1880 - 1949
Place of birth: Bavaria, Germany
Date of Willard admission: 1919
Length of stay: 30 years
Sister Marie Ursuline
In a small Bavarian town in 1896, Mother Antonina Fischer recruited 16-year old Fräulein Theresa into the Dominican Sisters. Theresa was brought to America, took her vows in Brooklyn in 1898 and became known as Sister Marie Ursuline. She joined a small band of nuns who went west to build a mission in North Dakota. Thwarted by the harsh frontier conditions, the mission eventually failed, and Mother Antonina was forced from her leadership position. This became a widely publicized scandal in the church, as powerful Vatican officials suppressed the initiative of an energetic Mother Superior.
Sister Marie would not pledge obedience to her new superior, and returned alone to New York City in 1917, finding refuge as a border in her former mission house. She wrote to her father asking for help to get back home to Germany, but her letter was returned due to war-time mail restrictions. No longer known as Sister Marie, she was plagued by spiritual concerns for which she could find no relief.
Theresa was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital in June 1918, where her religious background was thought to be a figment of her imagination. In her admission interview, she said:
"I don't hear voices, I don't see visions. I feel silly - I am not crazy - I am nervous. I had an operation for gallstones three and one half or four and one half years ago in North Dakota. I live at 140 West 61st Street with the Sisters of the Sick Poor. I was stubborn. I did not want to steal. I got excited over the war. I am all mixed up. I feel down hearted."
Eight months later, at the age of 39, Theresa was sent to Willard. Her records mention that she once lived in a Catholic mission, but they lent no credence to her religious background and her quest for dispensation. They referred to her as "noisy, resistive, ugly, and delusional." Being completely dismissed as a former nun and traumatized by the harsh reality of her life at the institution, Theresa retreated into alternate identities, one of which was a nine-year-old girl. Ravaged by physical ailments, she died at the age of 69, and her body was used for scientific purposes.