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Ann Therese Collins

April 6, 1920 - February 26, 2017   |   Passed On

Tribute for Sister Ann Therese Collins, CHM

The year was 1920, April 6 to be exact, when Edward and Theresa Collins welcomed their daughter, Patricia, to their family. She and her sisters, Ann and Mary, grew up in Ottumwa and Des Moines with her education beginning at St. Patrick School in Ottumwa and continuing with high school graduation at North High School in Des Moines. 

After attending the new Marycrest College as a member of its first class, Pat entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in January of 1942. She received the habit and her new name in religion (Sr. Ann Therese) in July of that year and made her first profession of vows on July 17, 1944. 

It is no surprise for those who know Sr. Ann Therese that education was a cornerstone of her life --- beginning in those early days in Ottumwa and Des Moines and continuing with her eventual graduation from Marycrest, the receipt of a master’s degree from Creighton University and post-graduate work at ten other institutions of higher learning.

However, education for her was not something to be kept for herself. I recall a quotation which she used in a talk she gave which seemed to capture the spirit with which she approached her ministry in education. She wrote that “the future belongs to those who give future generations reasons for living and hoping.” Sr. Ann Therese served as teacher in junior and senior high school in Neola, Dunlap, Council Bluffs, Fort Madison, Ottumwa, and in Montana, at Lewistown and Great Falls; even in retirement she enjoyed teaching Latin classes at Assumption. She also served as principal and assistant principal and eventually became the first woman to serve as superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Davenport.

There is no doubt that Sr. Ann Therese, through her ministry in education, gave countless future generations “reasons for living and hoping”.  I can speak from personal experience as one of the many students who had her as our teacher. As one might expect, she taught a wide variety of classes in our small high schools and was remarkable in the background she brought to each area. Perhaps even more remarkable was the relationship she established with students, always supportive of our activities and seemingly always able to have a bit of fun with us. I still remember one of our high school basketball seasons when the boys were enjoying some success. Of course, the Sisters never went to games in those days but they were really interested in the outcome of one particular game. So we agreed that, if we won, we would drive past the convent and toot our horns. We did that and she and Sr. Elaine switched their bedroom light on and off --- message delivered!

However, there was never a doubt that she was there to challenge each of us. I will never forget the day she told me, “You have brains to burn --- and they are burning!”  Her students always remembered her as one of their favorite teachers. As our high school graduating class gathered for reunions every five years, the class always wanted to invite her to join us, evidence of the lasting impact she had on us many years earlier. Our most recent reunion marked nearly 60 years since we first encountered Sr. Ann Therese as our teacher. Yesterday at the Bishop Drumm vigil, two of her students from the St. Albert, Council Bluffs class of 1968 spoke eloquently of the lasting impact she had on them and their class.

In a variety of her roles in education and beyond, Sr. Ann Therese demonstrated an inclusive style of leadership and it was that style with which the Sisters of Humility were blessed as she served as both vice-president and president of the Congregation. Together with Sr. Bernadine Pieper she was instrumental in leading our community through the period of renewal beginning with her election as vice-president in 1970. As president succeeding Bernadine in 1976, she would lead the community through additional challenging times as we considered a move from Ottumwa Heights to a newer, smaller center in Davenport. How well we remember her in a hard hat as the Humility of Mary Center building was constructed. Through that entire process, she modeled an approach which called us to look at “old” situations with “new” eyes.

Two common threads were woven through Ann Therese’s life. We’ve all enjoyed her great sense of humor and some of those memorable one-liners. Who can forget being told that “I’ll see you at the corner of the round house.” The one I always smiled at would happen when she was describing a meeting or an encounter where her message was not exactly well-received. As she said, “I was as welcome as a skunk at a garden party.” Another of those common threads was the fact that she was a voracious reader who subscribed to countless magazines --- and read them all --- along with many books especially those dealing with historical topics and themes.

I cannot begin to scratch the surface of the life of Sr. Ann Therese Collins and all of her involvement on so many levels or on all the ways that she enjoyed life. I am confident that each person here will have countless stories to share which will enhance the mosaic of this most amazing life. 

Two quotations that Ann Therese selected for inclusion on the worship aids for her vigil service and for the funeral liturgy are particularly significant as we reflect on her life. I have borrowed a few lines she chose from the words of Mother Teresa of Calcutta: Life is an opportunity…benefit from it. Life is beauty…admire it. Life is a promise…fulfill it. But perhaps even more a mirror of her life are these words from Mary Nolan, OP which are in the worship aid for this vigil: "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the sun. The early ages of life are filled with wonder and discovery. The later age of life is the time of integration.  It is a time to bring together the totality of life’s experiences into a dazzling unity of joy and pain, failure and success, gain and loss, giving and receiving, achievement and struggle. All comes together in gratitude, gratitude for the whole adventure of one’s life.

Tonight we celebrate, in profound gratitude, the gift of your life, Ann Therese. May you now experience the fullness of new life with our God forever.       

Jude Fitzpatrick, CHM

March 2 & 3, 2017