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Artwork by Jan Bethancourt

History of Theresians

Theresians International, a contemporary organization for women, was founded by Msgr. Elwood C. Voss in Pueblo, Colorado in 1961. Virginia Siegle O’Donnell is considered a co-founder of this unique ministry for women.

Msgr. Voss founded Theresians because “there were few organizations, if any, that existed for….women themselves.  Women were very accustomed to giving of themselves in church and society, but were not often provided with in-depth opportunities for self-enrichment leading to personal growth.”  He envisioned an organization that would provide an opportunity for lay women in the church to come together in community to experience intellectual and spiritual enrichment.  He chose to name this local fledgling organization “Theresians” after St. Thèrése of Lisieux because she was the patroness of the Pueblo, Colorado diocese, and also because Thèrése developed a “simplistic” theology quite unlike the complex spirituality practiced over the centuries.  With spirituality, education, community, vocation, and later ministry, serving as the essential components of each Theresian community, Theresians sought to offer its members an opportunity to grow as women of spirit and vision. 

The original communities of Theresians focused primarily on prayerfully supporting professed women religious as an expression of ministry.  When it quickly became evident that lay women and vowed religious possessed more similarities than differences, Theresian communities began to stress the bonding of all women, regardless of vocation.  As noted by Msgr. Voss, “In 1961, Theresians embarked upon a journey that would lead them, in 1969, to be the first, after Vatican II, to re-define publicly the vocation ministry as it applies to the essence of each person’s vocation through Baptism.”  Theresian communities became the forerunners or models for the bonding of women from among every lifestyle.

Expansion of the Theresian organization was consistent during the early years, from 1961 through 1985 extending beyond the borders of the United States to Canada, Australia, Thailand, Ghana, and the Philippines.  In the 2000’s communities were formed in Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.  Today, this network of small faith communities for women numbers nearly 2,000 Theresians worldwide.

Throughout the 50-plus years of Theresian history, four Executive Directors have served the organization.  Msgr. Elwood Voss served as Founding Director from 1961 until 1980.  Patricia Mullen, sfcc held various leadership positions from 1968 until 1979 and became the Executive Director in 1980 until 1990.   She continued on as Director of Theresian World Ministry through 1993, marking a twenty-five year history with the organization.  Sr. Rose Ann Barmann, OSB served as Executive Director from 1990 to 1999.  Victoria S. Schmidt was discerned as the first lay director in 1999 -2021.  The contributions of these women have helped to shape the Theresian ministry into a vibrant contemporary organization.   The headquarters for Theresians International is located in Springfield, Illinois, at Sacred Heart Convent, the motherhouse of the Dominican Sisters of Springfield.

*For a more in-depth view of the history of Theresians, refer to The Theresian Story: Women in Support of Women, by Elwood C. Voss and Patricia Mullen. 

For copies of this publication, contact the Theresians International Office. Email:

Members may access the Theresian Story via the intranet.