Sister Teresa Burgess
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and never has it entered into the mind of mortals, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9)
On April 10, 2023, Teresa Burgess,
in religion Sister M. Leonard Thomas,
went home to God.
She was 95 years of age, with 77 years of religious profession.
Born in Montreal, Quebec, she was the eighth
of the ten children born to
Joseph Burgess and Georgette Mary Helen Hughes.
Teresa was born on December 31, 1927. Named after St. Thérèse of Lisieux, she later developed a devotion to this saint of “the little way”. After the family moved to Sainte-Geneviève, Teresa became a boarder at Hochelaga Convent, run by the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary (SNJM). From her parents Teresa learnt the importance of hard work, of caring for others, and of sharing her talents and whatever material goods she had. Like most families, Teresa’s family had its share of joys but also of sorrows, including the deaths of three infants and of two of her brothers killed in action during World War II. These experiences undoubtedly helped Teresa develop compassion for all those who suffer.
Teresa entered the SNJM Congregation at the age of sixteen. She received the name Leonard Thomas, a particularly significant name since her brother Leonard was one of the two who had recently died during the war. Teresa taught high school for over 40 years, mainly at St. Lambert Convent and then at Holy Names High School and Vincent Massey High School. She was a born teacher who thoroughly enjoyed teaching. She loved her students and her students loved her. Although she taught many subjects, including Chemistry, Math, and Latin, Teresa probably influenced her students most during her Religion classes, in which she led others to become friends with her greatest friend, Jesus. Through her, the Gospels came to life. Besides teaching, Teresa was involved in extra-curricular activities with her students, including a Glee Club that presented operettas, the Marie-Rose Guild which provided all sorts of projects for students interested in becoming future teachers, and involvement in projects to help the needy.
After retiring from classroom teaching, Teresa became even more involved in her faith education ministry at St. Brendan’s Parish. This included catechesis; preparing adults for Baptism, Confirmation, and Eucharist; ongoing biblical, theological, and spiritual formation for adults; preaching homilies; and various social justice activities. She also visited the sick in the parish and in her SNJM congregation. Several of those with whom Teresa ministered became SNJM associates, living according to the spirit of Mother Marie-Rose, the foundress of the SNJM Congregation.
Throughout her years of teaching and of parish ministry, Teresa also generously served as an interpreter at various Congregational meetings and as a translator of written documents.
Looking back at all she accomplished, one wonders if Teresa ever slept. Yet, even so, she was an avid reader and also always found time to knit, to cook, and especially to pray. Indeed, memories people share of Teresa, or of Sister T as she was affectionately called, almost always include, in addition to memories of her dedication to faith education, memories of her cooking, of her delicious cookies and preserves which she made in abundance in order to share with others.
Comme lui, the opening hymn at her Mass of Resurrection, reflects Teresa’s life, a life dedicated to nourishing others, both physically with food and spiritually with the Word of God. When she left St. Brendan’s Parish after years of service there, a parishioner summed up her life beautifully as “a lifetime of giving, loving, and mentoring, of bringing others closer to Jesus”. By her words and actions Teresa reminded people of God’s words to them: “You are precious in my eyes and I love you.” (Isaiah 43:4) and “When you seek me, you will find me. When you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.” (Jeremiah 29: 13)
Not long after she moved to Maison Jésus-Marie, Teresa was welcomed into Saint Charles Pavilion, where she gradually lost more and more of her autonomy. This was a painful experience for someone who had been so active, so energetic and independent. She had said that her devotion to St. Joseph had helped her through many situations in her life. Joseph, being the patron of a happy death, must surely have been with her in her last days, for she was exceptionally peaceful. She died on April 10, Easter Monday. Teresa had repeated to others, so many times, one of her favorite Scripture passages, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and never has it entered into the mind of mortals, what God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) She is now experiencing those words fully.