Theresa McDermott, 91

Marie Therese McDermott
Marie Therese McDermott, died on Nov. 22, 2017, at the age of 91.

McDermott, who was known by many as Theresa, grew up in a large household on the southwest side. Her house was often filled with extended family in addition to her three sisters and one brother. After she married John McDermott, she began to cultivate and care for a family of her own.

It was hardly uncommon for McDermott to welcome extended family members, travelers, students, and anyone else in need of a warm meal and genuine hospitality into her house.

“As children, we sometimes groaned when we heard there would be additional “strangers or stragglers” (as we sometimes thought of them), coming for Christmas dinner, but we were never surprised,” said her son Matthew McDermott, speaking at her funeral mass on Nov. 28.

McDermott was an integral member of the St. Thomas the Apostle Parish and School community. She served on the Parish Council and School Board, and was deeply invested with the parish bulletin.

“She was so kind in how she did everything,” said Pat White, who worked with McDermott at STA. “When she worked in the parish office her primary responsibility was her bulletin, and it was a huge amount of work, and that’s before computers were able to do that for you. She was so kind to everybody.”

In 2008, the parish was vetting candidates for its “Guiding Light Award,” honoring someone whose service to the congregation and community was invaluable. The search involved consultation from ministry leaders, the pastoral council, and other individuals in the community, but McDermott was the clear-cut winner from the beginning, according to White.

“She was not a confrontational person but she was very strong in her beliefs of what needed to get done,” White said. “It’s astounding when you think about it because she had a family and three kids. She was very active in everything.”

McDermott, along with her husband, were vocal proponents of civil rights causes in the 1960s and beyond. Their work at the Catholic Interracial Council and the Chicago Reporter helped advance dialogue and progress in a tumultuous time for race relations in Chicago and across the country.

Journalist Laura Washington, who remembers McDermott from her time at the Chicago Reporter, fondly recalled McDermott’s integral, albeit slightly less visible role with the organization.

“She was very gentle, very sweet, but very in the world in terms of the world that she and John worked with,” said Washington, who would go on to become the editor and publisher of the Chicago Reporter later on.

McDermott would often host parties for journalists at the Chicago Reporter, helping to foster community at the publication her husband edited and published. While John may have been the McDermott more often in the public spotlight, Theresa McDermott’s orchestration behind the scenes was pivotal to the couple’s success.

“You always knew that they were going to do the right thing, especially around some of the more thorny issues of race,” Washington said. “The two of them were real pioneers and were in the trenches on these issues. I think of them as the power couple on race of their time.”

Theresa and John McDermott were also important members of the Catholic Interracial Council, which brought together a diverse group of members of the Catholic faith to advance the social justice causes of the day.

McDermott was also involved with the Hyde Park Historical Society, Friends in Council, the Catholic-Jewish Dialogue Group, and the University of Chicago Service League, among other organizations.

“She just had this ability to focus and exude kindness and love,” said White, “I can’t explain it better than that.”

Marie Therese McDermott, beloved wife of the late John A. McDermott, is survived by her three sons, John, Michael, and Matthew, as well as her grandchildren Jack, Alice, Sophia, and Lucy. She was the loving sister of the late Rosaleen Hertel, Joan Hanratty, Rev. John Hertel, and Mary Jo Hertel.

A funeral service celebrating McDermott’s life has already taken place, but she requested that donations be made to the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and the Chicago Reporter in lieu of flowers.