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By Brandon A. Evans
Oldenburg Franciscan Sister Therese Gillman found a chance to give back to a place that gave her much when she became the president of Oldenburg Academy in 2001.
The 150-year-old institution has seen some changes over the years, most notably its recent transition to a co-educational school, but a great deal has also stayed the same, Sister Therese said.
The core values and the mission of Franciscan Catholic education has not changed, and those values are integrated in academy life, she said.
Sister Therese graduated from the academy in 1969, and the same year joined the community of sisters that were so influential in her education.
Although her reasons for wanting to remain a religious sister have developed over the years, the heart of her vocation has stayed the same.
“The whole core of my vocation is rooted in faith in the Franciscan charism that together as a community we can make a significant impact on our world and in the lives of others,” she said.
Sister Therese served for more than 15 years in an inner-city school, and also worked as a consultant for non-profit organizations and as an executive leadership coach for a health care company.
As president of Oldenburg Academy, she is responsible for strategic planning and fundraising, but she said she also “ensures that the mission of our school and the mission of the sisters is lived out daily through what we do. My primary role is shepherding the mission of the Sisters of St. Francis.”
She said that the witness of charity that was shown to her in the example of her Franciscan teachers played an important role in her life.
“Those values … really impacted almost every choice that I made in my life,” Sister Therese said.
There was something about the Oldenburg Franciscans that “seemed so much like home to me,” she said. “How could there be any other choice?”
Sister Therese said that she remembers her junior high years when the sisters were always there to listen and encourage her in all her life journeys.
“I used to love staying after school and being with them,” she said.
The academy’s “Adopt-a-Sis” program allows the students today to have regular contact with the sisters at the motherhouse.
“There’s constant communication back and forth,” Sister Therese said of the partners. Sisters send notes to their students, and sometimes students send care package to their sisters.
The school focuses on instilling those core Franciscan values in all that it does, she said, and it is working.
“When I look at the number of our students that are working either in a service profession or serving the Church in some capacity, it’s unbelievable,” she said. “I hear the stories time and time again of those who are doing things of service and using their education and ability to really make a difference in the lives of others.” †