Sister Theresa Reis, 1929 – 2017

Sr. Theresa Reis in 2011

“Put it all in God’s hands,” was Sr. Theresa (Helen Marie) Reis’ favorite saying – perhaps wisdom learned from 15 years of supervising novices preparing meals at the Novitiate in Saratoga!

Born on August 28, 1929, Theresa grew up on a farm in Arroyo Grande and graduated from San Luis Obispo High School after her family moved to Los Osos. She had almost no contact with Sisters in her youth, but after visiting her cousin, Sr. Teresa Gularte, at the novitiate in Saratoga and seeing her so happy, Theresa knew that she, too, wanted to be a Sister.

Sr. Theresa moved on from her success as novitiate cook to work with children at Sacred Heart Elementary School, Salinas, and St. Thomas More in Lynnwood, Washington. In 1973, when Sister felt she needed to be closer to home to help care for mother, she moved to Santa Barbara.

Robin William and Sr. Theresa

Later, when Sr. Theresa was a teacher’s aide at Notre Dame School in Santa Barbara, the pastor asked if she would help raise tuition assistance funds for the school.  She made connections with generous friends and celebrities, and for 13 years, amassed amazing prizes for the annual auctions. Then, as the development director for Bishop Garcia Diego High School in Santa Barbara, she continued to raise funds for financial aid and campus improvements. Known for her kind understanding, down-to-earth wisdom and gift for making friends, she was described as “a generous person who brings out the generosity in everybody else.”

Sr. Theresa enjoying time with good friend Patrick Dobson, a Bishop H.S. alum, and his son, Bradley!

Sr. Theresa also had a special ministry with families and children overcoming problems of alcohol and addiction.

Sr. Theresa passed away peacefully at Sarah House, a hospice facility in Santa Barbara on April 4, 2017. She was preceded in death by her parents; all of her siblings, baby Eva, Olivia, Angelina, Helen, John, Lucio, Terry, Eva and Manuel; nephews Lucio Jr. and Don and niece Sue. She is survived by her sisters-in-law, Mary Reis and Elsie Reis, cousins and many nieces and nephews.

A Mass was celebrated recently in Arroyo Grande, and a Memorial Mass will be offered at the Province Center on Tuesday, May 16, at 11:00, with lunch to follow.  Do come, if you are able, to honor Sr. Theresa’s life and share memories of her, or share your thoughts by writing a comment below. If you would like to join us for lunch, please RSVP to Monica May at monica.may@sndden.org

Here is the recipe for Sr. Theresa’s famous “Cowboy Bread” coffee cake, which was served at the Novitiate on Sundays and Feast Days:


Cowboy Coffee Cake
(Serves 10-12)

2 well beaten eggs
2 ½ cups flour

½ teaspoon salt
2 cups brown sugar

2/3 cups shortening
2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup sour milk (or buttermilk)

  1. Mix flour, sugar and shortening until crumbly.
  2. Add baking powder, soda and spices.
  3. Mix well.
  4. Add milk and eggs.
  5. Pour into a greased and floured 9″ x 13″ pan (or 2 round 8″ pans).
  6. Bake at 375 degrees for 35-45 minutes.