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S. Mary Catherine Nilles
(January 29, 1927 - March 20, 2014)
Read her obituary by S. Suzanne Noffke

Mary Catherine (Kate) Nilles was “drawn to the sisters like a magnet!” They taught her at St. Bernard School in Madison, WI, but that wasn’t her only exposure to the Racine Dominicans. “My parents were very active in the parish,” she recalled, “so I also met the sisters outside the classroom and found them to be fun-loving, relaxed and interested in all parishioners.” When Kate visited the motherhouse in Racine, she knew it was the place for her.

She joined the community at age 19, and the following year received the name Sister Terence, which she kept until the 1960s. For 45 years she served as teacher and principal in schools around Wisconsin and at Nativity in Detroit, MI. She was also the assistant superintendent of schools for the Diocese of Joliet, IL. Of all her ministerial experiences, “the opportunity to assist beginning teachers was a singular one for me. That was always a wonderful day!” she noted. After tutoring in the Adult Learning Program for six years, S. Kate has spent the past nine years assisting with research for the community history.

For S. Kate, “Being a Dominican Sister is a life-changing gift.” She appreciates walking side-by-side with other women who have purpose and like-mined goals, and who are gifted in so many ways. “We are really never alone; we are community.”

In this era when many people do not understand the role of women religious, S. Kate wants them to know that “Racine Dominicans are women in our time and of our time.”  When the community takes on a new ministry, from running schools to developing outreach, such as the new HOPES Center, “we are very, very prepared for it, and this adds strength to the ministry,” she reflected.

To anyone considering religious life, she beckons, “Come forward!” She encourages them to bring “questions, doubts, and your own hopes” and to pray daily as they sort through their life decisions.

Born in Milwaukee, WI, in 1927, at two months of age, Mary Catherine was adopted by John and Irene Nilles of nearby Madison. She also gained a brother at that time, John, whom the Nilleses had adopted from the same Milwaukee orphanage two years earlier.

Young Kate was “drawn to the sisters like a magnet,” she recalled. Her parents were active in Madison’s St. Bernard Parish, where Kate and John attended school. “So I also met the sisters outside the classroom and found them to be fun-loving, relaxed and interested in all parishioners.”

At age 19, Kate joined the Racine Dominicans, and the following year was given the name Sister Terence, which she kept until 1968. Throughout a distinguished 45-year career as a teacher, principal, and assistant superintendent, her greatest joy came from assisting and mentoring young teachers. A gifted educator herself, she loved to see beginning teachers grow in skill, instinct and confidence as they worked with students.

Kathy, a teacher at St. Mary’s in Hales Corners, WI, three decades ago when S. Kate served as principal, still marvels at the integrity and joy S. Kate brought to her ministry. “She had a special ability to raise people’s spirits.”

S. Jean Verber noted the “crowning year” for her as a teacher was when she and S. Kate taught together, sharing creative ideas and ways of giving their students new and wonderful experiences.

Though physical pain routinely plagued S. Kate during the past 25 years, she was never heard to complain. She often used humor to deflect attention from her ailments. She continued to serve her community through tutoring, historical research, and general community service. And she continued to spread joy, lifting people’s spirits wherever she went, despite increased suffering and fading sight.

S. Kate loved being a Racine Dominican. She expressed appreciation for walking side-by-side with women who have purpose and like-minded goals: “Being a Dominican Sister is a life-changing gift. We are really never alone; we are community.”

Sad to lose her, yet grateful for having her in their lives, all who gathered for her funeral on March 24 lovingly raised their hands to bless and send S. Kate forth in “the light that shines to guide you home to the loving hand of God.”