St. Therese Church in Clinton has grown from a small mission to an established parish since its founding in 1971. And for the past 39 years, Sister Mary Yvette Gillen, RSM, has faithfully served the parishioners and priests of St. Therese as the church has expanded.
May marked the end of an era for St. Therese and Sister Mary Yvette, who resigned as pastoral assistant after nearly four decades of service to the Anderson County parish.
“She brought a sense of continuity through the growth of St. Therese from a small mission to the established parish it is today, and through many pastor changes,” said Father Julius Abuh, parochial administrator of St. Therese.
Sister Yvette’s service to the parish began in 1974 when she was in Nashville teaching school and in Knoxville during the summer working on her master’s degree. Father Bill Gahagan approached her about teaching vacation Bible school during the summer when she was in Knoxville. She taught VBS for two years and in 1976 transferred to St. Mary’s Medical Center as chaplain. Father Gahagan then asked her to help with adult education and youth programs while still serving as St. Mary’s chaplain.
In 1985, she was assigned as a full-time pastoral assistant, which included duties as director of religious education. Her title was later changed to coordinator of religious education. Under this umbrella, she improved existing programs in adult education, expanded youth education to include pre-kindergarten through high school, and initiated a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program.
She also chaired a liturgy program and coordinated a program for liturgical ministers—servers, readers, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion—as well as planning and organizing prayer, penance and communion services and assisting pastors and families in planning funeral services.
Sister Yvette also coordinated an art and environment committee that decorated the church for the different seasons of the church year, and served as coordinator of the visitation of the sick, which included bringing Holy Communion to the homebound, the hospital, and nursing homes.
She was instrumental in the formation of the Fun Fair, a key fundraising event for St. Therese since Father Michael Sweeney was pastor. Until February, Sister Yvette served as spiritual moderator of the St. Therese Council of Catholic Women and served on the Ministerial Committee in Clinton, which consists of representatives of the different churches in Clinton.
Sister Yvette has served with nine priests at St. Therese over her 39-year tenure: Father Bill Gahagan (three times), Father Andrew Anderson, Father Brendan Miller, Father Michael Sweeney, Father Dan Whitman, Father Gerard Finucane, Father Bill McKenzie, Father John Orr, and current pastor Father Abuh.
Sister Yvette, who has been on sabbatical since February, has been visiting family in Houston, joined her fellow Sisters of Mercy at a conference in Belmont, N.C., and returned to Texas to complete some classes. She will be in Jamaica May 14-July 9 to help her community with ministry and will then return to Knoxville.
Upon her return to Knoxville, she plans to be certified as a spiritual director. Next year, she is planning a 30-day retreat. She also would like to volunteer at Tennova hospitals, and has been asked by Father McKenzie to help with special projects at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Alcoa.
Father Abuh and the parishioners of St. Therese honored Sister Yvette with a reception held in St. Therese’s Family Center.
“Sister Yvette is a member of our faith community. She will be missed by all, especially myself,” Father Abuh said.