Teresa Shields, SNJM

Sister Teresa Shields is the proud eldest daughter of two Marines –Walt and Wilma Shields, who met and married in California after Walt served in the Pacific during World War II. Laura Ellen, Walt Jr. (Bo), and Mary Katherine were also born in California, before Walt was transferred to Spokane for the Equitable Life Insurance Company.  Sisters Jennifer Rose and Julia Eileen were born in Spokane. Teresa attended St. John Vianney grade school, being in the first graduating class, and Holy Names Academy in Spokane before the family moved to Seattle for her senior year at Academy of the Holy Names, Seattle. She entered the convent at Marylhurst in 1962, the year that Oregon and Washington Province split, knowing the other postulants from both Spokane and Seattle.

After first vows, the Washington people moved to the brand new Juniorate in Spokane on the big green bus bought with 1 million Betty Crocker coupons. They attended classes at Fort Wright College which had just been purchased from the Federal Government for $1.00, with the proviso that it would be used as an educational institution for 25 years.

Teresa taught at St. Francis of Assisi School, then spent four happy years teaching third grade at St. Mary Magdalen, Everett, three years teaching fifth and third grade at Holy Names Elementary in Spokane, and four years teaching second at St. Aloysius in Spokane.

In 1978-79 she went to Tucson to get her M. Ed at University of Arizona where her sister and brother-in-law and their 18-month-old daughter lived.

Teresa then taught at Our Lady of Fatima School in Seattle for two years where her family lived and dad was a permanent deacon. From Fatima she taught second grade at St. Mary’s School for one year before the school closed due to enrollment and financial issues. In the summer of 1982, Kay Burton, Marcia Schrapps, Anne Skok, and Teresa drove from Seattle to Clarksdale, Mississippi to teach in the summer school at Immaculate Conception grade and high school to determine if the Holy Names Sisters could start an educational ministry in nearby Jonestown.

Teresa taught at St. Benedict School in Seattle for two years before she and three other Sisters were missioned by Sister Kay, their Province Director, to start an educational mission in Jonestown. Anne Skok and Teresa drove down in the 1984 Toyota van purchased with funds from “I Ran for a Van” walk-a-thon organized by Sister Linda Haydock. Sisters Rose Monica and Mildred, two senior sisters, flew down a few weeks later, after they had painted the house, thoroughly cleaned it, connected the water and electricity, and purchased beds and other necessities for the house.

Teresa taught fifth and second grade at Immaculate Conception until it closed in 1990. The two years after it closed she spent teaching first grade at another African-American Catholic School called St. Gabriel in Mound Bayou about 40 miles south of Jonestown. When that school also closed, Teresa asked the Province Director if she could stay and tutor children in Jonestown. With a grant from Our Sunday Visitor and from the Phil Hardin Foundation of Mississippi, she, along with one mother volunteer and a St. Joseph of Carondelet Sister, started the Jonestown Learning Center. They purchased an eight room house on Main Street which had been used as a crack house with the Phil Hardin grant. They got the keys on January 4, 1993 and the children came on January 11.  Many volunteers helped clean, paint, prune the hedges, clear away the poison ivy, replace glass in the broken windows, and get the building and grounds ready for the children. They had after-school classes, a little 3-year-old play group, and in the mid-90s began Parent as Teacher, Girls to Women, Boys to Men, parenting classes, and some women’s fitness workshops. Gradually they increased enrollment and staff.

In 1998 Sister Deanna Randall, BVM, came to start a Montessori program, and in 2002 they built a new building specifically for the Montessori program.  In 2006, with a grant from Catholic Extension they opened a Fitness and Health Club in an old tavern. In 2008 the Learning Center became the Jonestown Family Center for Education and Wellness as an incorporated province ministry of the Sisters of the Holy Names, U.S.-Ontario Province. Its mission is to provide educational and health opportunities for all in Jonestown, Mississippi.

In 2012, Teresa was attacked and stabbed in her home, incurring wounds in her neck and arm. She recovered in Seattle for 10 weeks before returning to Jonestown. A year and a half of hand therapy followed. The trial of Michael Matthews, the perpetrator, was held in November of 2014, resulting in a guilty verdict and a sentence of 79 years without possibility of parole

Teresa is filled with gratitude for all her years as a Holy Names Sister and especially for the grand adventure of serving in Jonestown for over thirty years.

“Sometimes I need only to stand wherever I am to be blessed.” – Mary Oliver