Friday, 06 May 2016 13:20

Sr. Therésè Ryan, Ecuador earthquake survivor

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A brief biographical sketch of Sr. Therésè Ryan, S.H.M., one of the survivors of the collapse of the school “Colegio Sagrada Familia” in Playa Prieta (Ecuador) in the earthquake that struck April 16, 2016.

Several Irish news sources have requested information regarding the life and service of Sr. Therésè Ryan, Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother, one of the survivors of the collapse of the school “Colegio Sagrada Familia” in Playa Prieta (Ecuador) in the earthquake that struck April 16, 2016. We are publishing it on our website, as it may be of interest to all of you. 

This past April 16, 2016, an earthquake registering 7.8 on the Richter scale destroyed the school run by the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother in Playa Prieta (Manabí, Ecuador). Three Sisters and two candidates were rescued from under the rubble, however one Sister and five candidates were found lifeless. Among those who survived the earthquake was Sr. Therésè Ryan of Ireland. In response to the many requests arriving from the Irish press, seeking information regarding their compatriot, we’ve drawn up this biographical sketch based on some of the memories her Sisters have of her. Sr. Therésè is currently recuperating from the severe wounds she suffered in the earthquake. Although her condition is not serious, we ask for your prayers for her speedy recovery.

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Sr. Therésè Ryan was born in Limerick (Ireland) on August 16, 1979. If you ask those who were novices with her or have lived with her in the community, to describe Sr. Therésè, they say, “She’s very quiet, but she’s always where she’s supposed to be.” Another Sister adds, “She’s very prudent and sensible. She never calls attention to herself. She seems quiet, but she’s actually quite a character.” 

Therésè was only 16 years old when she met a group of Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother and their founder, Fr. Rafael Alonso, who were visiting Ireland. She had already experienced God’s call to the religious life. Even as a child, she felt convinced of her vocation and that she had to “be God’s”. Years later, as a Sister, she would take the name “Sr. Therésè Maria of God”.

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Sr. Isabel, who was among the Sisters who first met her, recalls: “At the end of Mass, Sr. Therésè entered the Home of the Mother of the Youth (the Home of the Mother’s Youth Group), becoming the first Irish girl to join the Home. To be honest, none of us expected her to do this. We asked her why she had entered and I think she said that she liked our three missions: the Defense of the Eucharist, the Defense of the Honor of Our Mother especially in the privilege of her Virginity, and the Conquest of the Youth for Jesus Christ. She had been very skillful in avoiding us, keeping herself busy talking to other people.”

The truth is, these young religious Sisters she had just met seemed too attractive to her, so attractive that it almost frightened her. She realized that if she kept talking to them, she would not be able to resist God’s call. So, after Mass, she literally took off running. Every time we recall that moment, she herself has a good laugh.

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Three years later, she once again met up with a group of Sisters and young people of the Home of the Mother who were on a pilgrimage in Ireland. It was 1998. But, Therésè still feared God’s call and continued avoiding the Sisters. That year, she started studying Biology at the university. Sr. Isabel Cuesta recalls: “During her first year in the university, Sr. Therésè had started going out every night to party with her friends. As usual, these parties included drinking. Sr. Therésè participated a bit, so she could be with the others. What made her leave that environment was when, one day, a boy told her something like, ‘You’re more fun when you drink.’ Those words made her realize that her so-called friends did not love her for who she was and she stopped hanging out with them. However, faced with her loneliness, I suppose she felt a great emptiness. It was her sister Patricia who, seeing her unhappy, encouraged her to go to Spain for Holy Week. Sr. Therésè had a hard time getting used to our environment (and Spanish food), but something kept her coming back.”

It was in April of 1999 that she first came to Spain with her older sister Patricia and a group from Ireland, to participate in the Holy Week Encounter. Quiet as always, she did not tell a soul what she was feeling deep inside. But, her sister Patricia who knew her well, and who loved her, was convinced that Therésè should stay longer with us in Spain. 

So, Therésè went back to Spain in early July of that year. Three young novices were making their first vows on July 2 and immediately afterwards, a group of young people would start a camp in Northern Spain. The first days of the camp were not easy. Therésè’s introverted character was mixed with the language difficulty, as she was one of the few English-speaking girls amongst a large and loud group of extroverted Spanish girls. Yet, in spite of the adverse exterior circumstances – or perhaps thanks to them – God spoke clearly to Therésè’s heart during those days. 

On July 12, while listening the homily given by Fr. Rafael Alonso, founder of the Home of the Mother, Therésè received an intense grace as to her vocation. At the end of the Mass, kneeling on the floor in tears, she said her “Yes” to God. She later explained that in this moment she had felt God renewing His call for her to follow Him. She felt like, because of her weakness and inability to respond, the Lord Himself was responding for her. That is exactly what must have happened, because she had defended herself from God’s call, establishing a wall between herself and His call. It was as though, in that moment, the Lord Himself tore down that wall so she could respond. 

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She entered as a Candidate of the Servant Sisters of the Home of the Mother on July 16, 1999, transferring to Cantabria (Spain) in order to start her religious formation. She entered the novitiate on July 16, 2000. After making her first vows on July 2, 2002, she was sent to our house in Belmonte (Cuenca, Spain), where we run a house for girls ages 6 -18 from low-income and/or dysfunctional families. In 2004, she was sent to the USA, her principle occupation being that of teaching in several different schools and pastoral collaboration in nearby parishes. A Sister who lived in community with her at the time recalls: “She was very responsible with her tasks and always managed to maintain discipline.” 

In 2012, she was sent to Ecuador. During her first year there, she was in the community of Chone (Manabí, Ecuador) and since her second year there, she has been at the school “Colegio Sagrada Familia” in Playa Prieta (Manabí, Ecuador), where she lived in dedication to her students and the poor families of the area, whom the Sisters serve with intense humanitarian assistance and evangelization efforts.

 

Sr. Beatriz Liaño

Servant Sister of the Home of the Mother