Teresa Avila (Connelly) Fitts, 1959-2016






SOUTH HADLEY – Dr. Teresa (Connelly) Fitts, died Saturday, July 2, 2016, after a living a full and vibrant life. Teresa was diagnosed with thymic carcinoma in 2013, when she was training for the Boston Marathon as a member of the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team.

In addition to being a passionate advocate for physical activity and exercise, Teresa was a cherished member of the Suzuki Violin Community, appreciating every small success that is achieved and nurtured with love. Teresa was also a daily communicant, committed Roman Catholic, and member of the Newman Catholic Center in Amherst.

Teresa was born November 12, 1959, in Brighton, and lived with her family in Belmont until graduation from Belmont High School in 1977. In 1978, Teresa joined St. Scholastica Priory in Still River and later Petersham, taking the name Sr. Teresita Maria. Teresa loved the Rule of St. Benedict and learned to love the manual labor intrinsic in the lifestyle of a contemplative nun. Teresa contributed to the success of the Priory Bakery which supported the work of the nuns until 1990.

In 1989, Teresa left the community and moved to Amherst. In 1990, she met Jim Fitts, whom she married in 1997. Teresa felt blessed to be welcomed into the Fitts clan with such genuine kindness. In 1998, Teresa graduated from Springfield College with a Masters in Sport Management, and in 1999 with a Doctorate in Sport Psychology. The Humanics philosophy of Springfield College remained an important part of Teresa’s life. In 1999, Teresa was hired full time at Westfield State University to teach Exercise Science, which she did with great dedication until her illness in 2013. Teresa became a Fellow in the American College of Sports Medicine in 2011. Dr. Fitts loved teaching, and loved the Westfield State students, and was deeply moved by their unwavering support during her cancer journey.

Above anything else, however, Teresa was a mother. Teresa’s most meaningful moments were with her family. Her twin daughters, Mary and Sarah, were her greatest joy. Teresa was predeceased by her father Thomas J. Connelly of Belmont, and is survived by her mother Ann Maureen Connelly, also of Belmont. In addition to Jim, Mary, and Sarah Fitts of South Hadley, she leaves six loving siblings, Rear Admiral Thomas J. Connelly and his wife Darlene of Fairfax, Virginia, Mary C. Connelly of Natick, Rev. Fr. Peter Connelly OSB and Abbot Xavier Connelly OSB of Still River, Joan Conway and her husband Robert of Belmont, and Bernardine Connelly Clark and her husband Mark of Fairfax.Virginia. Teresa was also sister-in-law to Jim’s seven sisters, their husbands, and wonderful families. She was the beloved aunt of Kate Connelly Wade and her husband Ken of Weston, Julianna Stockton and her husband Adam of Westport, Connecticut, Marie Connelly of Somerville, Annie Conway of Nashua, New Hampshire, and Jack, Tess, Peter, and Antonia Clark of Fairfax, Virginia. She was the great aunt of Emily and Thomas Wade of Weston, and Arthur and Eleanor Stockton of Westport, Connecticut. Teresa also leaves a Village of dear and irreplaceable friends who walked (and ran) with her through her life.

Visiting hours will take place Wednesday, July 6, from 4 to 7 p.m. at Douglass Funeral Home, 87 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01002. A Mass of Christian Burial will take place Thursday, July 7, at 10 a.m. at the Newman Catholic Center, 472 North Pleasant St., Amherst, MA. A reception at the Newman Catholic Center will follow the burial in North Cemetery, 900 East Pleasant Street, Amherst, MA. A Memorial Mass will be offered Tuesday, August 2, at 10 a.m. at Saint Joseph Church, 130 Common Street in Belmont, MA.

Memorial donations in memory of Teresa may be made to Saint Benedict Abbey, P.O.Box 67,Still River, MA 01467 (www.abbey.org); Saint Scholastica Priory, 271 N. Main St., Petersham, MA 01366 (www.stscholasticapriory.org); or Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, P.O. Box 849168 Boston, MA 02284-9168. (www.dana-farber.org)

Memorial register at www.douglassfuneral.com



(Given at Teresa’s Funeral Mass, July 7, 2016 by Teresa’s siste?; Bernardine)

I am Bernardine Connelly Clark and am blessed to be Teresa’s younger sister. Very blessed indeed.

I am honored that Teresa – in, yes, her written plan for her funeral – suggested I say a few words,  suggested in inimitable Teresa-fashion  Quote: “Bern — If you   can. No worries if not.”

But the truth is that, really, any one of us here who knew Teresa, even for a short time or in a single capacity, could give an authentic portrait of her – because if you knew her even for a moment, as the recipient of a loaf of her banana bread or a companion in wellness, music, education, community, triathlons, daily Mass, as a neighbor, friend, student, mentor, fellow parent, training buddy, classmate, or relative, you knew the essential Teresa. Teresa was that transparent , that authentic.

What I can offer, then, are three aspects of Teresa that stand out for me right now. I hope in all of them that I can convey some semblance of the love and example she graced us with and her particular love for Jim, Mary and Sarah. I hope that they know that, by following Teresa’s example, we will always be there for them.

