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Sister Theresia Saers JMJ (1927-2015)

Sister Theresia Saers JMJ (1927-2015)

Theresia was born in a large family at Rotterdam, the Netherlands, on the 26th of March 1927. In 1940 Rotterdam was bombed by the Germans with thousands of casualties. Theresia survived this and the other horrors of the Second World War. As a nineteen-year old girl she joined the Sisters of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at s’Hertogenbosch on the 24th of July 1946.

As a religious sister Theresia devoted her life to teaching boys and girls. She served in a number of schools in the Netherlands, eventually becoming headmistress of a secondary school in Barendrecht. In between she also taught in the JMJ novitiate in Sulawesi, Indonesia. As such, many Catholics owe her gratitude for the way she helped to shape their lives. However, in this memorial we want to pay special attention to how she helped to further the cause of women in the Catholic Church.

Mary of Magdala

Because of age-old prejudices, the position of women in the Catholic Church leaves much to be desired. Among other things: women are still not admitted to ordained ministries such as the diaconate, the priesthood or the episcopacy. A protest against this injustice can be discerned throughout Christian history by means of so-called latent tradition. One of these currents of latent tradition concerned Mary of Magdala, a woman who was a close friend and follower of Jesus, to whom he revealed himself after the resurrection and who, according to legend, went to France to preach the Christian Gospel there.
Theresia rightly saw in Mary of Magdala an eloquent champion for the cause of women. She started studying the Magdalene’s life. She based conferences for religious sisters on her reflection on Mary of Magdala. It gave rise to a book in which she makes Mary of Magdala narrate her own life. The book was first published in the Netherlands as Een alabaster kruik (Syntax, Tilburg 1998). It appeared in English as The Alabaster Jar: seeing the Gospel through the eyes of Mary Magdalen, and was published on www.womenpriests.org with great success.

Later she wrote a second version Mary Magdalen tells her story which was also published on www.womenpriests.org.

Work with the Wijngaards Institute

When – through the internet - Theresia learned that our Institute, then still called ‘Housetop’, promotes the ordination of women, she came to visit us in London. She instantly became a dear friend and ally. She agreed to be Trustee of our Stichting in the Netherlands, she helped us in fundraising events and, most of all, she took on the task of building up the section on Mary of Magdala in our online archive.

The Mary of Magdala section on www.womenpriests.org now lists a formidable array of valuable resources. It publishes precious ancient documents about her life: gnostic texts describing Mary of Magdala including a passage from the ‘Gospel of Mary’; an excerpt from the deuterocanonical ‘Gospel of Peter’; quotes from Augustine and Leo the Great; the life of Mary the Magdalene in the 13th century Legenda Aurea;  the medieval play The Conversion of Mary of Magdala. It lists bibliographical resources and copious samples of religious art through the centuries depicting Mary of Magdala.

Theresia contributed greatly to the section by designing a unique series of 15 picture meditations that link profound reflections to carefully selected Christian classic paintings depicting the Magdalene. The distribution of this meditative series, as well as of the whole Mary of Magdala section, was greatly expanded by the fact that we have been able to publish all this material in six major languages: English, Dutch, French, Norwegian, German and Italian.

Those who know Dutch can hear Sr Theresia Saers read from her own work in ten selected podcasts.

During September 2014 we visited Theresia in her community, and had good time talking together about all the projects we were involved with. It was a lovely day and we went out in their beautiful garden and took several photos of each other. Soon after that we heard she had been moved to another house, and then we had news that she had passed away peacefully on August 16 2015.

Our team remembers and honours Theresia not only as an indefatigable collaborator but also as a dear and caring friend. The total commitment of her mind and heart reverberated in all she said, wrote and created.

Jackie Clackson