Apopka nun who served thousands dies at 91


Working to help those she saw in need, Sister Teresa McElwee, who helped form and worked with many organizations in Apopka and the surrounding area to help meet those needs, died January 7. She was 91.

Her colleagues called her a source of energy, love, and action, and said she was surrounded by love, singing, praying, and storytelling at the time of her death.

Sister Teresa moved to the area in 1977 to join with the Sisters of Notre Dame, who were working in the Black and Latino communities, especially those involved as workers in the agricultural industry.

McElwee graduated from Notre Dame High School; Trinity Washington University, BA; Columbia University School of Education, MA; Rollins College, honorary doctorate. She was a teacher in elementary, high school and college as well as a school principal. She served in Philadelphia, Greensboro, Washington, D.C., and Baltimore.

She came to Florida in 1973 to work in Catholic Parishes forming Justice and Peace Commissions. In 1977, she incorporated the Justice and Peace Office, Inc. and began working in the urban communities of Callahan and Carver Court. Moving to Apopka, the Justice and Peace Office became the Apopka Family Learning Center and the home of Kids in Motion, GROWS Literacy Council, and SMILE (Single Mothers in a Learning Environment).

In Apopka, she joined forces with the Sisters of Notre Dame already working in the area since 1971. Sister Teresa was part of the founding of Homes in Partnership and Self-Help Credit Union as well.

She was born October 22, 1929, in Chester, Penn., one of five daughters to parents John McElwee and Helena Timothy. Her sisters were Mary, Helen, Kay, and Chris. McElwee had many nieces and nephews whom she loved. The Catholic faith of her Irish-born parents was the center of her family life where the call to service was strong.

“I asked God to give me direction and by the end of benediction, I had my answer,” she said. Sister Teresa entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in August 1947.

The funeral mass will be held at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 834 South Orange Blossom Trail, Apopka, today, Friday, January 22, at 4 p.m. Due to COVID restrictions, in-person attendance will be limited. Face coverings are required during mass. The service will also be livestreamed.

Donations may be sent to HOPE CommUnity Center www.hcc-offm.org or 1016 N Park Ave Apopka, 32712.

A celebration of her life will happen at a later date.

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