When I was young and I would implore my father and other Chapman family members about my great aunt’s and uncles, one aunt in particular I was never given too much information about. It was always a straight answer of, “she became a nun”. That’s it, end of conversation; no further elaboration on anyone’s part. Well, fast forward to about 2008 (ish) where I set out to discover who and where this nun was. I don’t remember all the particulars of locating her, except I did have a little help from another great aunt. I took her off guard by calling, at first she was not very forthcoming; but slowly that all changed. Her and I would go one to talk for quite awhile and later exchange letters. One of her son’s was even generous enough to send me vital and court records – and a ton of pictures!
HER SON, you say?!?! Well, I don’t remember anyone elaborating on Theresa other than her being a nun. While her and I talked she gave me the “cliff notes” version of her life. She told me about her husband and her four children. How she would live and travel the world while her and her husband, both, served in the Military. She told me the story of her want to become a nun, when the nun’s informed her that she “should choose a different path in life”, thus beginning her career as a Registered Nurse in the Army. It was when I prodded her for information about her childhood and teenage years, that brought her to pause. I was touching on something that I would have no way of knowing would dredge up some painful memories.
Theresa Cecile Chapman was the third child, of nine, born to Claude Legrand and Mary Josephine (Hickey aka Ethier) Chapman. She was born on November 8th, 1917 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada when they lived at 14 O’ Meare St. Around the year 1919 Claude and Mary moved the family to Detroit, MI. Theresa stated that she always felt as if she wasn’t wanted by her mother and told me that she was sent to live with her paternal Grandparents, Thomas and Roseanna, back in Canada when she was 4 1/2 years old. She stayed with her grandparents until Thomas died in 1934 and was returned to Detroit. Shortly after her return she was sent to live with a foster mom, Ms. Mae Sullivan, who Theresa held the utmost regard for.
After becoming a US citizen in 1937 she went on to nursing school and then joining the Army. She married Mr. Paul F. Lawson on February 10, 1942 at Fort Dix, New Jersey. Paul was a decorated Lieutenant colonel in the US Army, with one silver star and two bronze star medals. Born to them were two sons and two daughters, and if memory serves correct they are living scattered across the country. Paul died on December 24th, 2007. Theresa died on December 1, 2011. Both are buried at the Willamette National Cemetery (Section KK) outside of Portland in Happy Valley, OR.
There is not one person alive today that can give any truth as to why Theresa was sent away and or why her mother choose it to be her. The reasons have died with those who made the decisions, not even Theresa knew. The only scrap of anything I could ever come up with was THIS border crossing paperwork, that lists Thomas as her Father and Claude as her brother. It could be an error on the part of the border crossing agent, a elaborate lie her mother told to get her across to Canada or I could be jumping to some serious conclusions and accusations – I will leave you to believe what you want. I will say this again, we will NEVER know the truth. All that is left is the paperwork they left behind.
But I do know one thing to be fact. Theresa was a beautiful woman, who I only wish, I could have gotten to know more. She lived a good life, was blessed with a husband, children, grandchildren – even great grandchildren, traveled the world and served her country.
In one of her letters to me, she asked “Do you have a nice life with your family and enjoy all the things there are to enjoy – life is short”? It’s nice to know that no matter her, sometimes, bitter feelings of family, she made the best of her life and certainly made it count.