Sister Michelle Gallagher
A Listening, Caring Presence
A tilt of the head, a twinkle in the eye and a warm smile give Sister Michelle Gallagher a natural ease for listening and making people comfortable. These traits and a sense of humor helped her to teach groups of first and second graders for 47 years, to coordinate hospitality at a diocesan retreat center and to guide college students as they reflected on their peer ministry experiences and now to enjoy her sisters in the Mount Loretto community.
Remembering a reading group in her classroom some years ago, Sister Michelle enjoys telling about a particular little girl looking up at her and saying, "Sister, you have old hair, but your face is young and you aren’t pruney!" Shocked into silence, Sister Michelle replied with a "thank you" and a laugh and then remarked, "Yes, I have white hair and it’s nice that it is still growing."
Growing up in western Iowa with five brothers and three sisters, Sister Michelle (Theresa Darlene) gives tribute to her parents William and Theresa McNerty Gallagher with instilling faith, hard work and home-grown fun in their children. Perhaps Michelle developed her pleasantness and affability when working in a dress shop after high school; she must have mixed her charm with her fun-loving energy when enjoying dances and "big bands" at ballrooms in neighboring towns with her brothers and friends.
Meeting the Sisters of the Presentation when they came to Manilla, Iowa, to teach summer religious vacation school classes, Sister Michelle remembers being impressed at how pleasant and happy the sisters were doing their job. Perhaps this planted the ideas of being a teacher and of becoming a sister. All it took was for Sister Mary Ernestine Meyers to pop the question: "Did you ever think about becoming a sister?" Sister Michelle, a past homecoming queen of Manilla High School, had some serious thinking to do.
Two years after graduation with some experience working and enjoying life with her young adult friends and even having considered another congregation of sisters, Theresa Gallagher entered the Presentation congregation in Dubuque and began teaching primary grades at St. Columbkille School in Dubuque.
"I enjoyed getting to know the children as they grew to value learning. Reading was a big deal to them!" she recalls with delight. "And, at St. Columbkille we were like a laboratory school, teaching young teachers to teach under the guidance of our principal, Sister Catherine Wingert."
While living with Sister Jeanine Kuhn in Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa, Sister Michelle was introduced to other ministries – welcoming and registering guests and managing the gift shop at American Martyrs Retreat Center and guiding students at St. Stephen the Witness Catholic Student Center on the University of Northern Iowa campus. In addition to sharing evening liturgy and meeting the students at the center, twice a year she met with and mentored two student peer ministers.
"Getting to know the students personally and sharing life stories with them was rewarding. I guess my personal qualities of being a pleasant and caring listener helped us both be comfortable in our sessions," states Sister Michelle.
Near and dear to Sister Michelle’s heart is to respond to children and families who suffer in poverty. Having reached out to children in her school classes and in Head Start summer classes, she continues in the spirit of Nano Nagle to respond by giving to charities and practicing hospitality. "Being welcoming and a Christ-presence to others is how I try to live Nano’s spirit," she says.
Solitaire, word finds and adult coloring books are some of Sister Michelle’s relaxing hobbies. She has enjoyed some travel with Sister Jeanine and the Gallagher and Kuhn families over the years.
Reflecting on retirement, Sister Michelle comments, "Getting to better know the sisters at this time in my life enriches me and calls me to grow in being present to and patient with others and interested in their lives."
Praying and living the teachings of Jesus in the spirit of Nano Nagle, Sister Michelle shares one of her favorite scripture quotes to describe her ongoing journey of living by the Golden Rule: "Always treat others as you would like them to treat you." Matthew 7:12