clean and good food was always available.

When discussion arose about my transition to New Life, I was able to respond with peaceful certainty that I was ready to enter that new phase of eternal life and meet my Creator. My wish and prayer for all is that all may have that anticipation for New Life.

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Sister Theresa

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