(The remarks of this interviewer are in italics. There are various names to use in this story for our Sister: Theresa, Elizabeth Theresa, Tootsie. It is evident that the small city of Fancy Farm, Kentucky has brought many dedicated members to the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth as the SCN Community has likewise brought blessing to it. That certainly seemed true as I shared the life story of Sister Theresa Cash. The strong Catholic faith of both her family and the Fancy Farm community gives a wonderful backdrop to Theresa’s life, and her call to become an SCN. In her family alone Theresa can claim four first cousins and a nephew who are priests. There is also a Bishop who hails from these Catholic roots, Bishop Pierre DuMaine, whose Diocese was San Francisco, California.)
Elizabeth Theresa Cash was born July 14, 1924 to Susie Emily Burch Cash and James Marcellus Cash. She came into the world two months early with only three pounds to her credit. A small container and the kitchen stove were her “incubator”, a seemingly unpromising start for one who has now served God’s people well into her ninetieth decade.
(Besides the rural doctor with his traditional black bag, the women tending to Theresa’s mother testify to the Catholic community living in Fancy Farm. Two mothers of Sisters of Charity of Nazareth were there: Sister Margaret Ross’ mother, Julia, and Sister Agnes Clarissa Burch’s mother, Katie. The former was her godmother; Fr. Francis Burch, the brother of Susie Burch Cash, was her godfather.
(Julia Ross told Theresa that she baptized her three times. When her parents wanted Elizabeth Theresa to be baptized in Church, the pastor responded,” She is as baptized as she’ll ever be.”)
Three children of Jim and Susie Cash died in infancy. Of the others –Justin, Catherine, Albert, Ann, Rita, Charles, Elizabeth Theresa was the youngest. All had received strong names of the saints. Elizabeth Theresa was early given the affectionate name of “Tootsie”, and all in the Fancy Farm community knew her by that name. She had been born into a loving family where prayer was important – at meals, often at nights and Sunday Mass, for certain. She says with certainty,” God was absolutely first in our household; my parents put God in the forefront of our lives”.
Both parents had come from large families and knew the benefit and necessity of shared hard work. The farm inherited by Jim Cash was not the largest of his own father’s bequests but “it was the best”. All the family had chores, such as helping with milking the cows, feeding the horses, pigs, chickens and harvesting crops from orchard and garden.
Sister Theresa’s family – Back row L to R: Justin, Catherine, Albert, Ann, and Charles – Front row L to R: Sister Theresa, Jim (Father), Susie (Mother), and Rita
There is a childhood memory which Theresa now shares with a smile but was serious in its happening. It was her job in the evenings to bring the cows home from the field. The large Jersey bull, sometimes teased by the neighborhood boys, followed the cows. On a day when young Theresa, never a large person, was doing this chore and was proudly swinging her new aluminum milk bucket, the bull turned around and began to run toward Theresa. She dropped the bucket, ran for the fence and climbed over to safety. The bull may have thought Theresa was one of those teasing boys. At any rate, he stomped the bucket to pieces. When other incidences occurred and Theresa spoke up to her parents, that bull was sold and replaced by a gentler, calmer one.
All twelve years of her elementary and high school education were in Fancy Farm at St. Jerome School, a public school staffed by the SCN Community. Theresa has significant memories of these years. “Because Fancy Farm was so Catholic, I was in my sophomore year of high school before I met the first person I ever knew who was not a Catholic. In those years I enjoyed dancing and boyfriends, cheerleading and involvements in school activities, especially music. I loved having lots of fun. I made a retreat in my Junior year and thought of being a Sister but ‘not now.’ I did, however, say the thirty day prayer to Our Lady to guide me.’”
After high school Theresa took a business course and worked in Mayfield, Kentucky. She needed to help the family because her father had been seriously ill since Christmas of 1943. Her brothers were in the service because of World War II and two of her married sisters were living at the family home with their small children.
