May 15, 2018 // Parish
The ministry of Servant of God Mother Mary Teresa Tallon
Servant of God Mother Mary Teresa Tallon once taught and lived in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, before founding a new order, the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate. Today, progress is being made for her cause for sainthood. One of the members of her order, Sister Theresa Marie Moore, spoke at St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Elkhart on May 7 about her foundress.
Sister Theresa Marie and Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate superior Sister Mary Catherine, who both spoke to Today’s Catholic by phone, said the “positio,” or collection of documents used to determine if a Servant of God may proceed to the next step of canonization and be called “venerable,” is being rewritten. Plans are to have it completed and sent to Rome this month.
Julia Teresa Tallon was born May 6, 1867, to Irish immigrant parents in upstate New York. She was the seventh of eight children. Even as a child, Tallon had a strong faith and would help catechize the children of the migrant workers who helped pick hops on her family’s farm. She would also assist the priest who came to celebrate Mass and hear confessions. It is said that she was 12 when she decided to enter religious life, “even though she’d never met a sister,” Sister Theresa said, and it was a decision from which her family at first tried to dissuade her.
Tallon told her mother about her decision when she was 16. Her father was deceased, and her mother concocted a plan to distract her. She was sent to live in a larger city with relatives: Her mother bought her expensive clothes — including an ostrich-feather hat — and she was lined up to attend several parties. At the first party, the host’s cat destroyed the hat, which she took as a sign not to care about worldly things. She instead began attending two parish mission talks per day at a nearby parish, where the priest encouraged her to persevere in her calling.
Sister Theresa said that in those days, a girl had to have a dowry to enter a religious community, and Tallon’s mother wasn’t about to offer one. So the young woman took a job — another distraction, her mother hoped — but Tallon was saving the money she earned to have a dowry. Finally, at 19, she convinced her mother and entered religious life as a Daughter of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. Then, three months later, under the advice of her spiritual director, she entered the Holy Cross Sisters of Notre Dame in South Bend on Aug. 15.
Sister Theresa said the order is not a teaching order, other than catechetics; but two weeks after entering, Sister Mary Berchmans, as she was then known, was teaching at St. Mary’s High School. Sister Theresa shared a bit from Sister Mary’s journal, where she wrote on Jan. 14, 1894, that she was given “an opportunity for living martyrdom, and I accepted.” The “living martyrdom” was being assigned to St. Michael Parish in Plymouth, Indiana, and the phrase was one she heard from the sister she would be replacing there. But Sister Mary trusted in God and was pleasantly surprised upon her arrival to find “the best children I ever taught” and a pastor who was kind to her.
From there she was assigned to San Francisco, where a diphtheria epidemic broke out. While caring for the ill, she contracted the disease. She went home to New York, and while in the hospital there she visited and consoled other patients. The effects of the disease remained with her throughout her life, but she eventually resumed teaching at St. Paul Parish in Manhattan.
It was while in New York in 1908 that she received her calling to begin a new religious congregation of women whose mission would be to “go wherever souls could be found” and to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. Shortly after receiving this inspiration, however, Sister Mary was sent back to the Midwest — to Elkhart this time, and to St. Vincent de Paul Parish.
Sister Theresa shared from Sister Mary’s writings about her time spent in Elkhart, saying that her reputation for catechizing must have proceeded her because the pastor — Father Francis Jansen — gave her a list of families who were not practicing their faith and the green light to start an apostolate.
Sister Theresa read from Sister Mary’s note: “I’m in Elkhart, Indiana — a center for railroads and there are about 20,000 inhabitants but the spiritual needs are just as great as in New York.”
She began dividing the young people into different groups — one in charge of new parishioners and strangers, another in charge of religious drama and religious reading and another in charge of the neglected. Sister Mary said of children not attending religious instruction, “A special appeal must be made not to say they’re delinquent but rather that they are our special friends and we are concerned about why they’re not attending. Religion must be made very attractive — let Christ be first.”
Father Jansen had a great influence on Sister Mary. He wrote her a note once, telling her he believed she had a special calling for the redemption of fallen-away Catholics and that she should leave the Holy Cross sisters. He didn’t know that Sister Mary felt she had received the same calling, so his note was confirmation and inspiration for her. In 1920, after she had been called back to New York, she founded the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate.
Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate
The order’s main mission is to visit everyone in the parish door to door and to provide religious instruction.
“We go to every door to evangelize and especially to bring people back to the faith,” Mother Mary Catherine said. “We ask if there are any baptized Catholics in the home, but even if there are not we let people know we are there in the name of the parish priest and ask if there is anything we can do for them,” she explained. “If they have no church affiliation we share Jesus with them. If they do but are not practicing we offer what the Catholic Church has to offer them.”
There are 60 sisters in the community worldwide — in the Bronx and Monroe, New York, where the motherhouse is; in Arizona, Nigeria and the Philippines. Three sisters will be sent to Philadelphia this summer to start a new mission there.
Mother Mary Catherine shared that she and a few other sisters had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame awhile back and to visit St. Vincent de Paul and were thrilled to be able to walk through the convent where their foundress lived; although no longer a convent, they were excited that it was still much the same as it was when Mother Mary Teresa lived there.
Mother Mary Catherine is the vice postulator for Mother Mary Teresa’s cause for sainthood, which was opened in the Archdiocese of New York in 2012. Cardinal Timothy Dolan was “enthusiastic” and supportive of the cause and the diocesan tribunal of inquiry began, she said.
There are two sisters still living who knew Mother Mary Teresa and could give testimony, as well as others who knew her. In January 2015, then-General Superior Mother Carole Marie and Sister Mary Catherine brought the 8,000 pages of documents to Rome. The Roman Phase of the cause was opened Jan. 22, 2015.
Mother Mary Teresa’s body was exhumed as part of the process and she was well-preserved, considering the flooding of their cemetery. Her body needed to have a sarcophagus, not the small box they thought would be needed for her relics. She is now interred in the motherhouse chapel.
Mother Mary Catherine said of the reason for Mother Mary Teresa’s cause for sainthood, “It is important for the Church today to know of Mother’s witness to the love and mercy of God for all of His children, especially the most spiritually impoverished; to know the voice of the Holy Spirit is consistent in His movement in the Church and through the members of the Church … it is important for all of us in the Church to see God’s marvels at work in humble, obedient souls who trust in His divine providence, such as Mother Mary Tallon.”
Sister Theresa Marie suggested when asking for intercession from Mother Mary Teresa Tallon, to think of those who need miracles, those not practicing faith, those who have serious illnesses or some trial holding them back from answering God’s call.
For more information about Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate, visit their website at www.parishvisitorsisters.org.
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