by Sister Rita-Mairelenes, P.V.M.I.
Mother Foundress was born on May 6, 1867, two years after the end of the Civil War, on a farm in the Mohawk Valley near the city of Utica, New York in a hamlet called Hanover. She was the seventh of eight children born to Bridget and Peter Tallon, both of whom had emigrated to the United States from Ireland. They brought with them the deep faith of their homeland as a heritage for their children. None of them could have received it more eagerly than their next-to-youngest, Julia Teresa.
The desire to belong totally to God seems to have unfolded in her with the dawning of reason, though she had no acquaintanceship with religious Sisters in her small rural mission parish.
Julia’s mother, like many other good Catholic mothers, before and after, dismissed the idea of religious life for her daughter. Yet, despite the discouragement and disapproval at home, Julia was firm in her commitment to follow a religious vocation from the age of twelve onward.
On April 30, 1887, at the age of nineteen, Mother Foundress entered the Holy Cross Sisters at South Bend, Indiana. For thirty-three years she remained with the Sisters teaching a variety of subjects in Catholic schools. All the while God was preparing her for her future work and enlightening her mind as to the nature of the mission He would give her – the founding of a contemplative-missionary Congregation for the streets and homes, to teach the faith and counsel, and especially to reclaim lapsed and uninstructed Catholics for the Heart of the Good Shepherd.
On the feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1920, when she arrived in New York City to begin this work, the Parish Visitors of Mary Immaculate were born. She had left the Holy Cross Sisters after obtaining approval from the appropriate ecclesiastical authorities.
Mother Mary Teresa’s entire being was focused upon God and the mission He gave her. Everything else was insignificant beside that one great reality of her life. Mother called it “the cause” or “the original vocation,” because it came straight from the Heart of her Beloved. This became the whole point of her life and personality.
Julia Teresa Tallon, her whole life long, employed every gift God had given her to magnify His glory.
Though quiet and retiring by nature, she was strong-willed and courageous, as well as intelligent and reflective. Her face was rounded and pleasant, the face of one who would be friendly and thoughtful, approachable and yet serious.
Most people, though, remember her for her eyes. They were dark and bright, and variously described as penetrating, twinkling with wholesome amusement, very kind, warm with understanding, seemingly able to read the hearts of others.
Even as a young girl she was seen to be magnetic, compelling and persuasive. People were drawn to her and held by her fervor and enthusiasm, especially for the things of God. Eventually this came to be focused on “the cause” – the “grand” and “original” vocation for which she wanted to give herself utterly and be consumed.
She was open and frank in her dealings with others, which sometimes got her into difficulties. But she was unfailingly kind, a friend to the down-trodden, to sinners, to the poor and neglected, to the troubled, to God’s “little ones.” This she had learned from the heart of Christ.
At the same time, she was doggedly persistent, never giving up in her quest for the highest values—sanctity for herself, for her Community, and for her “specials,” God’s little ones. “Make every soul count!” “Never give up!” These were the mottoes she gave her Congregation for its mission.
Her books, personal letters, and numerous printed articles show a deeply loving religious Sister who was unflinchingly staunch and loyal to the Church’s teaching, to the Holy Father, and to the mission God had given her. She was never afraid to be outspoken, especially when the Kingdom of God seemed compromised by lack of zeal or pettiness.
She was a painter of word images, inviting souls back home to the challenging and delightful life of Catholic living and love. Her scholarly agility was brilliantly shown in her report, The Confraternity of Christian Doctrine: the First Decade of Achievement in the Archdiocese of New York, which documented the numerous activities in which the Confraternity engaged from 1902-1912. (CCD included: home, hospital and prison visitation; religious instruction for adults and children; a special program to instruct teachers and parents; etc.) Mother’s 101 page paper was “prepared for the National Catechetical Congress held in New York City, October 3-6, 1936”…”by request of His Excellency, Most Rev. Edwin V. O’Hara, D.D., Chairman of the Congress.”
Although suffering disabling illnesses during the last twenty years of her life, she carried on the administration of the Congregation, giving no sign of her suffering to the Community she so ably guided and nurtured. In fact, very few of her dearly beloved Sisters had any idea of how ill she was.
She considered her human needs to be insignificant compared to the needs of those whom we serve and of the Community itself. She made heroic efforts to rise and give her quarterly conferences to the Community. She conducted important meetings with officials and Associates, journeyed to oversee Community concerns, and would return again to her bed for much needed and nearly unknown periods of rest.
Considering that this was her state for nearly twenty years, clearly God was the source of her strength: 1) to extend the Congregation to eight dioceses, as well as to many temporary missions, including one in the Dominican Republic; 2) to maintain voluminous correspondence caused by the Community’s development; and 3) to direct a publishing department that produced a monthly magazine and Community literature.
Her spiritual energy was the force that kept her going, the belief that God willed it, and this, of course, was the power of God’s love. She often reminded her Sisters, “The love of Christ impels us.”
On February 10, 1954, Mother Mary Teresa was found to be critically ill after falling in her room. It soon became obvious that this was to be her last illness. Just before the Anointing, she said in a strong, clear voice, “I thank God for the graces He gave the original vocation and for sustaining it since 1920, and pray Him to continue.”
Of the vocation she said, “I leave everything in God’s hands, who gave the wonderful vocation. He can give it to someone else as He gave it to me—and more effective than in me … As for me, I’ll be glad to go to God and under Him care for you all. He loves you more than I do.” She was to linger on this way for a month.
On the evening of March 10, 1954, after extreme suffering borne with patience and love for the Congregation, Mother Mary Teresa died just as the Sisters had finished praying the Rosary around her bedside.
In 2013 the Church declared her a Servant of God. Click here to see the first issue of the Guild newsletter, which contains the edict. The second issue tells of the closing of the diocesan phase and the opening of the Roman phase of the cause for her eventual beatification/canonization. Also see "Events" for October 16 and December 9, 2015, which tell of the exhumation of her body and the transfer of her remains to our motherhouse chapel.
O Divine Lord, whose merciful love reaches to the ends of the earth, we thank you for inspiring the heart of Julia Teresa Tallon with the love of your own Heart. Through her you brought forth a new institute in the Church and called us to imitate the sacrificial mission of your Son, the Good Shepherd, who in steadfast union of heart with you and loving zeal for the most neglected of His little ones, gave his life to seek and save the lost and straying.
We humbly ask you to continue to expand the work you have begun in her. Fulfill her ardent longing to promote sanctity in each heart, to restore family life, calling all to full participation in the life of the Church and arousing the conscience of Your people in loving concern for the most neglected and spiritually abandoned in our midst.
May she who asked always – “What more can I do for God?” – find now new ways to glorify You. Grant, Lord, that she who loved and cared for the least of Your little ones on earth, may now be glorified by You who live and reign with Jesus Christ Your Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit, world without end. Amen.