Saying Goodbye to Sister Terry

We remember the life and legacy of Sister Theresa Lowe Ching, RSM (1934-2023), who was a pillar in the Mercy community and committed her life in service to others. This introverted, scholarly Sister has been hailed as a visionary, pioneer, dedicated educator, and a strategic thinker, and has impacted countless lives through her leadership, teachings and daily expression of faith.

Life Before the Convent

Long before her foray into religious life, Irene Theresa Lowe Ching grew up in Gordon Town, St. Andrew, Jamaica. Raised by Chinese-Jamaican parents, she was one of eight children and attended our very own Convent of Mercy Academy, Alpha (aka “Alpha Academy”); which hinted at the role the Mercy school would play later in her life. She returned to the school in 1958 as a teacher; educating students who sat in the very same seats she once occupied just a few years before. During this time, she made the prayerful decision to join the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica. Entering the novitiate in 1960, she was lovingly known as “Sister Terry” to most who knew her.

Sister Terry, Passionate Educator

A life-long educator and learner, Sister Theresa continued to teach while pursuing her own studies. She earned graduate and doctorate degrees in theology from the Notre Dame University in the United States and the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada respectively. Beyond this, she held the positions of Teacher, Acting Principal and Chairperson at various times at Alpha Academy and, eventually, also became Chairperson of two other Mercy schools in Kingston (i.e. Alpha Infant and Alpha Primary School). Following her time at the Academy, Sister Terry began to lecture at St. Michael’s Seminary in Kingston where she would later be given the title of Director. There, she championed the ethos of “liberation theology” (a Roman Catholic ideology which centres the Gospel mission on the empowerment of the poor and marginalised; especially within our regional context), through various presentations and scholarly journal articles. For her, the story of the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica (through their work to better the lives of the poor, hungry and orphaned), shows liberation theology in action. Her journey as both student and educator reflected her continuous drive to deepen the understanding and application of Catholic faith for herself and others. 

Sister Terry, World Traveler

As Sister Terry’s academic career grew and evolved, so too did her religious one. From 1970 to 1977, she, in the role of “Formation Director”, guided young women (i.e. nuns-in-training) in the ways of religious life prior to their declaration of vows. This important role enabled her to nurture these women, preparing them to impact others according to the Mercy values  and transforming them into committed, passionate members of our beloved faith community. Her life as a Sister also led her to travel and engage with the international religious community, such as when she journeyed to Mexico for the Canonization of Juan Diego in 2002 and, a decade later, served as Bishop Paul Boyle’s advisor and as a presenter at the SEDOS (Service of Documentation and Study on Global Mission) seminar in Rome. In 1990, Sister was appointed as the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica’s Area Administrator and she used the powers afforded to her by this position to bring our ministries closer together.

Sister Terry, Legacy Builder

Despite all of this, Sister Terry regarded the establishment of the Mercy Association of Jamaica in 1988 to be one of her greatest achievements in life. Now with 17 members, this group of laypersons partner with the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica to be the hands and feet of God as they serve the most vulnerable. Another unforgettable achievement which continues to leave its mark in our community is the development of the Alpha Mercy Historical Centre (AMHC). The AMHC was created to be a space that celebrates and preserves the works, ministries and legacy of the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica, along with their Mercy Associates and other partners, over the last 133 years; all of which led to the transformation of Jamaican society. The seed of this idea sprung to her mind after hearing a story about a Mercy school student wondering aloud who the Sisters of Mercy were. Deeply troubled by this lack of knowledge, Sister proposed her idea for the AMHC and worked closely with Sister Susan Frazer and the Mercy Associates to develop this space. While there is still some work to be done, the AMHC now stands in the centre of the Alpha complex and is flanked by a Peace Garden and a Memorial Wall which showcases the names of all of the 114 women who comprised the Sisters of Mercy of Jamaica that are no longer with us.

Sister Theresa Lowe Ching passed away peacefully on November 10, 2023; just a few days shy of her 89th birthday. Fittingly, her name has been added to the memorial wall alongside those of the Sisters who have gone before her. As was her wish, she will be laid to rest in the AMHC’s peace garden, next to this very wall. We are touched that this space, which was her very own brainchild, will serve as her final resting place. In her absence, we shall continue to build upon her legacy of serving the needs of the poor and vulnerable and being a voice for those who have none.

Sister Terry’s name is now on the same Memorial Wall she helped to create.

In the words of Sister Terry:

“Suffering in today’s world means primarily the suffering of people who are being crucified, and the purpose of theology is to take these people down from the cross.”

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