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In memoriam, former Regis President Sister Thérèse Higgins, CSJ, Ph.D., Regis '47February 26, 2010
Weston, MA. Regis College President Mary Jane England, M. D., announced this morning that former Regis College President, Sister Thérèse Higgins, CSJ, Ph.D., Regis ’47, passed away yesterday afternoon, Sunday, February 21. "It is with personal sadness," England said, "that I make this announcement. Sister Thérèse was an important and valued advisor to me and a great friend to many alums."
A graduate of the College, Class of 1947, Sister Thérèse deeply loved Regis and spent her academic career here as professor, administrator, and wisdom figure. After writing her dissertation on Augustine Baker, a seventeenth-century English Benedictine monk, writer, and mystic and completing her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in the early 1960s under Professor Helen White, Sister Thérèse joined the faculty at Regis and drew countless students to her classrooms. She also oversaw the student literary magazine, Hemetera. Her students loved and emulated her and many have stayed in touch with her throughout the years.
Ellen O’Connor ‘67, chairperson of the Regis College Board of Trustees, commented, "Sister Thérèse Higgins was always forward looking. She read the signs of the times and was able to move with them, whether it involved instituting a basketball camp here on campus under Dave Cowens or inaugurating graduate programs. I have been privileged to know her for over forty years, from the time I was a student to the present, and we often met to discuss the future of Regis. As recently as this past December she was able to join our Board and converse with us. She was all for Regis."
"The 1960s were a heady time," said one of her former students, M. J. Doherty, Special Assistant to President England, who was inspired by Sister Thérèse also to take her Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. "Sister Thérèse’s teaching dovetailed with the theological excitement of Vatican II to provide students with a remarkable sense of language, literature, and Catholic thought. Her favorites were St. Thomas More and John Donne. Through them Sister Thérèse taught her students both Christian humanism and the virtue of loyal friendship, all while sharing her own superb wit. And she lived it. She was, indeed, a faithful friend to me through many decades."
In the early 1970s Sister Thérèse became President of Regis, a job to which she brought another set of remarkable skills. "English professor though she was," President England added, "Sister Thérèse discovered that she had financial insight and management abilities as well. She understood both the commitment of the Sisters of St. Joseph, as the College charter says, to teach students ‘all the useful arts’ and the depth of the College’s history in the constant refashioning of the liberal arts and the sciences, and she strove to develop a faculty that could deliver both."
Trustee Richard W. Young, Ph.D., noted that Sister Thérèse was "one of a kind, someone you only encounter rarely in a life time. I had the honor to serve with her for her entire term as President, and we enjoyed many days together on the development trail and other challenging activities for sixteen years! She was a tower of strength for all Trustees from the time the College was a little enterprise to the achievement of millions and capital improvements including the Athletic Center and the Fine Arts Center. She never left Regis; even when illness limited her activity, her character was full of energy."
Trustee Carole Barrett responded to the news from San Franciso. "Losing both Sister Thérèse and Sister Catherine Murphy in two months has left me saddened and almost speechless…. I take comfort in knowing that Sister Thérèse and Sister Catherine are rejoicing together and are celebrating in God's presence. I also take comfort in knowing that we now have two very special women to intercede for Regis as we go into the future."
A faculty member concurred. "This is the passing of an era," she said.
Among other achievements as an administrator, Sister Thérèse helped the College broaden its base through an intensive planning process conducted under Dr. Ron Yager in the mid 1970s. This resulted in the introduction of several professional programs, including Master’s programs in Communication, Management, and Nursing. With her lifelong friend, Sister A. Catherine Murphy, CSJ, she launched the Children’s Center. She oversaw the successful completion of the Athletics Center and the musically expert construction of the Fine Arts Center. In the area of Development she began a special series of scholarships for students called "Sharing Opportunities" through which particular donors adopted a worthy student and saw her through Regis. She cultivated relationships with numerous alums and sustained those connections years after retiring from the presidency in 1992.
Spiritually, Sister Thérèse embraced the non-dualistic thinking of eminent Spanish-Hindu theologian, Raimundo Panikkar, whose lectures she had heard at Harvard. She and Panikkar, whom she often quoted, became friends, and a few years ago on a trip abroad she was able to visit with him once again.
Sister Thérèse’s wake and funeral will be held at the Motherhouse of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, 637 Cambridge Street, Brighton, MA. The wake will be held on Thursday, February 25, from 3-6 p.m., followed by a Vigils service. The funeral liturgy, which will be celebrated by Regis chaplain, Father Paul Kilroy, will be held at the Motherhouse at 10 a.m. Friday morning, February 26, and burial will follow at St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Natick.
In lieu of flowers, Sister Thérèse’s family has asked that contributions be made to the Margaret Higgins Scholarship Fund at Regis College, a fund named for Sister Thérèse’s mother, or to the Sisters of St. Joseph Development Office at the Motherhouse.