Catholic Vancouver Oct. 27, 2015

Former VanSpec director passes away in Illinois

By Agnieszka Ruck

Sister Gehringer gives a talk in 2003. (BCC Archives)

Sister Gehringer served Vancouver for 15 years

VANCOUVER—A nun who loved children and had a heart for those with special needs has died.

Sister Theresann Gehringer, DSMP, died of cancer Oct. 7 in Lake Zurich, Il., at 64.

"A lot of people are very sorry to hear that she has passed," said Sister Esther Leroux, DSMP, a member of her congregation working in Vancouver.

"She was very outgoing and loved kids. She was a kind and gentle kind of person."

Sister Gehringer landed in Vancouver in 1983 in response to an invitation from Archbishop James Francis Carney. She became well known for her work with children with special needs through the Vancouver Special Catechetical Program (VanSpec).

The organization, founded in 1981 and run by the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence, is dedicated to teaching people with special needs about the Catholic faith and preparing them to receive the sacraments.

"She was one of the first ones here in Vancouver when it opened up. She helped get VanSpec up and running," said Sister Leroux, the current director of VanSpec.

"Even some of the students remember her from the beginning. This was a really, very loved sister."

Sister Gehringer served in this archdiocese for a total of 15 years. She had become the director of VanSpec before she left to serve in Syracuse, N.Y., in 2006. There she set up a religious education program for mentally challenged children and young adults like VanSpec.

"We intend to use VanSpec as our model and will adapt it to the community we will be serving in Syracuse," Sister Gehringer told The B.C. Catholic before she left.

"The kids generally come to us at about the age of 6 or 7, when they would naturally begin school. Thanks to our volunteers, we are able to teach them into their higher teen years and even into young adulthood."

The program adapts to the needs of the children and often includes one-on-one lessons and community events.

For a time, Sister Gehringer worked in the Faith Formation Office at Holy Family Parish in Syracuse.

"One of Sister's greatest loves is being a caregiver, especially for those special lives who require special attention," Elizabeth Garn, who also served in that office, told local The Catholic Sun newspaper in March.

"One of the most beautiful things about Sister is her surrender and trust in the Lord. She leans on Christ for her strength, keeping a smile on her face."

Sister Gehringer made her first profession with the Daughters of St. Mary of Providence 40 years ago, in 1975.

In an article she wrote for The B.C. Catholic on her 30th anniversary, she said she first heard of the congregation when she was 8.

"School was easy and enjoyable for me, and the idea of helping others learn appealed to me," she wrote. "The idea of teaching stayed with me throughout the years. By the time I reached Grade 8, I also had the idea of being a sister."

She studied education at Eastern Michigan University. While still in her last year of studies for her bachelor's degree, she started serving in VanSpec residential facilities. Sister Gehringer made her final vows in 1980.

"I have often been asked: 'How did you know?' It's a question that's easy to answer yet hard to explain. I just 'knew.'"