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Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

I have chosen to write my commentary on my mother’s birthday as she was the greatest influence in my life. Lillian Ternet was born in 1888, an only child. She lived her entire life in a small French settlement known as Besancon near Fort Wayne, Indiana, wrote Sister Rita Clare Gerardot in her commentary, which was given by Sister Ann Casper, for Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, who passed away on Monday, June 20, 2022, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. Sister Rita Clare was 95-years-old and had been a Sister of Providence for 78 years.

Sister Ann continued Sister Rita Clare’s commentary: My second greatest model was my dad, Henry E. Gerardot, who was one of eight children. These simple, hard-working, honest people gave birth to 10 children, three boys and seven girls and I, Rita Marie, was the seventh child in the family. Mom and Dad were there for all of us equally. They instilled in us the necessity of rising to the occasion when one or other of the family had a special need.

Raising a family during depression years was no easy task and was accomplished because dad was not only a farmer, but he also worked at a local factory in Fort Wayne for many years. My mother was very resourceful. We always canned fruits and vegetables gleaned from the large vegetable gardens and fruit trees on our farm. When we were young, dad was our barber and the one who put half-soles on our shoes. Dad was also a skilled carpenter and built many needed items. My favorite Scripture passage is Micah 6:8 “Act justly, love tenderly, walk humbly with your God.” My parents, Lillian and Henry, exemplified this passage by the way they lived.

My introduction to the Sisters of Providence can be attributed to a School Sister of Notre Dame, my seventh and eighth grade teacher. When I was in eighth grade, Sister strongly encouraged me and my classmates to attend Central Catholic High School in Fort Wayne. The school was staffed primarily by Sisters of Providence.

Toward the end of my junior year there, 1943, Sister Mary Clare Fritsch, who was not one of my teachers, said to me, “I think you’d make a good sister. Come and see me sometime.” The idea of being a sister was not too appealing, but a seed of possibility had been planted and continued to grow during my senior year. Deep within, I truly felt that this was what God was asking, but I wasn’t too sure I wanted to follow this nudging. I have to say that leaving home at the age of 17 was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. In those years, the only chance for a visit home was if a parent were seriously ill or if they died.

Coming from a large family that was rapidly increasing with nieces and nephews, the thought of never seeing any of them again at home except for a very sad occasion was horrible! Also, I was traveling to a place I had never seen, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods. I traveled by bus to the Woods on July 21, 1944, and prayed all the way that we’d have an accident. I thought if I were late in arriving, I wouldn’t be accepted. Well, we had no accident, so I landed at the bus station in Terre Haute around 6 p.m.

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot tutors a young boy at Educational/Family Services in 2005.

In time, I adjusted to a very different way of life. I learned to eat a banana with a fork! Also, we were always striving to be perfect, whatever that meant, and some of us did better than others. However, I could have gotten in trouble for this little escapade. On a visiting Sunday, a sister novice received two or three large Hershey bars and a jar of stuffed olives. She didn’t turn them in but instead put them in her trunk in the attic. Then, her conscience began to bother her and she was afraid trunks might be checked and the goodies discovered. So, she wrote notes to two other sisters and me asking us to meet her at her alcove in the dormitory. Of course, we all came at the designated time, and to our delight she spread the feast before us! Yes, we consumed all the candy and all the stuffed green olives. None of us got sick! We didn’t get caught and no one got in trouble.

Throughout my years as a Sister of Providence, I have had God prodding, nudging, surprising me, making me evermore aware in my daily life that I am called to be God’s presence to all with whom I interact.

For 32 years, I enjoyed teaching and administration at the elementary level in Indiana and Illinois. My favorite grade was fifth, but I also taught second, sixth, seventh and eighth in those years, and I was principal for several years. I still keep in touch with a number of former students.

In my mom’s 90th year, it became necessary for my sisters and me to begin to care for her by preparing meals, cleaning the house, shopping, etc. Since I was in Fort Wayne at St. John’s, I was able to help out on weekends. During my last year of teaching, I decided to ask permission to take care of my mom full time. That permission was granted; so, I cared for mom for a year and a half until her death at age 92. This year and a half was one of my greatest blessings! In God’s Providence, my caring for my mom prepared me for the four years I served as coordinater in Health Care, as well as my five months in parish ministry in Syracuse, Indiana, and my eight years at Cathedral in Indianapolis, where I worked primarily with the elderly and the poor in this downtown parish. After 8 and a half years of parish ministry, I went to Guerin High School in River Grove, Illinois, and spent three happy years working as receptionist. It was a joy to interact with the administration, faculty, students, parents and visitors.

