Theresa Maxis was born in Baltimore in 1810, of a Haitian mother and British father. She was well educated and articulate in both French and English. She was part of the early community of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first congregation of women religious of color in the world.
While general superior of the Oblate Sisters, Theresa met Louis Florent Gillet, CSsR, who was seeking women religious for schools in the still-new state of Michigan. After much discernment, Theresa agreed to help Gillet found a new congregation of educators in Monroe.
The congregation grew slowly but was well known for its educational works. A jurisdictional dispute about the congregation arose in 1859 between the bishops of Philadelphia and Detroit. The bishop of Detroit held Theresa responsible, deposed her as General Superior, and sent her to the Pennsylvania foundation, which then became a separate branch of the congregation.
Theresa later spent 18 years in exile with the Grey Nuns of Ottawa, where she kept firm in her faith and love for her IHM congregation. In 1885, Theresa was allowed to return to the IHM community in West Chester, Pa., where she lived her last seven years.
Building Sisterhood, a feminist history of the IHM Sisters
Louis Florent Gillet
Redemptorist priest Louis Florent Gillet was born in Antwerp in 1813. After ordination in 1838, he came to the United States and led a missionary band to Detroit, with a second foundation in Monroe, Mich.
Louis wanted women religious to educate girls. His hope matched that of Theresa Maxis, a member of the Oblate Sisters of Providence in Baltimore. Together the two established the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Nov. 10, 1845, in Monroe.
While nurturing the new sisterhood, Gillet served missions in a 60-mile radius, rebuilt the parish church and developed a thriving Catholic community. Falsely accused of wrongdoing and recalled to the provincial house in Baltimore in 1847, Gillet lost contact with the sisters. After 10 years as an itinerant missionary in America, Gillet became a Cistercian monk in France, ending his years at the Royal Abbey of Hautecombe-Savoy.
Before his death in 1892, he was reunited with the young religious community. The fire of Louis Gillet, who saw so many needs that he desired to be everywhere, continues in the life and mission of now three Immaculate Heart congregations of Monroe, Mich., Immaculata and Scranton, Pa.
I Desire to be Everywhere, a biography of Louis Gillet