CLARKS MILLS — Sitting in the main office at St. Mary/St. Michael Catholic School, where she volunteers her time, Teresa Pederson can see the schoolchildren readying to go home at the end of the day.
Over the joyful noise of the students, she talks about how her father instilled in her a passion for helping others.
“My father always said to me, ‘If someone asks for help, don’t say no.’ And I’ve been saying ‘yes’ for 51 years,” said Pederson, who grew up in Collins and now lives in rural Valders.
“My religion, to me, means serving God, and serving others,” she said.
The first time Pederson volunteered to help someone, she was only a child herself.
“When I was in sixth grade and our priest had us for religion on Fridays, he was talking about a young boy in my sister’s grade who had cystic fibrosis,” said Pederson. She offered to help prepare the boy for his first Communion. “Father gave him first Communion and confirmed him and then about a week after that, the boy passed away. That was the first time I did any religious teaching.”
Pederson has been attending St. Mary Parish in Clarks Mills since she and her husband, Richard, moved to the area in the early 1970s.
“They were looking for some religion teachers. I wasn’t working, so I thought, ‘I could do this.’ I started teaching eighth grade,” she said of her first volunteer opportunity at the church and adjacent school.
Later, she volunteered to teach religious education to second-graders and she’s still doing it.
“I just like children and I like to help them to understand who Jesus was and what he did, and prepare them for first Communion,” Pederson said. “I like the questions they ask. They are just so eager to learn about Jesus and receive him in Communion.”
She emphasizes to the children that Jesus teaches them to help others and to care for others. “The example Jesus gave was feeding the people, curing them, forgiving them of their sins and helping people to believe in God as he was trying to help them,” Pederson said. “I think respect is the main thing to teach children: respect for others and to respect Jesus. He’s the one who shows us how to get to heaven. He is the one who gave us the greatest gift, to die for us so that we could go to heaven.”
Not only does she teach religious education and help at the school office. She also sings in the adult choir, distributes Communion, volunteers as a lector, uses her calligraphy skills to fill out baptismal certificates and eighth-grade diplomas, and has offered Sunday liturgy to the children of the congregation. Pederson also holds the paid position of religious education coordinator.
In addition, she and a number of women from her parish belong to the nondenominational group “Faithful Quilters,” which makes about 500 quilts a year. They are distributed abroad as well as in Manitowoc County to charity organizations, homeless shelters, needy mothers with children and senior citizens.
It was always important to her and her husband that their four children were brought up in the church.
When daughter, Melissa, developed heart problems and passed away at age 23, Pederson’s faith sustained her.
“Whenever God asks you to go, you can go,” she told her daughter as she neared the end of her life. “I think my faith helped me through that. I really believe it helped her as well. Her faith was very strong. She just said ‘I’m ready. I’m not afraid to die anymore.’”
The Pedersons now have six grandchildren, one named for Melissa.
Suzanne Zimmermann, who worked as a secretary for St. Mary Parish for 39 years and has known Pederson for more than 50 years, said Pederson is involved “in everything in church.”
“She always takes care of the May crowning for the church,” said Zimmermann. “She helped me get the bulletins ready every week. If there’s anything that needs to be done, Terry’s going to help. She’s always willing to step in. With all that she does, I think she needs to be given some recognition.”
Pederson feels very much at home at her church.
“I like the people. They are so caring and whenever there is something to be done for the church or a fundraiser, they are so willing to jump in and help,” she said. “We look out for each other.”
Your Catholic Neighbor
Name: Teresa Pederson
Favorite saint: Teresa of Kolkata
Parish: St. Mary, Clarks Mills
Words to live by: “If someone asks for help, don’t say no.” – Glenroy Wendling, Teresa’s father