Sister Ruth Ellen Doane
Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me; and those who welcome me welcome the one who sent me. Anyone who welcomes a prophet because she is a prophet will have a prophet’s reward; and anyone who welcomes a holy person because she is holy will have a holy person’s reward. If anyone gives so much as a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because she is a disciple, then I tell you solemnly, she will most certainly receive her reward.
The Gospel of the Lord.
This passage from Matthew is the concluding section of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples. I suspect Ruth Ellen chose it as it gave her a framework for her own life and ministry, said Sister Jody O’Neil in her commentary for Sister Ruth Ellen Doane, who passed away on Friday, February 5, 2021, at Union Hospital, Terre Haute, Indiana. She was 84 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 67 years.
Sister Jody continued: Ellen Susan Doane was born on April 19, 1936, in Jasper, Indiana. Her parents, Bert C. Doane and Lilian Fehribach, welcomed her as their first born. Roger, Paul, Mary, Joyce (Joy) and Mark followed.
Ellen entered the Congregation on January 4, 1954, from St. Joseph Parish in Jasper and professed Permanent Consecration on August 15, 1961.
Her brother, Paul, says: “I was 6-years-old when Ellen left to attend Saint Mary’s and become a nun. She must have been 14. I have often thought of the maturity and courage of a 14-year-old to leave home and dedicate her life to Christ. I remember her leaving, although I did not understand what was really happening. I also remember her final vows, years later, and her ‘marriage to Christ,’ as she described it. I also remember our visits to Saint Mary’s and how peaceful it was. Linda and I had several travel adventures with Ellen. Our biggest adventure was our trip to visit her when she was teaching in Dusseldorf. She had an old VW Bug that she called Hildy. Ellen and Hildy kept on the move. We weren’t the only ones to visit her. Her parents also went over there to see her. While they were there, Ellen helped them find her Mother’s German relatives. Ellen and her Mother kept in touch with them. The ‘Germans’ made a couple of trips to Jasper. On one of these trips, Ellen drove them out West to look for American Indiana artifacts. She talked about that trip with the ‘Germans’ for a long time and I’m not sure she ever recovered from it. In our family, Ellen was considered the ‘Go-To’ person for prayers. At our son Brian’s wedding, she prayed for them to have children. We knew then we would have more grandchildren. It seemed that God heard her prayers more than anyone else. We will miss her, but are consoled in the knowledge that she has gone on to be with our Lord.”
Mark Doane said, “My sister, Ellen, was the oldest of five siblings, and I was the youngest. Our 16-year age difference resulted in my never getting a chance to know her in any surrounding other than as a Sister of Providence. Unlike my brother, whom I could easily drive crazy, my Sister Ellen was much more mild mannered and even tempered. She definitely inherited much of Dad’s kind, loving temperament, along with his analytical skills. She also definitely inherited Mom’s maternal attributes and thirst for knowledge. Obviously, she also shared both of their deep faith in God. I have always viewed her as an extension of Mom. It was fitting that she gave the eulogy at my first wife’s funeral mass in 1992. She perfectly captured her personality and exuberance for life. Her words made nearly everyone in the Church cry. I am certain that my first wife was smiling as she was looking down. I still have her eulogy, and I will remember it forever. When I moved to Hong Kong after my first wife’s death, Ellen moved to Germany. Mom and Ellen both moved to Germany! It is not easy to leave your home, family and everyone you know behind when moving to a foreign country. However, Ellen learned German and assimilated to the German culture like a native. I was the only member of our family who did not come to visit her in Germany. On the other hand, she was the only member of our family who came to visit me in Hong Kong. It was like, ‘Who wants to go to Asia?’ but she did – and she did it twice! Ellen returned from Germany and moved to Ferdinand, largely to be near, but not too close to, our Mom so that she could look after her. I know that Mom really appreciated having her close, and Ellen’s presence greatly improved the quality of both their lives. When Valerie and I were married after I returned from Hong Kong, Ellen escorted Mom to our wedding. Ellen was there for both Mom and me. Ellen was there for all of us. After Mom passed, she became our de-facto matriarch. She continued to be the focal point for holding the family together. She even made Mom’s Thanksgiving dressing recipe for me every year. Thank you for caring. Ellen was always someone who I have greatly admired. Her deep faith and ability to see Him in all of us has left her with many friends and us with many memories. Thank you for being my sister.
“Your favorite, and most handsome brother, Mark.”
As I have heard from Ruth’s band members and other Sisters in recent days, the common memory thread consistently voiced was how amazed they were with her intelligence. She was a “Brain!” She always knew the answers to questions posed in high school classes even when she was perceived to be preoccupied with other thoughts. She would perk up and always reply with the correct response.
Sister Pat Linehan recalls: “Ruth Ellen was a senior in the Juniorate when I arrived as a freshman in 1952. She’s always been one of my favorites, tho’ we were not close. She was strong, steady, an eye on the way ahead, with the grandest smile and spontaneous welcome.”
