IU honors Sister Theresita, 97, with Excellence Award

Sister Theresita Schenk, 97, a Sister of St. Benedict of Ferdinand, received a most deserved honor after she watched the Indiana University ChoralFest perform a concert on February 9 in Monastery Immaculate Conception Church in Ferdinand.

The Indiana University Jacobs School of Music presented her with the Jacobs Dean’s Excellence Award, given in recognition of her lifetime of service to the music profession. What made the occasion particularly sweet is that it was orchestrated as a surprise by a former music student of hers, Sister Catherine Duenne, also a Sister of St. Benedict of Ferdinand.

Sister Catherine learned recently that Sister Theresita had been unable to finish her doctorate at IU in the 1960s because she answered the needs of the Benedictine sisters’ community by staying in Ferdinand to teach and serve as community liturgist and organist. She had attended IU in the summers between 1958 and 1968, earning her master’s of music education and a minor in music theory, with distinction.

“When there was a musical need, Sister Theresita filled it,” says Sister Catherine. “She has done so much for our community, accompanying, teaching, and composing. Even today, she still fills in where there is a need, by accompanying on the keyboard and organ at prayer for the sisters in Hildegard Health Center. She also played a grand recessional last Christmas Day.”

Since Sister Theresita had spent a lifetime giving to the community through her gift of music, Sister Catherine asked the IU Dean of Music for a special recognition of her as a way to thank her and to make up for the time she missed not being able to finish her doctorate. IU responded with the Jacobs Dean’s Excellence Award.

“I thought this was a way the community could give back and publicly show her how thankful we are,” says Sister Catherine. “When I came to community, I mentioned to a sister I wanted to take piano lessons. The sister told me, ‘Ask Sister Theresita, because she’s the best.’ Sister Theresita got me started and gave me a solid foundation.

“Her whole life and purpose of playing, teaching, or composing has been to give glory to God. When you listen, it’s as if God is speaking through her and every note is returned and gives glory to God. When I took lessons from her that was evident in her teaching. It wasn’t about playing notes on a page, but actually playing music and connecting on a deeper level, and letting the music sing praise.”

Sister Theresita taught thousands of students at the elementary, high school, and college levels. She worked in sacred and liturgical music for over 80 years, including writing every antiphon used by the Ferdinand Benedictines for the Liturgy of the Hours.

Asked about receiving the IU honor, she simply smiled and said, “I can’t believe it.”