Current ministry: volunteer

Years in the Congregation: 66

Contact Sister Rita Clare at: rgerardo@spsmw.org or 812-535-2589

Q. What do you like best about Saint Mary-of-the-Woods? The beauty of this campus. I love being outdoors whenever I can just to enjoy nature.

Q. When I am not officially at work or involved in ministry, you’re most likely to see me… Reading.

Q. On weekends, I love to… Sleep a little later.

Q. I am passionate about… Peace and justice.

Q. One thing most people don’t know about you… That I once, in full habit, swung across a ravine on a thick rope to the other side, and then swung back.

Q. Why did you choose to become a Sister of Providence?

A. I received a personal invitation from one of the teachers from Central Catholic High School (Fort Wayne, Ind.), Sister Mary Clare Fritsch. She was not my teacher. It was toward the end of my junior year. I can truthfully say I had really never thought of being a sister. Her little invitation was, “I think you would make a good sister. Come around and see me sometime.” And so, I did. In my senior year, she continued to keep up this interest in me. It was really on her part.

So, I gave it thought, and even though no one else in my family had considered religious life, or no one in my class that I knew was considering religious life, I really felt this is what God wanted me to do. It really wasn’t what I wanted to do. In fact, I didn’t tell my friends I was going to the convent. When they asked me what I was going to do after graduation. I would say, “Well, I may have to have my tonsils taken out.” That was true. That’s the way I would hedge the question about what I was going to do. I really did not share this with my friends. I hardly shared it with my big family. I did make a little bargain with God. In junior and senior year, I belonged to the Legion of Mary. In senior year, any of the girls that were in the Legion of Mary had a chance to crown the Blessed Mother on the first Friday of May. I was one of the three or four senior girls. I said, “God, if you really want me to be a Sister of Providence, let me get that slip and that will be a sure sign that this is what I’m supposed to do.” And, I got the slip. It was like my fate was sealed.

When I think about all of the different ministries right now, it makes me very happy that people can use their gifts.
– Sister Rita Clare

Q. Based on your experience, why would a woman today find the Sisters of Providence an attractive choice?

A. There are countless opportunities if you are interested in doing good for others, if you’re interested in making a difference in people’s lives. I believe, in our community, people’s gifts and talents are used to their best advantage. When I think about all of the different ministries right now, it makes me very happy that people can use their gifts. We have sisters involved in Hispanic ministry, certainly with the financially challenged, people like Sister Helen Vinton down in Louisiana. There are countless opportunities. We still have sisters who are teachers in the traditional classroom, and that’s great. Some sisters are working in immigration, health care, as chaplains, as advocates. Any talent or gift could be used in our community, and people are encouraged to use their gifts.

Q. Let’s talk about your involvement in prison ministry. That is really important to you. How did you get started?

A. I started in February 2000, so I am in my 11th year. This, too, was at the request of someone else. It’s like God gets to me through other people. Sister Camille D’Arienzo, a Mercy sister from New York, was the first to visit with David Hammer in a prison in Pennsylvania. He had written a letter to the Cherish Life Circle which she started. He didn’t address it to anyone, but because she served as chairperson, the letter landed on her desk. He asked that someone would pray for him and for his victim and come and be able to visit him because he had an execution date that was just a few months away. She tried to get someone to go. It was around Christmas and no one could go. They were all too busy. She was ready to do a second visit with him but he had been moved to a prison in Colorado. The night before she was to go, the chaplain called and said, “Don’t come, he’s been moved to Terre Haute (federal death row). That was in July of 1999. So, she met Sister Diane Ris (former general superior), and Sister Camille said, “I visited a prisoner once and he’s going to be in your area. If I ever came, could I stay at your motherhouse? Sister Diane said certainly. At breakfast with Sister Dorothy Hucksoll she mentioned why she and her friend were visiting. She said she hoped there would be a Sister of Providence who would be willing to visit with David on a regular basis. Sister Dorothy got information from the prison chaplain about David Hammer and she called me to tell me a little about him. She said she wondered if I would visit him. I said I would have to think about that. I gave it a couple of days and said I would.

Q. What role does prayer have in your life?

A. It is my lifeblood. It keeps me going. I always have time in the morning for private prayer, then I pray with a small group after that for about a half hour, then in the afternoon I join the community in Owens Hall for Vespers. I usually walk every morning too, and that kind of is an extension of my prayer. I pray for certain people who have asked for prayers. As I pass the Grotto, I remember all the sick and suffering, those in health care, and other people who have asked for special prayer. Other times during the day, I offer little prayers like “God, help me with this” or “be with this person.” It’s just like a nice, easy conversation with God throughout the day.

Q. How much influence does Saint Mother Theodore Guerin have on your life?

A. I have great devotion to Saint Mother Theodore. I say a prayer to her every day. David Hammer and I pray it together when I visit him. My sisters have really taken on this devotion to Saint Mother Theodore, too. She’s an important person, a great intercessor for us all. I love her very human way of reacting with the sisters when she was living and the wise advice that she passed on to us in her “Journals and Letters.” She was so down to Earth. She was a woman for her time and for all time, certainly. Those are the titles of our two books about her. She went into Terre Haute and talked to the editor of the newspaper and did business. That was unheard of for women in those days to take that kind of role.

Favorites

Holiday: Christmas

Author: Joan Chittister, OSB

Scripture passage: Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God

Dessert: Ice cream

Time of day: Early morning

Season: Autumn

Actor/actress: Meryl Streep

Comic strip: Zits

Course in school: English/literature

Saint: Mother Theodore Guerin

My least favorite food: Parsnips

My least favorite course in school: Geometry