||Theresa Wilks, better known as Mo-T, has inspired young people as a counselor and retreat leader at Camp Gray. She plans to enter the Order of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George in September. (Contributed photo)
REEDSBURG -- Mo-T is a unique name, given to her by her college lacrosse teammates, but so is Theresa Wilks, the assistant program director at Camp Gray in Reedsburg.
Although her early life reads much the same as an average youth, she had some interesting encounters that kept her on the journey of faith and discovery. Now she is taking the next step on her spiritual pilgrimage and entering a religious community on September 16, 2012.
Role of faith as she grew up
Mo-T (short for Mother Theresa) grew up in a Catholic home 80 miles north of New York City. The second of five children, she was the only girl. She said with a laugh, “Yeah, I babysat quite a lot!”
Faith was important to her as she grew. “If everyone was still sleeping on a Sunday morning, I would be the one to wake them up so we could all go to Mass and religious instruction. It meant a lot to me.”
As a fourth grader, Theresa became the only girl altar server in her parish. After she was confirmed in her freshman year of high school, she was a religious education assistant in a first grade class. It furthered her desire to work with kids on a regular basis.
Letter from Jamie Schrimpf requesting help for Mo-T
Following are excerpts from a letter by Jamie Schrimpf about how Mo-T has influenced her life and requesting help for Mo-T to retire her school debt.
Luke 17:10 says “So you also, when you have done all that is commanded you, say, ‘we are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’.”
Hi, my name is Jamie Schrimpf. I am 13 years old. I attend Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon.
Luke 17:10 describes someone I met at Camp Gray. Her name is Theresa Wilks. Many may know her as Mo-T, which stands for Mother Theresa, which also happens to be her favorite saint. Mo-T is a wonderful, dedicated woman who has given her life to the Church. She says “Luke 17:10 is a great Bible verse because it reminds us that it is our duty to serve others . . . .” After meeting Mo-T two years ago I have felt a change in my own heart to serve others.
Mo-T is currently working full time up at Camp Gray and helping in the community by coaching and providing youth activities. . . . I met Mo-T at one of the weekend retreats at Camp Gray when I was 11. That was a beautiful weekend where Mo-T really encouraged me. I have also spent time with her through OMG@HMC, which is an opportunity for fifth through eighth graders in our parish to grow in their faith. Another event was through our sixth grade class field trip to Camp Gray. Every experience I’ve had with her has inspired me to learn and study more about God. . . . Because of my time with her I want to be an example to others as she has been to me.
Mo-T needs our help. She has to raise $35,000 to pay off her student loans. She has already raised around $10,000 but still has $24,300 yet to pay! . . . Mo-T has received the calling to become a nun and wants to start her schooling in September. She has chosen the Order of the Sisters of Saint Francis of the Martyr Saint George and the order would like her to have all of her debts paid off before she’s able to begin. . . . I’m asking for you to help Mo-T fulfill her dream of becoming a nun. . . .
Please strongly consider donating to Mo-T’s cause. You will change more than just her life; you’ll change the lives of the people she reaches. If you would like to donate, visit http://www.givingishabitforming.blogspot.com . . . Remember, Mo-T needs you to help follow God’s calling. Thank you! God bless you!
Finding Camp Gray
It was during her summers in college that found her migrating to the Midwest. Googling “catholic summer camps,” Camp Gray was the first camp on the list. (It still is!)
She applied and was hired as a kitchen assistant and co-counselor. But accepting one opportunity led to denying another — which in Mo-T’s case was a free summer of study at Oxford — a definite perk of being in the Honors Program at St. Thomas Aquinas College in New York.
“I knew what I wanted,” said Mo-T. “Going to England was nothing compared to the opportunity to do the things I was most passionate about — working with youth.”
Her relationship with Camp Gray continued. In 2007, after graduation, she moved permanently to Wisconsin to volunteer full-time as a Servant Leadership Team Missionary. The stipend with the program helped, but it was the people she met that kept her engaged and growing as a counselor and finally assistant program director in charge of planning and leading Confirmation and other youth retreats at Camp Gray.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. John Bosco are two of the heavenly heroes she relies upon for inspiration and grace.
“Many people think that St. Thérèse was just a little girl who loved Jesus a ton, but she was definitely hard core,” reflects Mo-T. “And St. John Bosco has always inspired me, even when I was young. He used his gifts of personality and intelligence to inspire kids.
“I really look to him when I find something challenging in my work. For instance, when I am trying to console a homesick kid at 2 a.m. and nothing is working, I pause and say a quick prayer asking for St. John’s intercession. All of a sudden, I get an idea and things work out.”
Some of her living heroes are her colleagues at Camp Gray, including Co-Directors Jeff and Rebecca Hoeben as well as the Assistant Director Chris “Topher” Aderhold.
“They are some of the best people I have ever met. I’ve learned so much from them. Daily I strive to be like them in how they treat others and how they live their faith.”
The feeling seems to be mutual because when asked, Jeff Hoeben wrote of Mo-T: “There is much to be said about Mo-T. She is a constant source of strength and leadership here at camp. One thing that stands out for me is her ability to reach the kids when others cannot. Mo-T has a way of holding kids accountable and telling them the truth about life in a way that passes no judgment. She will be missed but I know her prayers will always be with us, and there is definite power in that.”
And Aderhold added, “The mission of Camp Gray truly couldn’t survive without servant leaders like Mo-T. Regardless of which role she’s been in, she’s been a leader when it comes to serving.”
Her vocational journey
When asked about her vocational journey, Mo-T shares that the very first seed was sown when she was in fourth grade. “John Cardinal O’Connor came to say a funeral Mass at our parish for one of our parish priests. I was one of five altar servers at that Mass. Cardinal O’Connor was so nice to the servers. He spent time talking to us and getting to know our names.
“After Mass, he thanked each of us by name and suggested that perhaps one of the boys would be a priest and that I would be a ‘Mother Superior’ one day. Everyone laughed. But it was the very first time that I consciously understood that I could be a nun.”
Over the past two years, Mo-T has been investigating various religious communities, especially those who work directly with youth. She visited the Salesians, an order founded by St. John Bosco. She also encountered a nun who belonged to the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George.
The decision became firm when she visited the Sisters of St. Francis last October and spent five days praying and working with them. “I felt such a sense of peace and contentment that I truly believe it was God’s way of saying, ‘this is where you belong.’”
Retiring school debt
Plans are being made for her to enter the Sisters of St. Francis of the Martyr St. George this fall. But first, Mo-T is working hard to retire her school debt.
Others who have come to know and love her are also working for the cause. One of these is Jamie Schrimpf, a 13-year-old member of Holy Mother of Consolation Parish in Oregon. Published on this page is a letter that Jamie wrote to help Mo-T in her quest. I share it with you as a fitting conclusion.
Nancy A. Ciambrone is director of faith formation (PK-6) at Holy Mother of Consolation Parish, Oregon.