June 24, 2022

Award winner lives her faith to the fullest as she prepares to go home to God

A look of joy has been a common feature of Theresa Shaw as she has shared her love of God with children and adults in Holy Family Parish in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

A look of joy has been a common feature of Theresa Shaw as she has shared her love of God with children and adults in Holy Family Parish in New Albany. (Submitted photo)

By John Shaughnessy

Theresa Shaw lets it be known quickly that she’s prone to crying these days.

And her tears flowed again when she was surprised with the news on June 7 that she was the recipient of the Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein Award for her outstanding service as a parish faith formation leader in the archdiocese.

In nearly 17 years of helping form the faiths of children and adults at Holy Family Parish in New Albany, Shaw has always strived to create experiences and encounters that would make the Catholic faith come alive and lead people to a deeper relationship with Jesus.

In the past 13 months, she has taken that approach to an even higher level since being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

“My relationship with Jesus is pretty much everything,” Shaw says. “I view him as my role model. I unite my suffering to him and ask him to use it to where it’s most needed. I’m trying to be a role model for suffering and dying in a way that glorifies God.”

While she cries as she shares that thought, her ministry has often been touched by moments of joy and humor.

Now 60, she laughs as she shares a story that’s connected to the turning point in her own faith—at a Christ Renews His Parish retreat at Holy Family in 2001.

‘I was euphoric from everything that went on during that retreat,” recalls the mother of three, now-grown children. “The next day after the retreat, I was taking my kids to school, and they were being rowdy. I told them, ‘Calm down. I’m still on a high from my retreat!’ And they said, ‘Well, we didn’t go on retreat.’ ”

That “high” continued, leading her from doing day care in her home to enrolling in a pastoral ministry program at Spalding University in Louisville, Ky. A year later, she became the coordinator of religious education at Holy Family, hoping to lead children to the same high for their faith.

“She regularly emphasized the need to connect that faith to lived activities in the home,” says Father Jeremy Gries, pastor of Holy Family. “Whether it was encouraging Sunday Mass attendance, grace before meals and bedtime, or family service opportunities, the faith was never just an activity of the mind for Theresa. It required heart and hands as well to be fully and truly lived.”

Shaw was always looking for those times of connection with the children, “seeing their faces light up when they got that a-ha moment,” she says.

As she asked the children to reach for more in their faith, she also asked their parents to embrace their faith more deeply by becoming part of the programs for their children.

“I really emphasized family catechesis,” she says. “Parents were uncomfortable teaching their children the faith because they didn’t feel they knew their faith that well. Seeing the parents interact with their children and sometimes getting the same a-ha moment as their children, it encouraged the parents. Kids can learn from adults, and adults can learn from kids as well.”

Alive in her faith, Shaw has always wanted the same for everyone in the parish, Father Gries says.

“She held intergenerational activities that helped bridge the gap between the young and older of the parish, highlighting the ‘handing on of the faith’ from one generation to the next,” he says. “She also hosted numerous book studies for adults to read, learn and discuss various Catholic topics and Catholic authors, enhancing personal faith lives.

“Theresa also was great at calling others to pray daily, whether personally or communally. She kept the parish staff rooted in regular prayer by helping to remind us to gather for the noon Angelus. She also regularly took holy hours during our parish adoration.”

 Shaw’s favorite memories include helping children prepare for the sacraments of reconciliation and holy Communion. She also becomes emotional as she shares the story of a woman she guided into being received into the full communion of the Church one Easter, leading her through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.

“We became very close,” Shaw recalls. “I was able to help her find Christ before she was diagnosed with cancer. I helped her through her journey, and she helped me with the way she helped people when she was suffering. She’s no longer with us.”

It also seems fitting that another one of Shaw’s favorite memories involves family, specifically her daughter, Andrea. They spent a year reading and discussing the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church together.

“It came at a very opportune time in her life, and it affected me very deeply as well. It was very meaningful for both of us,” Shaw says. “It helped her deepen her faith and make it a higher priority in her life. It also helped to make us even closer. We’ve always had a close relationship, but this has cemented it.”

She also expressed gratitude for her two sons, Ben and Christopher—and for her husband, David, as they celebrated their 38th wedding anniversary on June 23.

The grandmother of one child also holds a special place in her heart for her parish.

“I would like to thank the staff and parishioners of Holy Family for all the support they’ve given me through the years and all the love they’ve given me in the past year,” says Shaw, who is now retired because of her health. “They are the best parish, and they deserve a shout-out.”

She also becomes emotional as she shares her gratitude to God for the life she has been given, and for the faith she has worked so hard and so joyfully to share.

As a source of comfort, Shaw embraces one of her favorite Bible verses, from chapter 10 in Luke’s Gospel, especially the part where Jesus tells the Apostles, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:20).

“Just knowing that my name is written in heaven is very powerful for me,” she says. “Just knowing I’m getting ready to come home has been a comfort for me. I feel I have a purpose after I die—that I’ll be home with God, Jesus and Mary.”

Her tears flow again.

“I told you I was prone to crying.” †

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