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Theresa Killeen Bonpane grew up the youngest child in an Irish working class family in Troy, New York. Theresa fended for herself from an early age. An indifferent student, her life consisted of the social side of school, and a rigorous Catholic faith.
Although she wanted to marry, and have a family, her strict Catholic upbringing led her to believe that God demanded that she become a nun. Spending 12 years as a Mary Knoll sister, mostly in Chile, and excelling in her teaching and her life among a vibrant and committed group of women, Theresa was nonetheless tormented by the knowledge that she had made a tremendous mistake by entering religious life.
The reforms of Vatican II and support from both within her community, and from perceptive laity outside religious life finally led her to leave her order. That did not mean she was giving up a life of service, however.
In Los Angeles, she helped to run a half way house for the hundreds of religious, both priests and nuns, who were leaving the strictures of religious life.
During this period, she met and married Blase Bonpane, who was already making a name for himself among progressive forces in Southern California. Theresa and Blase immediately became a forceful partnership working with disenfranchised communities; in East LA; the Black Panthers; the Farm workers, and later, the huge diaspora of Central Americans journeying to Los Angeles to avoid the U.S. fueled conflicts in their native lands.
Opening the Office of the Americas, Blase and Theresa led dozens of delegations to Nicaragua after the Sandinistas took power, while working in coalition with other groups helping Central American refugees here in Los Angeles. Balancing a family of a husband and two children with a daunting work and travel schedule, Theresa has managed it all for over forty years – the fears, the threats, and the joys of an activist life well lived.
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