SHU Establishes La Flor Silvestre - The M. Theresa Martinez Endowed Scholarship

News Story: June 1, 2010
M. Theresa Martinez

In honor of Sacred Heart University alumna and friend, M. Theresa Martinez, the University has established "La Flor Silvestre (The Wild Flower): the M. Theresa Martinez Endowed Scholarship."

Martinez, who received her bachelor's degree in English and later her Sixth Year certificate in Educational Administration from Sacred Heart, passed away in March after a long battle with Lupus, kidney failure and cancer.

The M. Theresa Martinez Endowed Scholarship will assist gifted Hispanic women who intend to major in the arts and sciences, education or health professions at Sacred Heart. The scholarship will help young Latinas who, just like Martinez, will help transform and enhance the world we live in.

Martinez, or "Dini" as she was affectionately known by her godchildren, grandnieces and grandnephews, was a committed teacher and skilled principal for nearly 30 years.  She retired as principal from Pumpkin Delight School in Milford in 1999, and she enriched her students, the teachers she mentored, and her classrooms with innovative ways of teaching and learning, sometimes long before those methods became standard in teaching.  “Her teachers told us that if you worked with her, you always wanted to do the best because she did,” recalled Professor and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences Michelle Loris, Ph.D., Psy.D., who was close friends with Martinez for nearly 45 years.

Martinez with her students

Martinez was herself a lifelong learner who, after retirement, became a Reiki Master, and studied cello, singing, and film. She was an avid reader and enjoyed the arts, travel, shopping, fine food, and a good time with her family and friends. “Family was paramount to Theresa. Somehow, despite her health issues, which continually caused her pain and fatigue, she made the time to maintain special relationships with everyone in her family circle. And, remarkably, her spirit and love brought the various branches of her family together,” remarks Victoria Ferrara, also a dear friend to Martinez.

“Theresa was such an amazing person who lived her ordinary life in the extraordinary way of love. Deeply religious, she believed that God wanted her to live life with love, unconditional love, and to love life,” Loris recalled.  Martinez’s niece, Jennifer Unger, M.D., remembers, “She taught us about just and unconditional love, because she loved everyone unconditionally. She taught us how to live richer, more fulfilling lives by loving, and she did that by the example of her own life and by her relationship with each of us.”

“Theresa was courageous, not only in the way she faced her chronic illnesses and constant pain, but she had the courage of her convictions and would speak out on behalf of what she believed. The idea of justice and the common good were not just words to her. I believe it was here at Sacred Heart where Theresa developed her love for speaking up and taking action for social justice. Her education at Sacred Heart was formative to the person she became,” said Loris.

Martinez received love and respect from all who entered her life and she did whatever she could to lend a helping hand. While battling Lupus for nearly 40 years, she forged ahead and showed generosity to friends, family, students and coworkers, Loris recalled.

Martinez looks at a quilt made for her at Pumpkin Delight School upon her retirement as principal in 1999.

Martinez’s gift of compassion came in endless ways.  She once gave a friend who was facing foreclosure $10,000 - with no questions asked - in order for her family to keep their home. Martinez, who always put children first, once bought winter coats for an entire class of elementary school students in the inner city of Bridgeport who couldn't afford their own.  On her own, even after her retirement, she annually 'adopted' the neediest child from an inner city school and helped them.  “She adopted one young girl in the first grade and mentored her right to college, buying her clothing, school supplies and even a laptop,” recalls Loris.

“Love very much characterized her life, and who she was as a person, and if you were the object of her love, then there were no limits or bounds to what she would give or sacrifice for you,” Loris said.  Her niece, Jennifer Unger, recalls:  “She told me to celebrate love always in your life.”

Victoria Ferrara said, "Theresa always said ‘The mission of living is to love.' And this scholarship, I think, is our way of giving back to Theresa. She did so much for everyone around her and this scholarship lets us keep giving on her behalf.”

Those interested in contributing to the M. Theresa Martinez Scholarship should contact the University’s Office of Institutional Advancement at 203-371-7860.