BY Sister Michael Ann Orlik (’67), General Superior, Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius

On the Death of Sister Teresa Urda (’60), 2 April 2017


Good Afternoon!  It is wonderful to have so many of you present as we remember and celebrate Sister Teresa Urda’s life.  Earlier today, those of us who were able to attend the Wake Service had the opportunity to share some memories of our time with Sister and I am sure many more memories will surface in the days to come.  I am aware that some of you have known Sister Teresa for a long time, since you were grade school and high school classmates; others of you came to know her when she entered the Community, or you may have lived and/or worked with her for a number of years.  A few of you knew her more recently as you ministered to her.  And of course, for the family members present, she has always been a part of your lives.  For me, I first met Sr. Teresa when I was a senior at St. Cyril Academy and she did her student teaching semester there in language arts.  Sister Teresa literally took us through hell—Dante’s hell!  She was wonderful!  We never forgot that class or her spirit and passion for literature!  Of course, through the years, I got to know her better, most especially during these past five years in Danville, and more deeply during the last few months when I had the privilege of accompanying her on her final journey.  I came to know her as a woman of great faith and courage and one who had a heart for the life of the world.


Teresa Mary Urda was born in Torrington, CT, on October 15, 1942.  She was one of five children born to Andrew and Helen (Vasko) Urda.  Teresa was raised in a neighborhood that was surrounded, not by asphalt, but by nature.  Across the street there was a playground with a pond and woods behind it and, in her backyard, there was her dad’s vegetable garden.  She grew up with great appreciation for the wonders of nature and her parents’ deep love for God and God’s Creation.


Teresa attended Sacred Heart School in Torrington where she was taught by the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius and where she believed the seed of her religious vocation was planted.  Her desire to enter religious life grew when she attended Saint Cyril Academy in Danville, PA, where she graduated in 1960.


Teresa entered the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius on September 8, 1961.  She was received as a novice on August 13, 1962, and made her first profession of vows on August 13, 1964.  At that time she was known in religion as Sister Jonathan, but later she decided to return to using her baptismal name.  Sister Teresa went on to study and receive her BA in English from Cabrini College and a Masters in English from Villanova University.  Her first teaching assignment was to middle school students in Charleston, SC, and after that she challenged high school students in English classes at St. Pius X in Pottstown, PA, Andrean High School in Merriville, IN, and Lebanon Catholic, in Lebanon, PA.  During her years in secondary education, she served as moderator of the yearbook, the Mission Club, the Student Council and the sophomore and junior classes.  When her Mom’s health began to fail, Sr. Teresa moved closer to home and taught middle school at Holy Name of Jesus in Stratford, CT, and in the years when she resided with and cared for her Mom, she taught at St. Francis of Assisi School in Torrington, CT.


When she left the ministry of teaching, Sr. Teresa spent eleven years as Director of Maintenance here at Villa Sacred Heart.  During that time she learned many new and useful things like plumbing, the secrets of HVAC, the upkeep of cars and trucks, and groundskeeping.  It was soon after this ministry ended that she won her first battle with cancer, after which she continued to serve in various ways at the Motherhouse and in Danville.  She was a volunteer at the House of Care for Geisinger Medical Center, Danville, for many years.


Sr. Teresa also had a gift for writing and editing which she put to good use.  Each week she sent out the SSCM Focus, which is the electronic in-house newsletter that gives the Sisters information about the congregation’s activities and achievements.  She wrote and edited material for the St. Cyril Spiritual Center, and she served as moderator of the St. Cyril Academy Alumnae Association where she compiled news for The Challenge, the SCA Alumnae newsletter.  And last, but definitely not least, after seven years of research and writing, she completed the history of the first hundred years of the Sisters of Saints Cyril and Methodius.  This work is currently being edited for publication.


So, from her parents’ backyard to the beautiful Motherhouse grounds, Sr. Teresa came full circle as she learned more about Creation and stewardship around the care of the earth.  She became a voice for the earth concerning environmental issues and eco-spirituality.  She understood the delicate balance in all of Nature and found herself, as she put it, “comfortably aware of living in God’s house…holy ground.”  And in that sacred space and on that holy ground there were many trees.  And Sr. Teresa loved the trees.  You will see on her Memorial Card that she called herself a “Lover of Trees.”  That is very fitting because she was responsible for having almost 200 trees planted on the Motherhouse grounds.  She’d research the best ways to care for them and worried about them.  And, like a mother hen, she was protective of all the trees, sometimes overprotective!  (I never told her that I was almost ready to lop off the top of one very large tree that was standing in the way of my WiFi signal!)


Anyway, as I reflected on S. Teresa’s love for trees I realized that in so many ways their best qualities were reflected in her.  Take the Oak, for instance.  In the scriptures, it is referred to as the Oak of Righteousness (Isaiah 61: 1-4) and it is known for its strength and endurance.  When Sr. Teresa received her diagnosis of cancer about six months ago and shared the prognosis with me, I was in awe of her strength and desire to continue to live as fully and independently as possible for as long as she could.  Some might call it stubborn, I would say brave!  The sturdy oak!


There are many other trees that I could name, but I think that if I had to pick one tree to characterize Sr. Teresa’s love for the earth, it would be the Olive Tree!  It is a tree that is used for its fruit which is delicious when cured and its oil and leaves have health benefits to offer.  Even its waste provides renewable energy!  This would be Sr. Teresa’s dream tree—a natural recycling plant!  But more than all of those desirable qualities, there is a beautiful verse from the Psalms that whispers Sr. Teresa’s spirit to me and perhaps is the best summary of her life:

But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God.

I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.  (Psalm 52:8)


Through the years the olive branch has been a sign of peace, but it is also a symbol of vitality.  In the ancient Olympic Games, the winner of the race would be given an olive branch.  So on the afternoon of April 2nd, when God called Teresa home, I can hear God speaking to her heart:  “Welcome home, Teresa, you have persevered and have won the race.  The pain and suffering have passed and now “all shall be well.”


And today, Sister Teresa, dear friend, we know that you have crossed the finish line, you have won the race, the Olive Branch is yours.  May God’s Peace be with you!