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot (left) speaks to those gathered at the demonstration

When I retired to the Woods, I assumed a number of volunteer ministries, which proved to be very life-giving. I began touting exercise, tutoring elementary students, serving at St. Ann Clinic and visiting regularly with David Paul Hammer on Death Row in the Federal Prison. In more recent years, I’ve served as receptionist in several locations on campus and helped with tours. Along with many others, I’ve worked for the abolition of the death penalty and hosted prisoners’ families and friends when they have visited loved ones at the prison and stayed at the Woods. Protesting unjust systems and working for systemic change in our society claimed some of my energy and time in my retirement years.

In addition to my good parents, I have been blessed with wonderful siblings and oodles of nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and great grands. My siblings, like my parents, have been an inspiration to me! My nine siblings who have all preceded me in death have remained an integral part of my life. Having entered the community in July, my reception of the habit, profession of first vows and final vows took place on January 23. My mom, dad, and all my siblings and some of the in-laws always came for these big celebrations despite the fact that it was mid-winter and not the best time for traveling. It was a joyous occasion when we were all together.

Despite the fact that I entered thinking I would never get to go home except for a sad occasion, as Providence would have it, one of the sisters with whom I was living needed a companion to Fort Wayne in late August 1954. I was sent as her companion. When I called my mom to tell her I would be at St. Jude’s and that they could come to visit me, she thought I was just passing through for the day. That night, four carloads of Gerardots arrived at the convent. One of the nuns said: “It looked like cheaper by the dozen” as they all piled out of the cars and into the convent. When I told them I could go home the next day to visit, they were elated and immediately plans for a picnic were underway.

In July 2017, I celebrated 73 years as a Sister of Providence. These have been very happy years marked by deep friendships formed with many SPs and religious from other congregations as well as those with whom I have ministered and worked. One of the hundredfold blessings of being a woman religious is the emphasis on developing a deep prayer life and relationship with God. I am most grateful to my community for giving me the opportunity to have had many different experiences of prayer through workshops, retreats, conferences and sharing with others. All our General Chapters in recent years have helped us to develop our Providence charism. Also, these chapters have broadened our view of the world and the church and made us cognizant of the responsibility we have to engage in works of love, mercy and justice.

I’ve enjoyed writing this commentary and wonder as I conclude when this will be read. That is in God’s hands! My patron St. Clare at the end of her life said and I re-echo her statement: “Thank you, God, for creating me!”

— Written by Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Sister Ann Casper continued: So ended Rita Clare’s rendition of her life. I asked a few of her family members and friends to share their perspectives and thoughts …

Her niece, also named Rita Marie, said that the family called Rita Clare “their go to girl.” Whenever there was need of prayer, they would call Rita, knowing that Rita Clare would get all the sisters involved in praying. For the family, this was always very powerful.

She also recalled when Rita Clare retired at 70 that the family had a surprise party to celebrate her birthday and her retirement, which they disguised as a “family reunion.” The parish hall in Besancon was filled when Rita Clare arrived and was indeed surprised. She loved every minute of the celebration! Her brother-in-law Ron wrote a poem for the occasion, which he will now share with us.

Her niece Jennifer’s description of Rita Clare will resonate with all of us: “Sister Rita’s life was an example of faith in action. Her dedication to serving others was resolute. Whether she was volunteering at local charities, caring for her elderly mother, organizing a workout program for the sisters at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, or ministering to a death row inmate, she was always gracious in her demeanor but firm and steadfast in her advice. We are blessed to have known her and we hope to live our lives with her as an example. We will miss her!”

Her dear friend Sister Adele recalled an incident about 50 years ago, when she and Rita made a retreat at Maggie Valley. The church there is perched on a very high hill. Leaving Mass one day and walking down the steep hill, they were followed by a car. Rita was the first to notice the car accelerating and heading straight for her and Adele and the others who were walking. She yelled and all managed to get out of the way before the lady turned the car into the hillside. Her brakes had failed. What a loss if that beautiful life had ended on that hillside.

Another good friend, Sister Mary Mundy, recalled the celebration of Rita Clare’s 80th birthday and Mary’s 60th. They flew to New York and did the circuit: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, walking the busy streets of the city a bit like the Waltons, leaving rural America and staring at the skyscrapers, enjoying fabulous food and the Broadway musical, “Wicked.” Mary recounted, “The line that I resonated with in the musical was: ‘Because I knew you, I have been changed for good.’ I know I have been changed for good because of Rita but so have many of us, including her dear deceased death-row friend, David. Rita made a huge difference in many people’s lives.”

Rita included another quote from St. Clare, with which I would like to end this commentary, because to me, it perfectly illustrates how Rita Clare lived and ended her life. “Hasten on with swift pace and light step and unstumbling feet, so that your footsteps raise no dust as you move swiftly and joyfully, eagerly and carefully along the path of happiness … yield to no one who would deter you from this goal or obstruct your path to prevent you from fulfilling your vows to the Most High in that way of perfection to which the Spirit of the Lord had called you.”

Rest in peace, dear Rita Clare!