As you would anticipate, Ellen did excel in her academic work, earning degrees from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Cornel University, University of Minnesota, Salem State Teachers College, Purdue University, Indiana University and St. Meinrad School of Theology.
Ellen’s ministry life was full, encompassing valued time at more than 17 sites. An early ministry was teaching students math and biology at Cheverus High School in Malden, Massachusetts. One of her students, Janice Sessa, commented: “She was just so easy to talk to. She never made you feel foolish, no matter what you talked about. She was so smart but never made you feel stupid or inadequate.” She also referenced Ruth Ellen in her Facebook post: “She was my teacher for only one year, but we have been friends for a lifetime. She was a big sister, a mother and a best friend. Some people come into your life for a season or a reason. Sister Ruth Ellen came into my life at a tough time for me. I was a sophomore in high school.”
Ellen loved to travel as we heard from her brothers, Paul and Mark, and often reflected on her teaching experiences. She relayed tales from her community life and teaching at St. Pat’s in Indianapolis; Providence High School in Clarksville, Indiana; and the American International School in Dusseldorf, Germany. She loved teaching with her good friend, Sister Peggy Nau, at Providence High School in Clarksville, recalling how the students loved Peggy. Her experience teaching in Germany and leading tours for family and friends throughout Europe, always on budget of course, were highlights for her.
One of my personal ministry experiences with Ellen was a campus ministry Spring Break service trip I initiated for college students under my charge. They all lived in small towns and rural areas of northwestern Illinois. We traveled to Chicago to experience the CITY and be of service at Providence-St. Mel High School. We were warmly welcomed by Paul Adams and Sister Ruth Ellen. Ellen coordinated our time with work projects, eating in the cafeteria with students, and observing some classroom experiences. A highlight was an extracurricular side trip one evening to The Second City Comedy Club and theatre in downtown Chicago.
Sister Jeanne Hagelskamp remembers: “Ruth Ellen and Paul Adams gave me my ‘dream job.’ When I entered community, I had hoped that I would be able to work with the most vulnerable. I saw teaching as a systemic way to give the most vulnerable a pathway for a new trajectory for their lives. Working at Providence-St. Mel was such a gift and quite an adventure! I was asked to teach math, physics, and computer programming, and when I told Ruth Ellen that I had never taught programming before, she said that she was confident that I could figure it out (with six machines and 24 students in each class!). She had done it the previous year and, of course, had done it well … and offered some friendly advice! And it was Ruth Ellen who unknowingly taught me how to be a good school administrator. She was at once demanding and relational. I had big shoes to fill when she left Providence-St. Mel … and again, she gave me the confidence to give it a try!”
Renee Kallok recently reflected that whenever she and Paul Adams visited Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Ruth was always there to greet them, most times on her scooter. Renee said of Ruth Ellen: “She was most loyal, attending so many of the PSM celebrations in downtown Chicago. And of course, she brought the Christian Awakening retreat to PSM, which we used with our seniors for at least 38 years.”
Paul Adams relayed: “I am saddened by her passing but strengthened by her love and support of our mission at PSM. So today I remember and cherish the wonderful relationship we had! She made this a better world!”
Ellen’s most recent pastoral ministry position was at St. Mary Magdalen Parish in Bloomfield, and St. Patrick Ottumwa, both in Iowa. Father John Spiegel commented: “Sister Ruth Ellen responded to our national search for a person who would join him in ministry at both parishes. The rest was a grace and joy filled time in shared ministry for myself and Sister Ruth Ellen. … Our ministry was one of full mutual support and direction. We shared the view that our primary role was to complement and ably assist our mutual ministry for our fellow parish members. I knew I had the gift of Sister Ruth Ellen’s most able support and friendship.”
Beth Cook, a parishioner, shared that “Sister Ruth’s house, the rectory, was open at any time to the parishioners. Her house was our house. We had many Bible studies in her front room where we learned so much from her in a relaxed warm setting. Other happenings at her house included the annual garage sale that our church had every September. It involved lots of hard work of sorting and setting up. Most of us would take shifts of working, but Sister Ruth was there the WHOLE time, working so hard, never complaining. And for lunch, she always had soup of sandwiches made for us. One year, we will always remember, she made a huge pot of chili. It was so delicious, but it had spaghetti in it. We had never seen chili with spaghetti. But she let us know, “this is how we make chili in Indiana!” By the way, Ruth’s culinary skills and recipes were featured in a full-page article in the Food Section of The Ottumwa Courier, entitled ‘Divine Desserts!’”
When Ruth moved to Providence Hall here at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, it was a HUGE transition for her, but she adjusted. I helped her position some of her valued art pieces. She asked me to be her health care representative and an educational, medical journey ensued.
