Sister Rita Ann Roethele
“We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as from the beginning he meant us to live it. You are no longer aliens or foreign visitors: you are citizens like all the saints and part of God’s household.” (Ephesians 2:10, 19)
“We are all God’s work of art, God’s handiwork. And some of us, like Sister Rita Ann, are privileged to share richly in the artistic energy of the One who has fashioned us all. Creative and generous to others in the use of her gifts, Sister Rita Ann has added to the beauty of the Woods through her art, as well as through her hard work to rescue, restore and utilize some of the treasured items that are part of our legacy at the Woods,” said Sister Alexa Suelzer in her commentary for Sister Rita Ann Roethele, who died June 12.
The oldest of three daughters of Louis and Agnes (Baltes) Roethele, Rita Ann Roethele was born Sept. 25, 1926, in Fort Wayne, Ind. She was educated at Precious Blood and Central Catholic High School, both in Fort Wayne.
“After graduating from Central Catholic, Sister Rita Ann attended Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. After her freshman year, she ‘crossed the bridge’ [ joining the college and motherhouse properties, as we say] and entered the novitiate on July 21, 1946, retaining her baptismal name,” shared Sister Alexa.
Sister Rita Ann professed first and perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1949, and 1954, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in education from the college, and later she earned a master’s degree in art and a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Notre Dame.
Sister Rita Ann began teaching in 1949 at St. Ann, Washington, D.C. In Indiana, she either taught or served as principal at Sacred Heart, Whiting; St. James and St. Agnes, Indianapolis; and St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne. After earning her master’s degrees in 1970, Sister Rita Ann ministered for the next 35 years at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and the motherhouse.
“Many were her titles and duties: instructor in art, professor, co-chairperson; then chair of the art department, entrepreneur, artist-in-residence, community artist,” shared Sister Alexa. “In addition, she also made it her task to rescue and restore all manner of furniture and objets d’art that had been laid aside, deemed beyond redemption. Her quasi-studio, the all-but-abandoned former alumnae office in Foley Hall, became a delight to the eye. And many a corner in that building was brightened by the colorful addition of pictures or fresh curtains. Her artistic talent extended also to exquisite sewing and quilting. Eventually she planned Roethele Studio in a wing of the deteriorating stables and supervised the renovation. The studio became a veritable treasure house of restored antiques and other furniture from Foley Hall and elsewhere.”
Sister Rita Ann also ministered as the director of religious education at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Village Parish. She served as the first director of Providence Center.
“Sister Rita Ann was in good health until her 70s, but then her physical decline was rather sudden. Although by nature quiet and private, she had always enjoyed being with others. Then in 2004 that changed. Despite the efforts of artist-friends to rouse her interest, she withdrew and refused to have anything to do with the tools of her trade: the paint, watercolors, quilts, the vivid materials she so enjoyed working with. Gone was the enthusiasm she brought to a new and creative idea,” shared Sister Alexa.
“Sister Rita Ann appreciated her God-given talent, but beyond her achievements she recognized a ground of permanence that can redeem the dissolution of death. Even amid the sorrows of diminishment she was still part of God’s household, God’s work of art — and is now built into a house where God lives in the Spirit,” concluded Sister Alexa.
The Mass of Christian Burial for Sister Rita Ann was celebrated June 19, with the Rev. Daniel Hopcus presiding. She is survived by both of her sisters, Mae Agnes Collisson of Mount Airy, Md., and Barbara Grimmer of Fort Wayne, Ind.
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