Skip to content

Sr Teresita Weind, first Black superior of a global women's religious order, dead at 81

The Ohio-born Black Catholic nun and activist was infamously ousted from a pastoral role in a parish in the 1990s, only to be rehabilitated decades later.

Sr Teresita Weind, SNDdeN, is seen greeting a parishioner in 2014 at St. Catherine-St. Lucy Catholic Church in Oak Park, Illinois. Weind had been ousted from the parish 23 years earlier. (David Pierini/Wednesday Journal of Oak Park and River Forest)

Sr Teresita Weind, SNDdeN, a renowned minister, preacher, and the first African-American woman to lead a global Catholic religious order, has died in Cincinnati after a repeat bout with cancer. She was 81 years old.

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, in which she served for over six decades, announced the news on April 29, the day after her death.

“We are grateful forever for Sr. Teresita’s generous sharing with us of her abundant gifts as Congregational Leader for 14 years,” said current superior general Sr Mary Johnson. 

“The depth of her spirituality and the breadth of her vision continue to inspire us in all that we can be as Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, serving on five continents. Her extraordinary life and ministries constitute an enduring legacy of love.”

Born Helen Louise Weind in 1942, she was raised in Columbus, Ohio, as one of eight children, according to an obituary shared by the order.  She was raised a Baptist but helped desegregate St. Dominic Catholic School, where she converted at age 12. Upon reaching adulthood, she sought membership in the Sisters of Notre Dame but was rebuffed due to the order having met their “quota of negro girls.”

Weind later took the religious name Teresita as a member of the Sisters of Mary of the Presentation in Illinois, professing first vows in 1963. She became a founding member of the National Black Sisters’ Conference (NBSC) in 1968—the same year she appeared in Jet Magazine after facing discrimination from locals in Bismarck, North Dakota, where she studied at what is now the University of Mary.

One of the Black sisters she met at the founding of the NBSC in Pittsburgh, a fellow Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in Josita Colbert, spoke this week of Weind’s “inner beauty.”

“I was always lifted up and reminded when in her presence (not in words, however, but by her actions) of the uniqueness of our Blackness being God’s gift to the Church, to our Congregation, and to all with whom we come in contact,” Colbert told BCM.

“What a soul!” added Dr. Patricia Grey, a former Mercy Sister who organized the inaugural NBSC meeting. “God was able to do so much through her.”

After serving for the better part of a decade as a nurse, in 1970 Weind was missioned to the infamous Cabrini-Green Projects in Chicago, where she ministered in various roles. She also studied theology at Mundelein College with a focus on Black Catholic spirituality—part of a shift in her own ministerial focus, sparked by the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In Chicago, Weind again sought to join the Sisters of Notre Dame, who accepted her transfer into the order in 1973. She soon became director of liturgical formation for Black Catholics in the Archdiocese of Chicago, while also speaking at events around the country during the height of the Black Catholic Movement.

In 1979, Weind accepted an offer to join the pastoral staff of St. Catherine of Siena-St. Lucy Catholic Church in Oak Park. There, she became known for her ministerial work, singing, and regular preaching at Mass—replete with vestments typically reserved for a priest.

Weind also made headlines for her work with Catholics calling for the ordination of women, and for their acceptance into the larger scope of Church life following the Second Vatican Council. She served as a founding board member for Mary’s Pence, a fund created in protest of Vatican resistance and its yearly Peter’s Pence collection.

“God will not be damned by anything that the Church does to its women,” she proclaimed in Washington at a Women in the Church conference in 1986.

Like many nuns who served in pastoral roles at Catholic parishes in the late 20th century, Weind was summarily ousted from her duties in 1991 after a new pastor arrived at St. Catherine-St. Lucy—a priest more aligned with a national Catholic clerical outlook that was quickly shifting to the right.

Weind embraces a parishioner at Sacred Heart Chapel in Saginaw, Michigan, following the church's closure in September 1992. (Historic Images/Google Web Cache)

Weind continued in parish ministry elsewhere until 2001, when she founded the Sisters of Notre Dame Spirituality Center in Cincinnati. She remained there for 14 years as a retreat leader and spiritual guide. She entered provincial leadership in 2005 and was elected provincial in 2007. The next year, she was elected superior general of her intercontinental order, a historic first for an African American.

Amid her two terms as the congregation’s leader in Rome, a trip back to America in 2014 brought long-awaited reconciliation for Weind, as she was welcomed back to the pulpit of St. Catherine-St. Lucy in Chicago for the first time in over two decades.

During her second term, Weind was also tasked with maintaining community and administration amid the COVID-19 pandemic that extended her term into 2022. The order held its congregational chapter virtually in 2021, with Weind and her leadership team having been the first in the world to receive such permissions from the Vatican.

In her final years, Weind returned to Ohio and to the ministry focus of her youth, helping to run the Mount Notre Dame Health Center, her order’s nursing home in Cincinnati. In 2023, she experienced a recurrence of cancer, which would lead to her death. At the time of her passing, she was herself a resident of MNDHC.

“We mourn the loss of a valiant woman and we celebrate that she is now in the embrace of our good God,” the SNDdeN U.S. East-West Province leadership team said in a statement. “We have the Blessed Assurance that she is now a member of the Cloud of Witnesses interceding for all of us.”

A livestreamed Memorial Mass will be held for Weind on Saturday, May 11, at 2pm ET in Cincinnati at Mount Notre Dame Health Center. A second Memorial Mass will take place in Columbus at a later date.

In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the retirement fund of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

Want to support the work of BCM? You have options.

a.) click to give (fee-free) on Zeffy

b.) click to give on Facebook