Living the Faith: Theresa Wonson

GLOUCESTER -- For all of Theresa Wonson’s 80 years, she has lived in a house on a hill that overlooks her beloved parish and Gloucester Harbor.

“Sometimes I look out my window and when I see Our Lady and the harbor, it’s just so beautiful. It’s the face of God I see,” Wonson said.

Wonson’s family has been active at Our Lady of Good Voyage since the parish was created in 1889. Originally built as a Portuguese national parish, the church served the many fishermen who arrived in Gloucester from Portugal in the late 19th century. Wonson’s family was among those -- three of her grandparents were born in the Azores and came to Gloucester, “to fish and make a better life for their families,” Wonson said.

Families of the fishermen would often ask the parish priest to light the statue of the Virgin Mary, which sits atop the church during storms, “so that the fishermen would come into the harbor because of her. She was like a beacon for them,” Wonson recalled.

“As a youngster I remember that Mass was said in Portuguese and only Portuguese -- or those married to a Portuguese -- could be a member of our parish,” she added.

As the community has changed throughout the years, the parish has focused less and less on the needs of those fishing families, but the Portuguese traditions have continued to flourish in the parish. Today, many traditional Portuguese customs are still kept alive at Our Lady of Good Voyage, Wonson said, thanks in part to Father Eugene Alves, himself of Portuguese descent, who has been the pastor for over 35 years.

“Father is a dedicated, holy priest and a marvelous administrator,” she stated, noting that Father Alves is such a dedicated priest he celebrates Mass every day -- even on his days off.

Wonson also praised both Sister Mitrina Davidson and Sister Mary Sebastian Finnity for their work with the religious education program. For many years, Wonson helped Sister Mitrina and Sister Sebastian prepare children for First Communion. Currently, Wonson attends daily Mass, is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and a lector. For several years, Wonson was also a volunteer at Birthright, a crisis pregnancy center, in Gloucester.

For the past 20 years, she has also been a Secular Discalced Carmelite, having served as one of the first presidents of the Mary and Joseph Community of Danvers.

Wonson described how she first came to be involved in the Secular Discalced Carmelite community.

“Twenty years ago, I was walking down the street and a Carmelite brother invited me to a meeting, so I went,” she recalled. What she found was reminiscent of her childhood upbringing -- her mother had named her after St. Therese of the Little Flower and had a “great devotion” to her.

Since St. Therese, a Carmelite herself, had been such an important part of her childhood, Wonson instantly felt at home.

“Our main mission is to pray for the Church,” she said. Every morning, she and a few others meet at Our Lady of Good Voyage one hour before daily Mass to pray for the Church, the pope, the unborn and to pray a Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Aside from her involvement in her parish, Wonson is an accomplished artist who taught art for several years from her Gloucester home. She has four grown children and four grandchildren.

Celebrating her 80th birthday, what she referred to as “the twilight of my life,” Wonson has spent some time reflecting on her life.

“It has been a wonderful life,” she said thoughtfully. “God has been very good to me.”

Our Lady of Good Voyage, Gloucester

Year established -- 1889

Pastor -- Father Eugene Alves

Religious Education Directors -- Sister Mitrina Davidson, CSJ;

Sister Mary Sebastian Finnity, CSJ

Music Director -- A. Richard Anderson