Sister Rose Thering, Holocaust Educator and Activist for Jewish-Christian Dialogue, Is Dead at Age 85

 Sister Rose

"The death of Sister Rose Thering is an immense loss for the entire Seton Hall family, indeed, for all men and women who seek to forge a world of greater understanding. For a half-century she was an uncommon, inspired voice of reconciliation and dialogue among Christians and Jews. Her support for the nation of Israel, her determination to root out anti-Semitism wherever it exists, and her commitment to educating new generations about the evils of the Holocaust form her lasting legacy."

Monsignor Robert Sheeran
President, Seton Hall University

Contributions for the continuance of Sister Rose's work may be made to the Sister Rose Thering Endowment, or the Jewish-Christian Studies department, at Seton Hall University. To contribute a gift in Sister Rose’s memory, contact Bonnie Stevenson, director of major gifts, (973)378-2685.

"Sister Rose was a champion of opening doors between Christians and Jews. She reached out to Jews in a way that nobody else could have, and she opened the eyes of her Catholic brothers and sisters to the importance of Jewish-Christian relations.It is such a tribute to her that people all over the country are more interested in and supportive of Jews and Jewish culture."

Luna Kaufman
Chair, Sister Rose Thering Endowment for
Jewish-Christian Studies

"Sister Rose has set a standard for all of us - people of all faiths - to emulate. When she saw a wrong, she questioned it, and then set out determined to correct it. She changed the course of history through her words and her deeds."

"Sister Rose's knowledge, passion and sense of right was transferred to her students,especially when she taught about anti-Semitism, the evils of Holocaust and the extraordinary altruism of some during the Holocaust. Sister Rose's commitment and advocacy helped bring about New Jersey being the first state to mandate Holocaust education in its public schools."

Abraham H. Foxman
National Director, Anti-Defamation League

"SisterRose's light illumined many lives. She not only fought anti-Semitism but robustly engendered respectful relations between Christians and Jews. The award-winning documentary, Sister Rose's Passion, will continue to touch untold thousands with her story. The Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University is a wellspring of support for teacher education, continuing her message and reaching out to children in their formative learning."

David M. Bossman, Ph.D.
Professor, Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies


Sister Rose

Sister Rose Thering, O.P., Ph.D., professor emerita of Seton Hall University and namesake of an Endowment for Jewish-Christian studies at Seton Hall, died Saturday morning at 1:20 a.m. in Racine, Wisconsin. The cause was kidney failure.

"The death of Sister Rose Thering is an immense loss for the entire Seton Hall family, indeed, for all men and women who seek to forge a world of greater understanding," said Monsignor Robert Sheeran, president of Seton Hall University. "For a half-century she was an uncommon, inspired voice of reconciliation and dialogue among Christians and Jews. Her support for the nation of Israel, her determination to root out anti-Semitism wherever it exists, and her commitment to educating new generations about the evils of the Holocaust form her lasting legacy."

An activist, scholar and teacher, Sister Rose Thering dedicated her life to improving Jewish-Christian relations. As the first speaker at the April 2002 Rally for Israel in Washington, D.C., she proclaimed: "Am Yisrael Chai, the people of Israel live, now and forever!" The message, broadcast globally on CNN, reiterated Pope John Paul II's charge to all Christians to remember the Holocaust.

"Sister Rose was a champion of opening doors between Christians and Jews. She reached out to Jews in a way that nobody else could have, and she opened the eyes of her Catholic brothers and sisters to the importance of Jewish-Christian relations. It is such a tribute to her that people all over the country are more interested in and supportive of Jews and Jewish culture," explained Luna Kaufman, chair of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University."

Born August 9 in 1920 to second-generation German Catholic parents in Plain, Wisconsin, Rose Elizabeth Thering grew up on a dairy farm. The family prayed together three times a day and sent 11 children to Catholic schools. From humble beginnings, her life traveled a distinct, yet distinguished, path. She would come to share the spotlight with world leaders and celebrities — and stand with victims in the shadow of oppression.

At the age of 16, Sister Rose joined the religious community of the Sisters of St. Dominic, and, following her profession as a sister, she began to teach. "There were no Jews where I grew up," Sister Rose once said. "I only knew them from what we read in our religious text books."

The message of intolerance toward the Jews she learned unsettled her. Many pre-Vatican II religious texts portrayed Jews as the people who killed Jesus. After many years of teaching in elementary and high schools, where she continued to find anti-Jewish references in Catholic school texts, Sister Rose decided to continue her own education to benefit others. A graduate of Dominican College in Racine, Wisconsin, she earned a Doctor of Philosophy from St. Louis University and master's degrees from the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota, and Seton Hall University.

At St. Louis University, her dissertation was devoted to the Catholic Church's teachings about Jews and other religions. Her doctoral research culminated in 1961 with an examination of how Catholic teaching materials dealt with ethnic groups and other faiths, primarily Jews and Judaism. Her research contributed to the deliberations during Vatican II before the issuance of the Vatican document Nostra Aetate (1965), a declaration on the relation of the Church to non-Christian religions.

Sister Rose came to Seton Hall University in 1968 to establish an educational outreach program, known then as the Menorah Studies Program, for Seton Hall's Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies then under the direction of Monsignor John M. Oesterreicher.

