On Saturday, October 11, 2014, Sr. Barbara Thiella was one of five people honored for their work in the Diocese of Stockton. She received recognition for a “Lifetime of Religious Ministerial Service.”
She writes about her life and coming to work for the diocese …
In 1999, as we came to the end of an interview, Bishop Blaire said “Those who are poor will always be at the table when decisions are made in this diocese.” For him it was a concluding remark after a lengthy dialogue about the needs in the six counties that make up the Diocese of Stockton. For me, his comment became an important element in my conversation with other members of the California Leadership Team to say, “Here is a local church and people with leadership that will call forth in me all that Notre Dame cherishes.” Along with experiences like this one, the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur guide my prayer in how to respond to the mission of Jesus. I hope to select life choices that come from seeing with the eyes of the soul and listening with the ear of the heart.
Since January of 2000, I have served as Chancellor for the Diocese of Stockton with a particular care for diocesan ministries that offer resources and training to 36 parishes and 12 missions. Prior to this time, I spent most of my vowed life as an administrator in schools and in leadership positions within the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in California and in dioceses within California. With St. Paul, I believe in building a tent big enough to welcome many needs. Wherever I have served, I want to make sure that the tent is mended, tended, renovated and turned over whole to the next generation of the church. As I think about my opening story and current ministry, I see how God has called me deeper each year into the mystery of relationship.
Here are some facts about the beginning of my journey in faith. I am the first child of John Dominic Thiella and Edna Florence Dutcher Thiella. My brother John Anthony is an attorney. With his wife Rosa Casazza he has a keen interest is public policy as it addresses the quality of life in California. Our parents met in Santa Cruz, married in 1936 and then moved to San Francisco.
John Anthony and I grew up in San Francisco, a fine city to call a hometown. At 18 years of age, I entered the California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, receiving the name Andrea. I attended Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, earning a degree in liberal arts and a California Teaching Credential. Then I studied at the University of San Francisco and obtained a graduate degree in Theology and a California credential in School Administration. Later I received an Administrative and Teaching Credential from the State of Hawaii.
Half of my years of ministry have been in formal education and the other half, in leadership roles for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur and the Catholic Church at the diocesan level. Within Notre Dame Schools, I served as a teacher and administrator in the Dioceses of San Francisco, Monterey, Sacramento and Honolulu. I also worked briefly as a campus minister with Fr. Bob Silva at the University of the Pacific, Stockton. Later, as Vice Chancellor in the Diocese of Oakland, I facilitated the Second Pastoral Convocation and the new Diocesan Pastoral Council. In the middle of these areas of service the California Province of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur called me first, to direct personnel and ministry planning and next, to be a member of the California Leadership Team.
Throughout my life, I find myself most grateful for all the relationships that are mine – with God, with my Sisters and with the people of God wherever I find them. Some vignettes illustrate how these relationships developed.
In 2007, I celebrated 50 years within the Notre Dame community. A Sister celebrating 70 years at the same time commented how God’s faithful presence illuminated her life: “Jesus always has walked with me, sometimes pushing and other times inviting me to more life.” Her hope was that we would realize how beloved each person is to the good God.
Of late, I remember the many parishioners who responded to ARISE, a project that I staffed. While over 10,000 participated in ARISE, some took up the huge tasks of providing welcome to participants, training leaders and coordinating small parish faith sharing groups. Together, we discovered Jesus Christ anew in each other and in our actions to better society. In 2002, Bishop Blaire entrusted me to be a first responder to those victimized by clergy sexual abuse. Their courage in facing deep pain inspires me. Lastly, the wisdom of the Diocesan Pastoral Council, a consultative group that I staff, lifts my spirits whenever we meet.
I began with a story about Bishop Blaire that led me to Stockton: let me end with a story that set my life early to serve those most in need. I was 22 years old, living in a convent with a reputation of feeding who ever came to the door. One Sunday, a man rang the convent bell and collapsed at my feet. After I found help and food for him, he said to me, “Do not ever lose the kind look in your eyes.” He has stayed with me, nudging how I work each day in the church. He prompts me to stay close to the good God. I bless him from my past and Bishop Blaire from my present for both keeps me grounded and honest.