A few years ago Sr. Mary Teresa Coll completed a congregational form in which she described herself as a “very upbeat person.” She also wrote, “Being a Sister of St. Francis enables me to live in close union with God and his saints in heaven and his saints on Earth, especially the poor—battered women and children living in poverty who get up each day and try and try and try to live a good life.” Each of these quotes captures Sr. Mary Teresa’s sense of mission and ministry—and the interrelatedness of the two concepts. Whether she’s teaching at city schools in the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Allentown areas, working at an AIDS hospice or at a shelter for families, Sr. Mary Teresa brings with her both her sense of humor and a sense of mission that grasps that those with whom she ministers are children of the same God whom she serves. Sr. Mary Teresa connected with that sense of mission at an early age when she first met the Sisters of St. Francis at Little Flower School in Baltimore and later at the Catholic High School of Baltimore. The connection became ever closer when her two sisters—Srs. Claretta Joseph and Anna Mae Coll entered the congregation.
Over the years being quick to respond to an immediate need seems to have been a way of life for Sr. Mary Teresa. For example, when she was studying at Washington Theological Union, she saw a notice that Christ House, an organization ministering to men who are homeless, needed a cook. Sr. Mary Teresa took up the challenge—even though she was somewhat unsure of her ability. Similarly she responded to the request of a friend to help on weekends with the Damians—men who had AIDS but who were well enough to work. “It was working with these kind, loving individuals that I learned what love can do to a person that has been scorned by his or her family,” she said.
Currently Sr. Mary Teresa volunteers in the Corporate Social Responsibility Office—service she rendered for a number of years. There she assists in reading the requests for social justice grants and forwarding information packets to those groups who meet the criteria. She also reads the completed proposals and does the necessary follow-up.
For a number of years, Sr. Mary Teresa ministered at St. Mary’s Franciscan Shelter in Phoenixville followed by a five-year volunteer stint at a local health clinic. When she turned 80, she decided that perhaps it was time to look for a totally different kind of volunteer work. She prayed for guidance and was intrigued when she saw a sign advertising a “retired horse farm.” “That’s it,” she thought. “God has shown me a way to draw closer to him—working with animals near my age!” She stopped by the farm, was given a tour, and shown what would be required of her. That short visit—and that huge horse—quickly let her know that this was not where God was calling her to serve! What she did find was volunteer work at Main Line Animal Shelter. Although the shelter cares for animals and birds of all kind, Sr. Mary Teresa’s focus is the rabbits. There she cleans their cages, grooms them, and pets them. “I tell them my secrets and know that what I share will not be part of their conversation,” she explained. “Yes, they have ways of listening and then counseling me.”
Sr. Mary Teresa’s manner of dealing with the rabbits reflects her manner and her gift of dealing with everyone. “I try to practice hospitality of the heart, allowing all others—human and animals…as they are—to make themselves at home in my heart.” Then she added, “If only I would have the means to be of service to all. That is my biggest challenge. I listen, I pray. Amen.”