Sister Ruth Sampson (formerly Sister Constance Mary)
Those who are led by the spirit are free!
“Sister Ruth Sampson was a free spirit. How many times have you heard that description of Ruth? A free spirit!” said Sister Paula Damiano in her commentary for Sister Ruth Sampson who died June 5, 2013 at the age of 85.
What was the source of that spirit of freedom? Was it received from her parents – Raymond and Constance Amirault Sampson who gave birth to Ruth Evelyn on Feb. 21, 1928 in Malden, Massachusetts? Was that spirit shared with her four brothers Raymond, Roland, Roger and Russell who preceded her in death? We do know that the spirit of adventure lives on in her two sisters Rose and Renette, each living in Massachusetts. Rose, another free spirit, at the age of 80 made the lengthy solo trip to Taiwan to visit Sister Ruth.
Those Sisters of Providence who entered with her speak of Sister Ruth’s spirit of freedom and independence, a trait easily seen in her from the day she entered the Congregation in February of 1947. Ruth wholeheartedly offered that adventurous spirit when she first professed vows on Aug. 15, 1949, and completely bound herself to live a life of freedom in Christ in 1954 at her Final Profession of Vows. One of her band members, Sister Mary Ann Lechner, describes Ruth, now Sister Constance Mary, as one who “wanted to do it all! Who sometimes would even start out for a destination not knowing exactly how she was going to get there, but somehow she always managed to arrive!”
What fed her spirit of freedom and adventure? In part, it was the many and varied ministries to which she fully gave herself. Ruth served in 10 states – Indiana, Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota, Maine, Florida as well as in the District of Columbia and in the nation of Taiwan. She was a classroom teacher, a director of religious education, a Montessori specialist, a tutor, a teacher of English to non-English speakers, but at all times a missionary.
Sister Ruth worked among migrant farmers, and served among four different Tribes of Native Americans. Each of these experiences fed her indomitable spirit and helped shape her spirituality. She was as comfortable with the African American community in Roxbury, Massachusetts as she was with the Hispanic farm workers in the southern California desert. She walked the streets of New Taipei City in Taiwan with the same ease and comfort as she would on the Indian reservation in South Dakota. She knew how to adapt herself in different circumstances, opening herself to different people, places and cultures. She put herself totally into her work, into the place where she found herself.
Ruth was a teacher but she was also a learner … everything was interesting to her. Charity Yang, the Director of St. Theresa Opportunity Center in Yuching, Taiwan, where Sister Ruth served for several years, says this of our sister, “I think her endless energy came from her unique ability to see the world like a child, always full of curiosity, interest and freshness.”
Sister Donna Marie Fu notes that Sister Ruth was extremely creative and could make beautiful and useful things out of practically nothing. She put so much energy into her teaching — everything was for the students.
Sister Suzanne Smith remembers a time when a group of sisters were driving back to the convent from Cape Cod and Sister Ruth insisted that they stop the car so she could collect butterflies for her classroom. I personally recall a time in Taiwan when the Bishop invited Sister Ruth, myself and a few other of our sisters to a very fancy restaurant for dinner. Two persons ordered oysters and clams which were served in the shells. When they finished that course, the waitress came to remove the plate in front of the Bishop and Ruth said, “Oh no, I need those shells. I’ll teach a lesson on oysters and clams.” At which point she took the two plates and dumped the shells into a napkin and placed them in her purse! The Bishop was at first a bit taken back but then we all had a good laugh, Sister Paula continued.
Did this free spirit in Sister Ruth develop because of the varying spiritualties to which she opened herself? She appreciated Gospel music from her work with African Americans. Her work on the Indian reservations influenced a steadfast devotion to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha. Sister Ruth would take the time to educate us about Kateri by putting up displays in Owens Hall and later in Providence Health Care. Her time with Native Americans gave her an understanding of the sacredness of the eagle. She appreciated the respect they held for the Eagle and for her it was a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Ruth said that the Holy Spirit, like an eagle, is mighty and powerful and quick in helping us in our needs. Something tells me she knew this from her own experience of the Holy Spirit at work in her life.
Her devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe was nurtured by her ministry with migrant workers in Florida and California as well as with the Hispanic community in Chicago. For Ruth, Mary the Mother of God was friend and companion to whom she could confide all her concerns. Some of us may remember that Sister Ruth tried to promulgate devotion to Little Alma. Who is this, you might ask? Little Alma is Mary as a child, and imagine my surprise when one day Sister Ruth appeared in my office with a doll, dressed as Little Alma! In addition to these, Ruth was devoted to the Infant of Prague, Saint Mother Theodore Guerin, Mother Marie Gratia Luking, and Saint Joseph.
Her spirit of freedom allowed her to embrace so many different forms of spirituality. In the past few days several persons have told me that Sister Ruth taught them so much about God. That she had extraordinary trust in God, no matter what. That she saw the good in everyone and would go the extra mile to help in whatever way she could. Sister Jean Ann Daniels, who faithfully sat with Sister Ruth these last months, said that no matter how much pain she was suffering due to her cancer, she would keep her commitments. She was a true sign of bravery, of faithfulness, of love in the face of suffering.
On Monday, just a few days before she died, a few sisters and staff were at her bedside and were witness to Ruth’s free spirit. Ruth’s breathing was quite labored, her breaths were slowed to three or four a minute, and everyone thought the next breath would be her last. But, to everyone’s amazement, Sister Ruth suddenly opened her eyes, and quite clearly said, “Surprise!”
Taiwan, the sisters and all the other people there held a special place in Sister Ruth’s heart. She helped out in whatever ways she could and once again fully embraced her new home. Between the ages of 74 and 80 she gave herself to the mission without restraint. Sisters Rose Chiu and Delan Ma said she was their living dictionary, not just in helping them to understand the meaning of English words but providing them with information to help them better grasp American culture. Ruth, in turn, tried to learn to speak Mandarin and spent many hours practicing making Chinese characters.
The spirit of freedom so evident in Sister Ruth flowed from these many life experiences. And, it came from the spirit of God living in her. As the reading from Paul’s letter states, “Whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” The Lord is the Spirit and where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. We know for certain that the source of Sister Ruth’s freedom was the Spirit of God. And we give thanks that she shared that Holy Spirit with us. The veil is lifted, and she is indeed a free spirit!
A funeral Mass for Sister Ruth was held June 11, 2013 at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
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