November 29, 1932 – May 15, 2023
“I have called you by name…you are mine.” Isaiah 43:1
Maria Guadalupe (Pita) Garcia was born in Espanola, New Mexico November 29, 1932, one of twelve children of Jose and Mauricia Medina Garcia. She began her education in the Espanola Public School until the family moved to Santa Cruz when she was in the eighth grade. Dominican Sisters were teaching in the Santa Cruz Public School then and when they spoke to her about a religious vocation, the idea appealed to her so strongly that she insisted on going to Marywood as an aspirant. Her sophomore and junior years were at Marywood as an aspirant until she returned home for medical treatment of eczema. Once cured of the condition she returned to Grand Rapids and entered the community as a postulant in 1950.
Receiving the name Sister Maria Teresita at the time of her entry into novitiate, she made initial profession in 1952, and final profession in 1955. (After Vatican II she requested that her name be simplified to Sister Teresita.) She earned a BA in Spanish from Aquinas College and received certificates in teaching from the Michigan Department of Education and one in Catechesis from the Latin American Institute of Catechetics. For ten years she taught early elementary grades at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, Chesaning; St. Boniface, Bay City; St. Mary, Saginaw; St. Mary, Alma; and St. Alfred, Taylor.
In June of 1963 Sister Teresita received an appointment to join the mission in Chimbote, Peru which she subsequently declared was the high point of her life. She arrived in December, the beginning of summer, and served there until 1989, a full 26 years of faithful service. Soon after her arrival, she began to assist wherever needed, including the local parish, and the Asilo (home for the aged. She supervised religion teachers and taught and coordinated the School of Religious Studies which was started for teachers. Sister Teresita also served on the Diocesan Catechetical Commission and was diocesan Vicar of Religious for three years. Through all the work and worry of serving in a place of such poverty and economic and political unrest, she retained a wonderful sense of humor, regaling the other Sisters with stories and tales told in her uniquely humorous style.
To renew herself spiritually, physically, and theologically, Sister Teresita took a sabbatical leave in October 1976. Courses in Theology, a variety of workshops and the celebration of her Silver Jubilee in 1977 capped an enriching year for her.
On her return to Chimbote, Bishop James C. Burke, OP appointed Sister Teresita director of the School of Religious Studies and Diocesan Director of Catechetics. In the local parish of San Martin, she developed ministry programs, started the parish council, and served as parish treasurer.
Sister Teresita reflected on her experience: “Just as Vatican II opened the windows of the Church, so did my Chimbote experience open the windows of my soul and my heart. I developed confidence in myself, discovered gifts I didn’t know I had (I even became a soloist in our Civic Choir) and gained a new understanding of Church and a deep love for her, a compassion for her woundedness and suffering personalized in all of us.”
In 1989 Sister Teresita returned to her home parish, Sacred Heart, Espanola, New Mexico as coordinator of religious education. This allowed her proximity to her family and the ability to assist in the care of her aging parents. Eventually, in 1993 she was invited to lead a parish where no ordained priest was available. Here at St. Anthony’s Church in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, Sister Teresita served over 230 families for fourteen years. Except for those sacraments reserved for the ordained priest, she served the parish in every way as a pastor would and was deeply appreciated by the people. She loved it at Fort Sumner and the affection was reciprocal. “I hope they will leave me here until I retire,” she said. “It would be hard for me to get into something new – and I don’t know if anyone would want to hire an old lady like me. I’ll just leave it in God’s hands.”
In a series of essays she wrote, entitled An Encouraging Word, Sister Teresita reflected on God’s call. “I became aware of His special call to me to serve him as a consecrated religious when I was in my teens. From that moment on, God took over my life. He has guided me, sustained me, loved me, forgiven me, blessed me, carried me, tested me lovingly, healed me, filled me with joy and peace. He has given me the gift of good friends, sent people to minister to me. He has believed in me, hoped in me, loved me. All I need to do is open my heart and life to him and respond to His generosity.”
Her classmates recall her with fondness as a fun-loving, spirited young woman. Her gifts were many, including a lovely, strong singing voice and that ever ready sense of humor. Once she joked that amid the 1970 terrifying earthquake in Peru, she coped with the anxiety by having a snack whenever she felt a tremor. She asserted that her extra pounds were all due to the aftershocks!
Ever creative and thinking ahead, Sister Teresita left us an epitaph. Remember me this way she wrote:
She loved us well.
She cried with us.
She made us laugh.
You were dearly loved and will be long remembered by family, your Dominican Sisters, and friends. Rest in peace now with God, the holy one who loves you always.
Sister Teresita is survived by her sisters Susan Herrera, Rosie Owen, Bernadette See; her brothers John (Mildred) Garcia, Paul (Cordelia) Garcia, Jose (Cathy) Garcia, Henry (Sara) Garcia and Michael (Lucille) Garcia and her brother-in-law Frank Ulibarri; nieces, nephews, many friends and members of her Dominican Community.
Entered eternal life on May 15, 2023 at the age of 90 after 72 years of religious life.
We commend Sister Teresita to your prayers.
Sister Teresita teaching school.
Sister Teresita preaching with St. Dominic.
Sister Teresita prays at a funeral.
Sister Teresita spent nearly two decades in Chimbote, Peru, one of the first of the Grand Rapids Dominican Sisters to go and build this ministry.
Sr. Teresita not only enjoyed walks to see the flowers but you could also find her tending to them at Aquinata Hall.