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Sister Diane Ris dies; was 16th general superior of Sisters of Providence

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Sister Diane Ris, who served as the 16th general superior of the Sisters of Providence from 1996-2001, died Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, in Mother Theodore Hall at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 80.

Sister Diane was in office when Pope John Paul II announced that Saint Mother Theodore Guerin had been declared blessed, moving her to the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Sister Diane led the pilgrimage to Rome in 1998 for Saint Mother Theodore’s beatification.

“Our Sister Diane will be remembered in many ways by different people. She was a wonderful teacher of primary children and a wonderful teacher of future teachers. She served in elected leadership as both a provincial and as general superior,” said Sister Denise Wilkinson, the Congregation’s current general superior. “She also was appreciated as a spiritual director and retreat facilitator. Her love of Saint Mother Theodore consistently informed her thoughts and actions. Sister Diane was an instrument of Providence for many.”

A strong devotion led her to write most of a recently published book titled, “Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: Woman of Providence.” It had been started by Sister Joseph Eleanor Ryan before her death in 1991.

“I have a deep love for Mother Theodore. I have so much respect for what she was going through, all that she experienced from birth to death. What a holy woman she was! In the words of Pope John Paul II at her beatification, ‘not only was she holy, but she was fully human.’ Put those two things together and you have a saint,” Sister Diane said about the Congregation’s foundress.

Sister Diane, whose former religious name was Sister Martin Therese, was a native of Port Chester, N.Y. She was born Diane Lawlor Ris on July 16, 1932, to Irving S. and Esther Johnstone Rise. She entered the Sisters of Providence July 21, 1951, from Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C. She professed perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1959.

She graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College with a bachelor’s degree in education. She received a master’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University. She received a doctorate in elementary education from Ball State University.

Sister Diane ministered for 20 years as a professor at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky. She received the Distinguished Teacher Award, the university’s highest faculty honor, in 1989.
“Kentucky education is rated 49th in the nation. I also wanted to bring a Catholic presence to a place that is fundamentalist in its religious heritage,” she said in a 1985 interview about why she chose to go to Morehead State. She taught graduate and undergraduate students in readying, discipline and classroom management. She also served on two committees that were part of the Kentucky Education Reform project.

Highly respected for her work in Kentucky, Sister Diane also taught Sunday School to Methodists and she hosted an interdenominational prayer group in her home. She also served as adviser to Alpha Omicron Pi sorority.

Prior to going to Morehead State, Sister Diane taught elementary school in Evansville, Plainfield, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis in Indiana, and in schools in Chicago and Lansdowne, Md.

While she was teaching at Morehead State, she also served as provincial of St. Gabriel Providence for the Sisters of Providence. She also took a three-month leave of absence from the university to serve as interim director of Global Education Associates in New York, an organization that fosters global systems that will secure ecological integrity, peace, human rights, economic and social well-being, and democratic participation, with special care to include the voices and perspectives of poor and marginalized people of diverse cultural and religious traditions.

Sister Diane was elected general superior in 1996. After her term in office she became a certified Reiki healer.

She is survived by two sisters, Linda VanDenBerg of Jacksonville, Fla., and Peggy Joneas of Memphis, Tenn. She was preceded in death by four sisters, Bunny Ris, Betty Ann Nichols, Nancy Shank and Leona McCurdy. The wake is on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Church of the Immaculate Conception with the Wake Service at 4:30 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial is Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at 11 a.m. with Reverend Daniel R. Hopcus presiding. Burial is in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence. The Callahan-DeBaun Funeral Home assisted with arrangements. Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of Providence, 1 Sisters of Providence, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN 47876.

About the Sisters of Providence

The Sisters of Providence, a congregation of 214 women religious, with 300 Providence Associates, collaborate with others to create a more just and hope-filled world through prayer, education, service and advocacy. The Sisters of Providence have their motherhouse at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, located just northwest of downtown Terre Haute, Ind., which is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Saint Mother Theodore Guerin founded the Sisters of Providence at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods in 1840. Today, Sisters of Providence minister in 13 states, the District of Columbia and Asia, through works of love, mercy and justice. More information about the Sisters of Providence and their ministries can be found at SistersofProvidence.org.

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Dave Cox

Dave Cox was media relations manager for the Sisters of Providence for many years. Prior to his work with the sisters, he spent over 30 years in newspaper newsrooms.
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