Susan Outlaw-Stallings shared this memory: “I believe it was two years ago when Sister Ruth Ellen was in the hall trying to give away Springerle cookies that her dear brother Roger made and sent to her. I ran from the office to ask if I could please have a cookie. She was surprised I knew about Springerle, and proceeded to tell me the history of the cookie in her family. Roger became the official baker, using the old-style rolling pin, etc. She also told me about Sturm’s Hardware in Jasper – ‘That’s the place to get the rolling pin.’ I actually went right back to the office with my cookie, called Sturm’s and asked if they had the rolling pin – they did – would they mail it to me – they would. Immediately, I let Sister Ruth Ellen know what I had done and thanked her profusely. She told me then ‘it takes a lot of practice to make a Springerle.’ Well, I had the fortunate opportunity to meet her brother, talk Springerle-making/baking, and, as soon as Sister Ruth Ellen could make arrangements, she saw to it that I received the family recipe. Again, her warm advice was: ‘It takes a lot of practice.’ It was certainly a privilege to make my own Springerle, dutifully ‘practicing,’ then bring them in to share with Sister Ruth Ellen and other sisters. I believe I did this at least three times, if not four. Sister Ruth Ellen was always very encouraging with her comments about my efforts although she never failed to say ‘It takes a lot of practice.’”
As you have heard, Ellen loved her family and fully operated out of her matriarchal sibling stance of being the oldest child. She was so heartsick when her brother Roger died in October. When she suffered a mild stroke in early November, it was obvious that she was mindful of Roger and questioned what would be next for her. She told me at that time that she prayed that God not take her then. She said it would be too difficult for her family.
When Ellen tested positive for COVID-19, I asked her what our plan of action would be. She said she did not want to go to the hospital but she did want the treatment, so she reluctantly agreed that would be the course of action. Those hospital days were challenging for us and I suspect for Ellen, too, as visitors were “off limits” and it was impossible to directly communicate with her. Nor was it possible to visually monitor her condition. Beth Collins and I took turns in placing phone calls to respective nurses’ stations to gain the information we requested. When Ellen’s health declined, it was swift, and we found it necessary to move quickly and admit her to hospice care, which was a wonderfully caring environment for her. Hospice allowed two persons to be in the room with her. We were required to be fully suited in PPE. Once we entered her room, we could not leave and reenter. I was honored to be there and grateful that the other person could be our Beth Collins, RN, who was uniquely experienced in hospice care, Ellen’s medical history, and her cochlear implant logistics. Beth accomplished the task of enabling Ellen to hear, which was a major feat! She was rather nonresponsive until that hearing aid was placed behind her left ear. We witnessed minimal, but noticeable eye and arm movement, and she hummed along with some of the tunes we played from our phones. Together, we could also talk and pray with her, facilitate speaker phone connections with Father Dan, Sister Jeanne, her brothers Paul and Mark and their wives Linda and Valerie, and nephews David and Patrick. As the evening hours lengthened and Ellen was relieved of her bipap, she was able to regain her own breathing function. As the evening progressed, I was aware that the pauses between her breaths became progressively longer and her breath was sounding somewhat distant. As I was seated in a recliner at the foot of her bed, I was suddenly aware that the soft sounds of her breathing had gone silent and had ceased. I peered intently on her facial profile as she was resting on her right side and witnessed her face was relaxed and her mouth was moving silently, slowly and deliberately. She was markedly attentive – very attentive and calm – the calmed and the most focused I had ever seen her. There was a rhythm to her inaudible speech pattern as I viewed her jaw gently drop in slow rhythmic succession. I believe she was forming the words: wow, wow, wow – and then there was no movement. Her face was so calm, so peaceful.
Thank you, Ruth, for modeling for us your authentic self, throughout your life in so many challenging and celebrative occasions and especially in your final days and moments with us.
Thank you for Acting Justly, Loving Tenderly, And Walking Humbly with your God.
Funeral services for Sister Ruth took place on Monday, March 1, 2021, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana.
A virtual wake took place at 10:30 a.m., followed by funeral liturgy without Eucharist at 11 a.m.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Ruth Ellen in the comment section below.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Ruth Ellen to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
Sister Ruth Ellen Doane
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Athanasius, Evanston (1956-61); Mathematics Curriculum Director, Providence-St. Mel, Chicago (1980-85); Adult Education Coordinator/Adjunct Faculty, Our Lady of the Westside, Chicago/Triton College, River Grove (1985-88).
In Indiana: Teacher, St Patrick, Indianapolis (1961-68); Teacher, Our Lady of Providence High School, Clarksville (1970-77); Teacher, Marian Heights Academy, Ferdinand (1988-93); Pastoral Associate, St. Ferdinand Parish, Ferdinand (1993-99); Adjunct Facilitator, Oakland City University, Ferdinand (1999-2000); Development Office Assistant, Providence Cristo Rey High School, Indianapolis (2007-08); Volunteer, A Caring Place Adult Day Services, Indianapolis (2009-13); Volunteer, The Crisis Connection, Indianapolis (2013-14); Volunteer, Catholic Radio and Central Indiana Council on Aging, Indianapolis (2014-15); Volunteer, Providence Spirituality & Conference Center, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2016-2020); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2020-21).
In Massachusetts: Teacher, Cheverus High School, Malden (1968-69).
In Germany: Teacher, American International School, Dusseldorf (1977-80).
In Iowa: Pastoral Associate, St. Mary Magdalen Church/St. Patrick, Bloomfield (2000-07).
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