Sister Theresa Reis, 1929 – 2017

Sr. Theresa Reis in 2011

“Put it all in God’s hands,” was Sr. Theresa (Helen Marie) Reis’ favorite saying – perhaps wisdom learned from 15 years of supervising novices preparing meals at the Novitiate in Saratoga!

Born on August 28, 1929, Theresa grew up on a farm in Arroyo Grande and graduated from San Luis Obispo High School after her family moved to Los Osos. She had almost no contact with Sisters in her youth, but after visiting her cousin, Sr. Teresa Gularte, at the novitiate in Saratoga and seeing her so happy, Theresa knew that she, too, wanted to be a Sister.

Sr. Theresa moved on from her success as novitiate cook to work with children at Sacred Heart Elementary School, Salinas, and St. Thomas More in Lynnwood, Washington. In 1973, when Sister felt she needed to be closer to home to help care for mother, she moved to Santa Barbara.

Robin William and Sr. Theresa

Later, when Sr. Theresa was a teacher’s aide at Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara, the pastor asked if she would help raise tuition assistance funds for the school.  She made connections with generous friends and celebrities, and for 13 years, amassed amazing prizes for the annual auctions. Then, as the development director for Bishop Garcia Diego High School in Santa Barbara, she continued to raise funds for financial aid and campus improvements. Known for her kind understanding, down-to-earth wisdom and gift for making friends, she was described as “a generous person who brings out the generosity in everybody else.”

Sr. Theresa enjoying time with good friend Patrick Dobson, a Bishop H.S. alum, and his son, Bradley!

Sr. Theresa also had a special ministry with families and children overcoming problems of alcohol and addiction.

Sr. Theresa passed away peacefully at Sarah House, a hospice facility in Santa Barbara on April 4, 2017. She was preceded in death by her parents; all of her siblings, baby Eva, Olivia, Angelina, Helen, John, Lucio, Terry, Eva and Manuel; nephews Lucio Jr. and Don and niece Sue. She is survived by her sisters-in-law, Mary Reis and Elsie Reis, cousins and many nieces and nephews.

A Mass was celebrated recently in Arroyo Grande, and a Memorial Mass will be offered at the Province Center on Tuesday, May 16, at 11:00, with lunch to follow.  Do come, if you are able, to honor Sr. Theresa’s life and share memories of her, or share your thoughts by writing a comment below. If you would like to join us for lunch, please RSVP to Monica May at monica.may@sndden.org

Here is the recipe for Sr. Theresa’s famous “Cowboy Bread” coffee cake, which was served at the Novitiate on Sundays and Feast Days:


Cowboy Coffee Cake
(Serves 10-12)

2 well beaten eggs
2 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt
2 cups brown sugar

2/3 cups shortening
2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)

  1. Mix flour, sugar and shortening until crumbly.
  2. Add baking powder, soda and spices.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Add milk and eggs.
  5. Pour into a greased and floured 9″ x 13″ pan (or 2 round 8″ pans).
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes.

6 thoughts on “Sister Theresa Reis, 1929 – 2017

  1. I always marveled at how she could prepare meals for over 80 people 3 times a day + 4:00 pm snack, and that with a new group of novices coming through constantly. She knew how to “reduce, reuse and recycle” before it was required by law. I’ll never forget that “toss-up” salad, the stewed apricots with cornbread, but gruel ruled! She cut no corners; everything had to be done properly and the result was excellence. Great role model for life.

  2. I enjoyed working in the kitchen while in the Novitiate — always something good cooking — lovely aromas wafting about – the mixer was a two-novice lift!ing job! Sister Helen didn’t mind that I would run into the walk-in Frig to get rid of hick-ups! Remember the day one of the postulants forgot to put baking soda in the cornbread? Wow was that a HEAVY pan of cornbread! Medical emergencies only happened on holidays too – right Caroyln Perry??? Ah, the good old days!

  3. Of all my memories at the ND Saratoga novitiate and then later 2 years as professed and teacher working in nearby schools, the one who I’ll always remember and think of as closest to St Julie is Sister Helen Marie! Those who were around there in the late 60’s will remember this wonderful kind, gentle , smart capable woman!

  4. I first met Sister Helen Marie when I was 18 and a postulant in 1964. So many years ago now. I like others was amazed at how she organized us postulants into various job positions while teaching us how to cook. I remember the days of cleaning out the walk-in frig and tossing it all in that giant mixture which I ran. Sister Helen Marie was both patient and strict with us. No wonder, she was responsible for all of our meals. When I was a novice she put me in charge of baking. I baked so many different cookies and I knew where each kind was. I also knew every creak in the kitchen floor and would sneak down every night, gather up some cookies and pass them out to my fellow novices. Sister Helen Marie now knows where the cookies went!!!

    So many fond memories and lessons. Thank you Sister Helen Marie.

    Megan Croft
    Aka Sister Daniel

  5. Sr. Theresa was my best friend for 25 years. Those who knew us in Santa Barbara called us the odd couple, two people who came together from completely different background, put together through God’s grace to walk the path of life together. Theresa taught me everything I know, “put it all in Gods hands Susan.” Thank you Theresa for your gifts to me & my family of unconditional love and kindness. You have left me with an unending supply of spiritual gifts. I am blessed.

  6. I know our Good and Gracious God and St. Julie are welcoming Sr. Helen Marie as our newest Saint in Heaven. I will always be so grateful for the many life lessons learned as a Postulant and Novice in the Saratoga Kitchen! Sister Helen Marie was the epitome of a Servant Leader. May she rest in God’s eternal Peace and Love!

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