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Service Second To Nun: Local Sister Honored In Retirement From Helm Of McAuley Center

September 30, 2018

When they speak of Sister Therese Marques, R.S.M., her peers at Scranton’s Catherine McAuley Center describe a woman who made a difference there in almost every way imaginable.

Marques will say goodbye to the organization toward the end of the year, 24 years after taking the helm and 60 years after entering religious life. And on Thursday, Oct. 4, her coworkers, friends and the public will honor and thank her for her service with a dinner at Radisson at Lackawanna Station hotel, Scranton.

True to the nature of Marques and her organization, proceeds from the event will benefit the center’s two emergency shelters for homeless women and children, Therese’s Home in Scranton — named for Marques — and the Catherine McAuley House in Plymouth.

“Being in a position to make a difference in the lives of the women and especially the children is a great blessing,” Marques said.

Catherine McAuley founded the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1831 in Dublin, Ireland, and today her followers in Lackawanna and Luzerne counties run programs that help women in need of housing as a result of domestic violence, others re-entering society after prison, homeless women and children, and others with similar needs. The center also offers food and home supply banks and helps women with job training and employment.

McAuley aimed to serve, to comfort and to animate others, pointed out Sister Kathleen Smith, R.S.M., and Marques “has walked in the shoes of Catherine McAuley.”

“No matter what the need is ... she makes it work, because she knows the institution is going to be better for it,” Smith said.

Born 78 years ago in what was then British Guiana, Marques joined the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1958. With another Sister of Mercy and a Jesuit priest already in the family, she said, her relatives were happy about her decision. The path brought Marques to Misericordia University, where she spent her early years of religious life and earned a bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in English. She went on to earn master’s degrees in English and American literature and human resources administration from University of Scranton and taught at various local schools.

“It was a new adventure for me,” Marques said of coming to America. “I truly have enjoyed every moment.”

Marques returned home to what is now Guyana, but with her family having moved to Great Britain in the interim, her second stint there was all about work. She served as a high school principal, became coordinator of the Community of the Sisters of Mercy and took over as chief executive officer of a hospital.

Marques eventually came back to Northeast Pennsylvania, where the Catherine McAuley Center in Scranton opened in 1984. When the leadership position opened in 1995, Marques took over as executive director at the encouragement of two fellow sisters she lived with at the time, including Smith.

“Her spirit always brings courage, and she uplifts people,” Smith said.

Marques had felt uncertain about applying for the job at first, but she realized she had already given her time to teaching and hospitals but had not yet ventured into the social-services field. Helping people overcome the obstacles they face, particularly in today’s society where addictions are prevalent, poses a challenge, she said, but she described her time with the center as “a great gift to me.”

“My journeys with the women and with the wonderful staff with whom I am privileged to work have been years of great growth in caring, understanding, learning from and helping to empower the women,” Marques said, noting that empowerment is the heart of the center’s philosophy. “These women face challenges in their lives that most of us never have to face, and when they succeed in even the smallest way in overcoming some of the obstacles, it is a cause for rejoicing, and I am grateful.”

During Marques’ time leading the shelter, it has grown not just physically in offering more safe places for women and children but also in terms of programs, stability and finances. Smith said that under Marques, the center has tripled its endowment, which Marques started and which can help the center continue to offer its programs as outside funding dwindles. The center also owns some of its buildings outright rather than renting them, which center workers see as a plus.

Marques’ work is “not about attention or celebrity,” said Jenny Blanchard, the center’s development coordinator.

“She’s devoted to the mission heart and soul,” Blanchard said. “She’s an extra kind and compassionate person.”

Deciding to retire was not an easy decision, Marques said, but she prayed about it a lot and believes the time has arrived “for new energy and vision” at the center. It now falls under the guidance of new executive director Krista Somers, whom Marques will work alongside for a few months to help get her settled.

At Thursday’s celebration, guests will see a video tribute tracing Marques’ history and work with the center in addition to a few surprises organizers have planned. Blanchard expects upwards of 200 people to attend. She described Marques as having a gentle demeanor, deep faith and a belief that by reaching out to poor and homeless people, “we can really transform their lives.”

“Sister Therese has touched many, many, lives, (and) not just the lives of the homeless women and children of the Catherine McAuley Center but all of us who have worked with her and been inspired,” Blanchard said.

Marques praised her staff for walking alongside the women they help and sharing their journey.

“Besides all the services we offer, perhaps the most important gift that all our staff members offer the women is that sense of belonging, respect and caring,” she said. “It is the gift that speaks to healing the sense of estrangement, the low self-esteem, the feeling of being set apart as poor and vulnerable, of being on the fringes of society that so many of our women experience all the time.”

Blanchard said Marques’ legacy will touch everyone who comes to the center seeking hope.

“Her legacy is present in all the lives she has touched and changed and transformed,” she said.

Contact the writer: cwest@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9100 x5107; @cheaneywest on Twitter

Meet Sister Therese Marques, R.S.M.

Age: 78

Educational/professional background: A native of British Guiana, she joined the Religious Sisters of Mercy in 1958. She earned a bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in English from Misericordia University and master’s degrees in English and American literature and human resources administration from University of Scranton.

Claim to fame: She will retire this year after 24 years as executive director of the Catherine McAuley Center, Scranton.

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