Journeywork: Illuminating the Path with Compassion & Knowledge
Judith Terrameo, OSF
is not easy to come by for everyone. It is often earned through suffering and
the persistent act of facing fear, doubt and heartbreaking challenges. Sister
Judith Terrameo's journey has not been an easy one, but the faith, joy and
compassion she exudes in her life and her work belie the obstacles she has overcome.
and professional achievement were once goals that Sister Judith thought were out
of her reach. As a child and young adult, she struggled to learn and did not do
well in school.
Sister Judith was blessed with patient, compassionate sisters who taught her in
elementary school and lovingly encouraged her in spite of her struggles.
sisters were always so patient with me," she said. "If I had difficulty
understanding something, they would take the time to explain it. And in my
early years, I thought, 'Gee, I'd like to be like that someday.'"
never forgot these lessons in kindness and has used them as her guiding
principle throughout life.
in Niagara Falls by Italian-American Catholic parents, Sister Judith belonged
to St. Joseph's parish (now Holy Family). She and her family attended weekly Mass
and confession, and she was educated at Catholic schools.
she was introduced to faith at a young age, she lacked loving, emotional
support at home.
mother would get on my case and yell at me and tell me I was never going to
amount to anything," she said. "When I didn't do well in school, she would start
hitting me and pulling my hair. And if I got up from the table, she would poke
a knife at my stomach and tell me to get back."
Judith's academic struggles plagued her throughout the years she was preparing
to become a sister and in her first year of college. Because of this, her
religious community told her she would be a domestic sister, taking care of the
housekeeping, cooking and laundry.
by this disappointment, she said, "I spent the next 25 years of my religious
life proving myself to everybody and it was difficult."
were not her only challenge. In 1967, at the age of 18, she entered the convent
with 17 women, but only three made their final profession together. By 1975, the
other two had left. Since that time, she's been the only sister remaining from
asked me, 'Are you stupid or are you stubborn?' because so many sisters had
left," she said. "So I was really struggling with my vocation."
the 1980s, while still struggling with doubts about her intelligence and leadership
abilities, Sister Judith turned to alcohol. But in 1994, she entered treatment
and followed the 12-step program, which helped her not only become sober, but
also deepened her spirituality. She has now been sober for 21 years.
Along the Way
her life, there were signs that spoke to Sister Judith and buoyed her along her
faith journey—from the sisters who helped her in school to surprising turns of
events and prayerful inspiration.
high school, Judith and her friends would go to dances at the neighboring boys'
school. During senior year, she was repeatedly drawn to the large crucifix in
the gym and she got the sense that there was something more she wanted to do.
that time, she was dating a young man in college who asked her to marry him,
and she said, "No. I'm becoming a sister!" Her response was as much of a
surprise to her and her family as it was to the young man.
that moment, saying no to him and saying I was becoming a sister was a
revelation to me, too," she said.
later, as she struggled with her vocation, she prayed at the grotto at St. Bonaventure University.
Shortly thereafter, she attended a presentation where a slide image of her came
up with the voiceover saying, "You have not chosen me. But I have chosen
you." (John 15:16) Yet another sign.
Judith did indeed prove herself. Not only did she earn a bachelor's degree in
education and a master's degree in education administration, but she was also
recognized for academic excellence at St. Bonaventure.
called to serve, she did so with grace, compassion and a strong sense of social
justice. She began by championing the early education of African-American
children when she served as a preschool director in St. Petersburg, Florida.
working there, she noticed the secretary tearing up a form in front of a father
because he had filled it out wrong. She invited the father into her office,
helped him fill out the form, and talked with him awhile.
he left, she told the secretary, "I will never see that again as long as I'm
the director here. We are to respect everyone."
Judith explained, "I have great fondness for the people I've fought on behalf
of. They have deep faith. And I think that's because they've suffered. They
walk with the Lord and the Lord walks with them."
went on to teach grade school in Florida and New York; taught middle school in
New Jersey; then became principal of Blessed Sacrament in Utica, New York. In
each of her assignments, she helped students who struggled with learning as she
one instance, she recalled a sixth-grade teacher who had nine students and was
going to fail three of them. She looked at the tests the teacher was giving and
noticed that many questions were worth 30 points, so if a student was
struggling with one question, they would fail.
told the teacher, "You're not going to fail these kids. You're going to do remediation
with them." And she's happy to report that one of those students is a
was later invited to join St. Francis's parish in the heart of Utica's inner
city. She was tasked with serving as chaplain at the nearby psychiatric center
where she taught Bible studies and ministered to the mentally ill—once again
championing the cause of the suffering.
Judith currently serves as chaplain at Mount St. Mary's Hospital in Lewiston, New
York, where she ministers to patients and their loved ones. She spends every
Thursday at the hospital's clinic for the poor, attending to their spiritual
needs, as well as helping them cope with everything from domestic abuse to
accessing available services. She calls it "waiting room spirituality" and is
deeply moved by the struggles and faith of those she meets.
December, Sister Judith will complete her Master of Arts in Pastoral Ministry at Christ the King Seminary
(CKS). She is also in the process of becoming board certified as a Catholic
studies at Christ the King Seminary have helped me be more knowledgeable about
my faith and explain our doctrines in a more intellectual manner," she said. "So
when people ask, 'What does this mean in the Catholic church?' I can be
confident in explaining the theology."
Judith likes the diversity of learning and doing field work in the community with
a variety of students at CKS.
said, "Being in class with seminarians, deacons and lay people has helped
broaden my own views, and I can see that we're all here for the same thing: the
kingdom of God."
she completes her second master's degree, Sister Judith looks forward to continuing
her path of lifelong learning in future classes at CKS.