In 1972, Sister Rose planned and directed the Menorah Institute to Israel, sponsored by Seton Hall's Institute of Judaeo-Christian Studies. It was the first of more than 50 excursions to Israel that she planned and directed on behalf of the University and other organizations.

Her activism on behalf of Holocaust survivors and oppressed Jews throughout the world led her to Austria to protest the inauguration of Kurt Waldheim, thought to be a former Nazi, as its president. In 1987, Sister Rose traveled to the Soviet Union to visit 22 refusenik families in a show of solidarity before glasnost secured the freedom of Soviet Jews.

She participated in the 1995 March of the Living to Poland, Israel and Jordan, a pilgrimage that included visits to concentration camps and ghettos in Warsaw, Auschwitz, Birkenau, Maidonek, Lublin and Lodz.

She stood with others in 1993 in protest of bigotry on the campus of Kean College (now Kean University) in New Jersey, when Khalid Abdul Muhammad was invited to speak there. She rose again in spring 1994, when Louis Farrakhan came to Kean to preach. Sister Rose's letter decrying Muhammad's visit appeared in The New York Times. It is a tribute to her conviction of spirit and diplomacy that she served as a member of the Kean University Board of Trustees from 1994-2005.

Sister Rose was a tireless lecturer, speaking throughout the state and the nation, making lay people aware of the tenets of Judaism and Catholicism and helping to eradicate intolerance. She earned more than 80 humanitarian awards, including the Anti-Defamation League's Cardinal Bea Interfaith Award (2004), where she was honored as the first woman to receive the award, and the prestigious Jerusalem Award (1987), which was presented to her by Teddy Kollek, Jerusalem's former mayor, after she testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in support of a bill that would move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem

Sister Rose shared her unique life story with the world in 2004 through Sister Rose's Passion, a 39-minute documentary film that chronicles her career's dedication to reconciling Jews and Christians through education on the evils of anti-Semitism. The documentary, produced by Peter LeDonne and Steve Kalafer, an Academy Award-nominated team, was directed by Oren Jacoby, who has produced and directed films for the BBC, ABC, PBS, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel. The film was the brainchild of Risa Goldstein, a friend of Kalafer's and a South Orange resident whose father had taken classes in Seton Hall University's Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies. After winning the Best Documentary Short at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City in 2004, Sister Rose's Passion was nominated in 2005 for an Academy Award.

The film shows Sister Rose going about her daily activities: speaking about the Holocaust to a group of middle school students; visiting her convent in Racine; praying in Seton Hall's Chapel of the Immaculate Conception; and attending a board meeting of the Sister Rose Thering Endowment at Seton Hall. Flashbacks of historical footage evoke a pre-Vatican II, anti-Semitic cultural climate in America, a climate that led Sister Rose to dedicate her life and scholarly research to improving Jewish-Christian relations and Holocaust education.

A viewing of Sister Rose's Passion inspired Leon G. Cooperman, founder and chairman of Omega Advisors in New York City, to offer a generous gift of $1.75 million matching gift to fund a faculty chair in Seton Hall's Graduate Department of Jewish-Christian Studies.

"I was very touched by the sincerity and significance of Sister Roses' work, as described in the film," Cooperman explains. "I wanted to help her make the world a better, more tolerant place, so I just stepped forward after the film was over, shook her hand and extended an offer to help financially."

Sister Rose's spirit will forever live on at Seton Hall University and beyond its gates. In August 1992, the University established the Sister Rose Thering Endowment for Jewish-Christian Studies. The Endowment builds on the inter-faith education work of Sister Rose by providing scholarship assistance for teachers in graduate-level Jewish-Christian and Holocaust Studies, developing curriculum resources and presenting workshops for teachers in public, private and parochial schools. School teachers are an important audience for the Endowment because in addition to New Jersey, only four other states – New York, Illinois, California and Florida – have mandates to teach about the Holocaust, though several other states officially recommend Holocaust education. Of the five, New Jersey is the only one requiring Holocaust or genocide education at all grade levels. More than 350 teachers and an estimated 150,000 students throughout New Jersey have benefited from the Endowment since its inception.

Sister Rose is survived by her Dominican Sisters and Associates, and two brothers, Raymond Thering of Reedsburg, Wisconsin, and Dr. H.R. Thering of El Paso, Texas, as well as four sisters. All of her sisters live in Wisconsin; Lucille Neuheisel of Sauk City, Imelda Misslish of Prairie du Sac, Bernice Leigel of Muscoda, and Mary Phillips of Middleton. One of Sister Rose's nieces, Missy Hastings, lives in Highland Park, New Jersey.

The Funeral Mass will take place on Tuesday, May 9 at Siena Center Chapel in Racine, Wisconsin.

Funeral Arrangements:

Tuesday, May 9
2 p.m.    Visitation – Siena Center Chapel
4 p.m.    Remembrance Service
6:30 p.m.    Funeral Liturgy, followed by a reception

Wednesday, May 10
8:30 a.m.    Final Commendation in Siena Center Chapel, followed by Final Blessing Service at the cemetery

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