Theresa’s decision to enter the Nazareth Novitiate came about in this way. A boy whom she had known in her high school years was killed in an uncertain incident in the Army, causing much heartache and grief to the Fancy Farm community. This painful experience certainly gave twenty-year old Theresa much to think about. Her decision was made soon after a visiting priest took as the theme to the parish,” Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation.” God’s grace came to her in strong measure on hearing these words. Theresa/Tootsie decided that it was the right time for choosing her life direction.
Theresa found her mother very supportive of her decision to enter the SCN Community; her father cried when his youngest left for Nazareth. While Theresa worried that she was needed at home because of her father’s ill health, her dear mother said,” Your sisters can learn to do what you do.” Theresa was the driver in the family so it was a loss on that score, as well.
There were only two weeks until the September entrance day into the Nazareth Novitiate. The Sisters at St. Jerome Convent were very helpful in getting Theresa ready, especially Sister Frances Ann McGaughran. Some in the wider Fancy Farm community were shocked:” Not Tootsie Cash! We cannot believe it!”
As Providence would have it, her father was still too ill to drive. Theresa was driven to Nazareth by a Mrs. Willett, the mother of the young man whose death had affected so many people. Two supportive girlfriends also accompanied her. Theresa reflects,” The grace of God is amazing. I received the grace to do what I thought God wanted me to do.”
Novitiate life in 1944 was a busy life. Theresa smiles, “We were too occupied with work and prayer to get homesick .I had worked hard at home and had regular chores there so that our novitiate tasks didn’t seem hard to me. Sisters Mary Rosine and Mary Aquinas were good and holy women but very different, for sure. Fr. McGee was a consoling, comforting presence in our midst.” When she received the habit in 1945 she was given her baptismal name, Sister Elizabeth Theresa.
Theresa reflects, “When Sister Lucille Russell gave us try outs for the choir I was delighted.(For those of us who know her gift of song, it is no surprise that Sister Lucille only asked Theresa to sing a small part of the Tantum Ergo. )
Soon after, she was sent to Sister Macrina Wetterer to be questioned about more training in music. Sister asked her to play something and, when Theresa finished, Sister said to her, “You’re playing by ear, aren’t you? Are you willing to continue working hard to study music?” (Sister Macrina saw the gift of music Theresa had received and was wise to encourage it.)
After first vows in March, 1947, Theresa was originally told that she would continue her studies in music. (Theresa had really begun her study of music as a small child and her teacher was her older sister Catherine. Catherine then later provided the 25 cents a week needed for Theresa to continue those lessons.)
As often happened in those years, Theresa was sent instead to St. Agnes School to teach the seventh and eighth grades because the principal/ teacher, Sister Charles Albert Cruz, had recent surgery. Later in those months Theresa replaced a first grade Sister at St. Agnes who had a heart attack Happily, Theresa was able to teach music for some of the grades. This would happen several times in her early Community life. A Sister would be glad for her to teach the music while the Sister would teach Theresa’s class.
(Many of us remember how we were sent to replace a Sister because of some emergency situation. We also remember that we who were inexperienced needed direction and guidance from older Sisters in the household.
Her next assignment was to St. Mary Academy, Leonardtown, Maryland. Again she was assigned the first and second grades with teaching music on weekends. “Two ‘angels’ who helped me with primary teaching were Sisters Margaret Regina Murphy and Suzanne Marie Barry,” Theresa says with gratitude.
Theresa was next missioned to Our Lady of Victory School in Columbus, Ohio. Her grades there were three and four. When a new superior/principal came she was given the Glee Club and all music pupils. Theresa remembers singing a Requiem Mass by herself and the assistant pastor kindly thanked her and gave her fifty cents.
In 1951 Theresa made perpetual vows and was changed to the new St. Michael School in Memphis, Tennessee to teach one of three first grades. She is happy to say that she remained there for fifteen years. During these years, at various times she would also teach the third, the sixth and the eighth grades. Her joy was that she had a very good choir at St. Michael’s , made a tape with them and took them to sing at a local hotel. There are many good memories and some challenging living accommodations.
