Sister Mary Therese Esswein

April 3, 1934 - September 26, 2017

(S. Alice Marie)

A generous, welcoming woman,
who enjoyed helping others

Theodore and Margaret (Franke) Esswein of Kansas City, Missouri, welcomed their daughter, Mary Therese, on April 3, 1934. Brother Ted was already on the scene and identical twins, Larry and Leo, arrived about a year after her. Sadly, their dad died of tuberculosis when Mary Therese was three. Her mother moved home to St. Louis where there would be family to help with her four young children. They settled in St. Anthony’s Parish, not far from the convent, school and church. The parish priest helped her mother find work with a Works Progress Administration program at Jefferson Barracks. Mary Therese remembers how grateful her mother was to the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in the parish, because they helped her mother by providing extra food whenever they could.

Eventually, Mrs. Esswein became friends with a gentleman in the parish, Bernard Kuenneken. About five years after her husband died, they were married. Mary Therese said he was a strict but loving dad. Her mother was able to quit her job and be a stay-at-home mom. Her Esswein grandparents were still living and in the area. Before Mr. Kuenneken married her mother, he visited both Mary Therese’s grandmother Franke and her Esswein grandparents to ask their permission. Mary Therese shared that her stepfather felt the children should keep the Esswein name out of respect for her grandparents. After graduating from St. Anthony Grade and High School, she entered the Sisters of St. Joseph on September 15, 1953. She received the habit and the name Sister Alice Marie on March 19, 1954. Fontbonne College awarded her a bachelor’s degree in elementary education in 1970.

Sister Mary Therese began her ministry in elementary education in St. Louis at Holy Name Grade School (1956), St. Jude Grade School (1962), St. Roch Grade School (1963), Holy Name Grade School (1967) and St. Margaret of Scotland Grade School (1969). Then, she taught at St. John Grade School in Green Bay Wisconsin (1970), followed by St. Joseph Grade School in Muskogee, Oklahoma (1972).

After 20 years of teaching in elementary schools, Sister Mary Therese thought she would like to do some other kind of ministry. She returned to St. Louis in 1976 to become a bookkeeper at Nazareth Convent under Sister Thomas Aquinas [Dinan] for two years and then was in charge when Sister Thomas moved into another ministry. Next, Sister Mary Therese was a staff member for the St. Louis province Treasurer’s Office (1982). In 1984, she was the bookkeeper for St. Joseph’s Academy. Returning to Nazareth Convent she became a ward clerk (1987). Then, in 1989, she served at Cardinal Ritter Institute as bookkeeper.

Sister Mary Therese moved into the role of receptionist beginning at Cardinal Ritter Senior Services’ Mary, Queen and Mother Center (1996), then Cardinal Carberry Senior Living Center (1997) and finally at Regina Cleri (2002). In 2005, she retired to St. Joseph Apartments (St. Louis), volunteering where she was able until 2009 when she began a ministry of prayer and presence at Nazareth Living Center.

Sister Rebecca Eichhorn, a dear and devoted friend, has this to share:

Sister Mary Therese was a woman of great faith. The Eucharist was the center of her life. She was also very devoted to the Blessed Mother and especially to the Rosary. [Sister Mary Therese] liked to play poker, Bingo and cards. She crocheted hundreds of afghans. She received great joy in giving them to others. She loved to take the car and ride for enjoyment. She was always ready to give a helping hand. She had a contagious laugh, which often got her into trouble. She loved following the Cardinals. She will be missed.

By Sister Helen Oates