The first image is of Teresa’s high school basketball shoes -green Converse hightops with the white laces and white toe box, which, in Teresa’s case, were quite distinctive since she had written L and R on them, not  so much  to know which  went  on which foot, but to help her know which way was left and which,    right.

That was so T. Not just the transparency, but that she loved, and I mean loved be­ ing on a team, and wanted to do well, even though it was not clear if she would play many minutes. It didn’t matter. She had such a sense of play and of playfulness. (This was pretty clear when she would tell the story, decades later, of filling the holy water fonts with corn syrup at Still River.) She loved to work and to contribute to something greater, to the common good. She took the basketball practices and games seriously, and won, I believe a spirit award, probably due to how she encouraged every player on the team, exulted when they won, and was devastated when they lost. I have always wondered whether one such devastation had something to do with her pursuit of a doctorate in Sports Psychology.

She was wearing those green hightops when I found her sprawled on the armchair and ottoman in my father’s den, crying, or, better  said, wailing. She cried when    the

team lost. She felt it, and this little act, of letting herself cry, for a girl whose resting face was so preternaturally, or perhaps, supernaturally, cheerful, was a gift . She made it okay to cry. On this day, there in the den, it was particularly intense. “vVe lost” she said. I’m sorry. “And I put the ball in the wrong basket,” she said. She’d been put in at the half and scored two for the other team. Ouch. “And we lost by 2!” Double ouch! But Teresa showed me, on this and many future occasions, showed all of us at home, how to dive in, get through it, how there was a time for the stiff upper lip and there were times for crying.

Those basketball shoes became sturdy black shoes to wear for hours on end in prayer and in the bakery. They became running shoes, biking shoes, and sandals for Manom­et. Teresa’s sense of direction was actually uncannily true. Left and Right were just incidentals.

Jim and Teresa’s wedding was a fabulous day. She \\·as so happy, and everything, as you can imagine, was so well planned, and, again, so authentic. And even as she and Jim stapled directions all over town to make sure people knew \\·here they were going, she was just giddy about this new phase in her life. And the beauty of that wedding Mass and sheer fun everyone had at the parties, including my dad, whom I just remember beaming, really set the table for that miracle of miracles -Mary and Sarah’s birth.  I remember  the phone  call as she went, far before she had planned, to the hospital.    I remember that unique combination of utter joy and terror that these beautiful girls were born, but were so fragile, and I remember to a degree, really, that cannot be ex­aggerated, Teresa and Jim’s absolute determination that these girls would grow strong and be positively bathed in love.

Three of my children were born, fairly close together, before Mary and Sarah’s arrival, and I thought I knew what to expect when I came to South Hadley. But nothing prepared me for the MASH unit set up at 4 Henry St. I particularly remember seeing Mary and Sarah’s names on the charts that kept track of their feedings, including this precious super-fortified costly serum that came in tiny vials. Mary and Sarah — I re­member how Teresa repeated your names to you as she held you and fed you. Mary Stella and Sarah Anne — Your names, a lot like that serum, are jam-packed with saints and relatives to let you know that were born into a line of women of great strength and faith.

Teresa took names seriously. When she interacted with someone, anyone, she told them her name and wanted to know theirs. It wasn’t peremptory or demanding. It was her recognition of each person’s humanity.Just recently I saw her ask nurses and assistants their names, first and last please, and saw her take them in, and roll them around on her tongue. It was her way of seeing them and ensuring that they saw her.

Teresa has her own set of names -Teresa Avila, Teresita Maria, T. , Mom. Her name has spawned a hashtag: #Teresastrong, and, of course, a Village, which, I think, at this point, should be upgraded to a small municipality. She chose a psalm for today which echoes that naming, that specificity, “Every day of my life was recorded in your book.” I think, as she sought out our names, Teresa gave us an inkling of God’s recognition and love for every one of us.

The final impression I have is the self-portrait Teresa left us in the songs she herself selected for her funeral Mass. They are eclectic, utterly singable, and so true to her spirit –

Here I am Lord -This was Teresa’s true north. As she undertook a new project or faced a new challenge, whether it was a field trip or chemo, Teresa might have a foot­ high stack of research to know her options, but she made her decision by posing the question: Here I am, Lord. What are you asking of me right now?

Ubi Caritas -Where there are charity and love, God is there. The words, of course, are completely Teresa AND they are also taken from the antiphons we sing during the Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday. Because of that, they are traditionally associ­ated with the Holy Eucharist which, winter, spring, summer, or fall, Teresa went out of her way to receive every day.

There was the Ave Maria. Simple Gifts, Amazing Grace . As we add all these together, we get a kind of  song collage of  Teresa, at least the beginning of  one.

I think we could all add a few to the playlist: “Shining Star” by Earth Wind and Fire which we used to dance to in our kitchen when we supposed to be cleaning the dishes. Louis Armstrong singing “What a Wonderful World” because it just  makes  me  think of Jim and Teresa together, and, of course, Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, preferably played by Mary and Sarah. She was so proud of you and took such pleasure in hearing you play.

Teresa has left us, but she has left us with so much, including each other.Jim, Mary, and Sarah -please know that while none of us, indeed all of us combined, cannot re­place Teresa, but we are here for you and will honor her shining presence in our lives  by following her example of faith, strength, love and joy.