“First, we lived a house in the area and the pastor, Fr. Leo Ringwald, picked us up each morning, then he sent a cab for us each day. We soon had increased to seven Sisters because the school was growing so rapidly. We used both sides of a duplex before we moved into the school itself. The cafeteria was our kitchen, the classroom our curtained bedroom. We moved again – to a small house that had been the priests’ temporary rectory. Finally, the parish began to build a convent.” (What patience these women had!) Although Theresa had been studying music during summer vacation times, in Memphis she was able to continue her music studies on weekends as well.
In August, 1966 Sister Elizabeth Theresa, who in two years would choose to be called Sister Theresa, was missioned to St. Rita School, Alexandria, Louisiana as Superior and Principal. She was to teach the 7th and 8th grades and have much of the music. Father Joseph Susi, the pastor, with Theresa’s support, decided that the school needed an African American teacher. They went to the all- African American Holy Family Congregation in New Orleans and asked for a Sister for St. Rita School. Mother Marie Anselm, the major superior of the Holy Family Sisters, was open to their request but responded with a question, ” Do you have a Sister for me?” Unfortunately, Theresa did not. The Holy Family Sisters sent Sister Mary Charlotte Rubit to Alexandria. She was a lovely, dignified lady and an excellent teacher.
(When Theresa announced to the PTA that an African American teacher was coming there, a parent said, “Someone will blow you up if this happens.” Theresa’s response was.” Then, they will have to blow us up.” Sister Mary Charlotte soon dispelled any fears and anxieties with her pleasing manner and quality teaching.)
For health reasons Theresa let go of principalship during her last year and Sister Ellen Miriam Grimes took the responsibility. By this time Theresa already had her B.M. in Music Education from Nazareth College, Nazareth (1964), and her M.A. in Theology from Spalding College, Louisville (1970).
In 1970 Theresa went to St. Ann’s, Bartlett, Tennessee where she taught 7th and 8th grade religion, the language arts and had a children’s choir. Again, for health reasons, she left the classroom and took a position in Greenwood, Mississippi where she had the adult choir, visited the shut-ins and the sick and taught CCD classes.
Her next mission was Holy Name School, Henderson, Kentucky. Again she taught 7th and 8th grade religion classes, had the adult choir and many of the music classes. In 1986 she returned to St. Ann, Bartlett where she taught Junior High religion and had a children’s choir.
In August, 1988 Theresa was invited by Sister Betty Rose Clark to Nazareth to assist with the music at Russell Hall. Before realizing this call, she was contacted by Sister Dorothy MacDougall, Superior General, to take responsibility for the Nazareth Motherhouse choir after working with Sister Thekla Keller for a year.
Theresa’s words:” Directing the Nazareth choir has been a very challenging, very rewarding ministry. There is no way to express how privileged I have been to have been called to it.”
December 31, 2015 was the day Theresa let go of this treasured ministry after twenty eight years in this special ministry. Health problems, especially problems with sight, led her to explain and write words of appreciation to the choir members for their faithfulness. (For those of us who know, it had been a prayerful act of love on Theresa’s part.
At present Sister Theresa is an active member of the mission of the retirement community of the SCN Motherhouse. She serves as a lector, a prayer leader, a choir member, an avid card player, and a gracious hostess among the varied groups that meet or visit at Nazareth. Her smile gives her easy access to people and hearts.
(Now Theresa has only one sibling left but her nieces and nephews are very dear to her. Her SCN family is lovingly grateful for Theresa’s generous pouring out of herself these years in prayerful song and music, especially at our Nazareth Motherhouse. Over and over Theresa said with thankfulness and deep feeling, “I cannot thank God enough for my wonderful parents, for my vocation. It has been a miracle of God’s grace. In loving gratitude I want to sing the words of one of my favorite hymns, ‘My song will be for You forever.’”)
Sister Maria Vincent Brocato, SCN