Funeral services for Sister Rita Clare took place on Thursday, June 30, 2022, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

A Wake took place at 10 a.m., followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.

Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Rita Clare to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Rita Clare in the comment section below.

Note: This poem, written by Ron Girardot, Sister Rita Clare’s brother-in-law, was presented to Sister Rita Clare for her 70th birthday and retirement in 1996.

Many, many years ago

As this story begins,

Was a young lady named Rita

In curls and pins.

As she grew older

She began to hear,

A voice in her heart

Not just in her ear.

The voice was gentle

And the words were true,

Come to me young lady

I have a plan for you.

The decision was made

She had no real choice,

She just had to follow

That beckoning voice.

She packed her bags

And dressed with great care,

A pretty blue ribbon

Neatly tucked in her hair.

Leaving family behind

In a real loving home,

She left on a bud

For a world unknown.

Arriving at “The Woods”

Late in the day,

Anxious and tired

Needing a place to stay.

The timing was great

A picnic outside,

Bring on the food

I’m hungry she cried.

But the menu was one

Like you’ve never seen,

A peanut butter sandwich

And green lima beans.

An abrupt way to start

A life of denial,

Getting use to the rules

Would take a while.

She kept plugging along

One step at a time,

The voice kept saying

You’re doing just fine.

Then finally one day

She took her final vow,

A sister of Providence

There’s no stopping her now.

She worked very hard

As the years went by,

And always kept listening

To that voice in the sky.

Blest with good health

And still looking nifty’

She recently celebrated

Anniversary number fifty.

And now all of a sudden

The voice in the sky,

Says “Rita slowdown”

Let the world go by.

You’ve served me well

A job all can admire,

Now the time has come

For you to retire.

But knowing Sister Rita

Like all of us do,

We doubt she is ready

To throw in the shoe.

As a matter of fact

We hear she’ll begin,

Teaching nuns to pump iron

In her own little gym.

So once again

As she answers the call,


From one and all.

And now as we gather

Together as one,

Let’s love and enjoy

This beautiful nun.

Sister Rita Clare Gerardot

Complete Ministry

In Indiana: Teacher, St. Catherine, Indianapolis (1947-51); Teacher, St. John, Vincennes (1952-53); Teacher/Principal/Superior, Sacred Heart, Whiting (1956-59); Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1965-67); Superior/Principal, St. Luke, Indianapolis (1967-69); Principal, St. Luke, Indianapolis (1973-77); Teacher, St. John the Baptist, Fort Wayne (1977-79); Pastoral Minister, St. Martin de Porres Parish, Syracuse (1981); Parish Minister with Elderly and Poor, Cathedral Parish, Indianapolis (1981-89); Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1992-93); Local Community Representative (LCR) Health Care, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1993-96); Director of Wellness Center, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1996-2008); Volunteer, Terre Haute, West Terre Haute, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2008-2015); Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2015-2021); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2021-2022).

In Illinois: Teacher, St. Columbkille, Chicago (1953-55); Teacher, St. Angela, Chicago (1955-56); Principal/Superior, St. Francis Xavier, Wilmette (1962-65); Receptionist/Administrative Assistant, Mother Theodore Guerin High School, River Grove (1989-92).

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  1. Avatar Vicki Tatman on June 21, 2022 at 4:38 pm

    Sr. Rita was my Great Aunt. I sure enjoyed the years our family would come down to The Woods for the weekend and stay in the little house. Sr. Rita always had a smile on her face. When she came up to visit, her stories often had me laughing so hard. She brought a new perspective to being a nun.

  2. Avatar madonna on June 22, 2022 at 6:44 pm

    May the angels take her to paradise. We may have briefly crossed paths at St. Catherine’s in Indianapolis. She surely would have been there with my brother and/or sister. Does anyone have any idea what grade she would have taught. Is Sister Rita Clare her religious name?

  3. Avatar Aileen Adams on July 17, 2022 at 10:56 pm

    I am so sad to learn of Sister Rita Clare’s passing. I used to stay at Saint Mary’s when I would travel to Terre Haute to visit Danny Lee on death row. All of the sisters were welcoming, loving, beautiful ladies and sone of my fondest memories are of attending the Souper Bowl with Sister Rita Clare and Sister Adele. I imagine she is dancing down those streets of gold with our glorious Father. Bless all of the sisters. They are truly a blessing to us all.

  4. Avatar Carlie Bay-Vegas on July 20, 2022 at 5:09 am

    Sister Rita Clare,
    I am so glad I followed the nudging in my heart and paid you that last phone call at the beginning of this year. We had a wonderful conversation and I was so thankful for your kindness and Love!
    I also thank You for those delicious graham crackers and bananas you left every evening at my door.
    You were an amazing lady and I am so glad we crossed paths in this lifetime.
    …Fly high sista! You are now in your fathers arms!

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