of Our Lady of Perpetual Help
August 11, 1919 – November 22, 2006
Blessed Frances Siedliska Province
Grand Prairie, Texas
“My dear child, with great confidence have recourse always to the Blessed Virgin Mary and you will find help and consolation.” (Blessed Mary of Jesus the Good Shepherd, Love Conquers All)
Josephine was born in love to Martin and Catherine Mendala on August 11, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois. She was the only child born to the Mendala household. Her proud and loving parents brought Josephine to the Holy Innocents’ baptismal font on August 17, 1919. She wrote in her autobiography, “My birthplace was a simple but cherished home in the heart of a Polish neighborhood.” Her parents, born in Poland, both passed the traits of a deep faith, love, and reverence of God onto their only child. “My parents, fearing to spoil me, made great efforts to give me a good rearing from my earliest days on.” Her childhood days were happy ones until she reached the age of five. The Lord cast a shadow of sadness on the carefree days of young Josephine when her mother was diagnosed with tuberculosis. In her autobiography she wrote, “I was given over to the care of my aunt so I would not contract the disease. My aunt, uncle, and their four daughters showed me much kindness and sympathy.” After her mother‘s death, young Josephine felt that it was her responsibility to help her aunt take care of her father who was also sick.
In her autobiography she wrote: “Sr. Gustawa, my eighth grade school teacher, singled me out and asked if I ever considered becoming a sister. I answered that I thought about it when I was rather young, but the circumstances were not suitable. I did not know how my aunt would react to my going to the convent since she had different plans for me. She thought that when I was older I could work and support my sick father.” Sister Gustawa took upon herself the difficult task of speaking with Josephine’s aunt who agreed for her niece to enter the convent and promised in turn to take care of her sick father. At the age of fourteen Josephine left her aunt’s home and become an aspirant. Two years later, on September 7, 1935, Josephine entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Des Plaines, Illinois. The following year, on July 16, 1936, she became a novice and received a new name, Sister Mary Theodore. Upon completion of her novitiate she pronounced her temporary vows on August 15, 1938, and made her final commitment to God and Nazareth on August 15, 1945, in the provincialate chapel in Des Plaines.
In 1938, Sister Theodore became a student at De Paul University, where she completed her studies as a medical technologist in 1941, and in 1959 she received her Bachelor of Science degree. Sister Theodore truly loved the healthcare ministry. She worked in several hospital laboratories for forty years. She served at St. Mary’s Hospital in Chicago, Illinois; Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler, Texas; Nazareth Hospital in Mineral Wells, Texas; St. Joseph Hospital in Clayton, New Mexico; and Holy Cross Hospital in Taos, New Mexico. True to the mission of Nazareth, Sister Theodore extended the compassionate and healing ministry of Jesus to those who were suffering. She made ordinary work an opportunity for grace. During the time of her active ministry there were times of ordinary work, times of peace and joy , but also times of suffering with Christ. Sister Theodore was willing to take the cross and follow Jesus. Sometimes as the only lab technician in the hospital she had to work for endless hours. Often deprived of sleep, she believed that she was there to help in the healing ministry of Jesus.
Sister Theodore is being remembered as a loving, caring and very gentle woman. She loved poetry and even in her later years of life could recite many poems from memory. Sister also had a gift for writing, which she happily shared with the community by assuming the responsibility of writing and delivering feastday or birthday wishes to the provincial and local superior. Sister Theodore also loved art and beauty. A good example of that are pictures, which she painted for her family. She is also remembered for her delightful sense of humor. Once, when Sister Theodore was flying in to Dallas during a storm she said, “I will never get on a plane again.” And she kept her promise. She often joked that she would go to Europe when they built a bridge. Some sisters remember her willingness to pin their veils each Sunday morning while others remember her genuine love and concern. She never spoke ill of others and was always grateful for any services rendered to her. All these things give concrete witness to her loving heart.
Retired from active ministry in 1978, Sister Theodore came to the Vice-Provincialate in Grand Prairie, Texas. She was assigned to help in the convent infirmary. As her health slowly declined, prayer became her primary ministry. Frequently, with rosary in her hand, Sister Theodore implored Our Lady of Perpetual Help for the many intentions she held dear to her heart and the intentions of those who often asked her for prayerful support. Many people who had a hard time finding a job or were having a difficult time came to speak with her or called her asking for prayers. She lovingly embraced each person in need and offered her prayerful support. Once, a young couple asked Sister Theodore for prayer, so they could have another child. Sister prayed so fervently in their intention that instead of having one, they ended up having twins. When asked by one of the young sisters about her vocation, Sister Theodore replied, “so far I have enjoyed every bit of my religious life and I have no regrets that I have followed this path in life.”
Advancing age and health problems began to deprive her of her usual independence. Even in suffering Sister Theodore remained gracious and hopeful that she could still get around and do things for herself. Suffering did not come easily, but she accepted it with the same loving heart with which she had served throughout her life. Few years ago, Sister shared, “Living in the present will help us to live in God’s presence, and it will then be a continuous preparation for death, which is the destiny of every human being. The time, place, and circumstances of it are unknown to us; therefore a constant watch is necessary.” While her condition had been deteriorating for some time, it came as a shock to all when, suddenly, on Tuesday, November 21, 2006, leaving chapel after morning Mass, Sister Theodore collapsed. The previous day she told some sisters, “I will not be here much longer.” Taken to the hospital with a tear in the aorta, she slowly began her pilgrimage to meet Jesus, whom she chose to follow seventy-one years ago. On November 22, 2006, surrounded with sisters, she opened her eyes to the glorious sight of her Heavenly Father and heard Him say, “This is my beloved daughter, with whom I am well pleased!” May you rest in peace, dear Sister Theodore, as we celebrate with love and gratitude the presence of your life among us.
Digitized by S. Brendan O’Brien, CSFN
School of Arts & Sciences
Holy Family University
9801 Frankford Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19114
Last updated: November 2006