Sister Ruth Hoerig

Sister Ruth HoerigSchool Sisters of St Francis were excellent teachers,” recalled Sister Ruth. “It was more than that; it was their spirit and commitment.” Sister Mauritia, for example, affectionately referred to Ruth as “her little butterfly.” Perhaps Sister Mauritia could see that Ruth’s penchant for creativity, discovery, and adventure prompted her to scamper around absorbing as much life experience as possible.

In her younger years, pious church practices stirred the heart of Ruth. The Corpus Christi processions and 48-hours devotion made a lasting impression on her as she scattered flower petals in front of the Blessed Sacrament. But it was a movie, The Song of Bernadette, that captivated and influenced her the most. Despite pressure from every quarter, Bernadette Soubirous never faltered in her conviction regarding Our Lady’s apparitions. Such strength of character moved Ruth, and heightened her own resolve to pursue religious life.

When entering the congregation, the grandeur of St. Joseph Chapel and the immense size of the building, even the curious labyrinth of tunnels, filled her first days with excitement and adventure. Many opportunities for growth in the spiritual life were assuring, but the central focus was a profound sense of fidelity to a commitment.

From the first year of her education career in Chicago, Sister Ruth’s creativity began to surface in the publication of a dictionary and thesaurus she designed to encourage a wider vocabulary in her students. A few years later, as principal of Walker’s Point Community School in Milwaukee, Sister Ruth adopted an innovative “multi-unit” program designed to help meet the needs of inner-city students. A solid foundation of academic achievement and parental involvement was established.  Teachers worked together as “teams” in their respective units to respond to individual needs and to combine their talents, using a “team teaching” approach to learning.  An article about the school’s success resulted in inquiries from more than 25 different schools and prompted many educators to visit the school.

Sister Ruth was then invited to join the Milwaukee Archdiocesan Office of Education as director of a newly established program for meeting the special needs of students. To meet this need in more than 200 elementary schools, a “supportive consultant” program was initiated. Each year, 15 teachers from 15 different schools were trained in the use of basic skills for working with children who were struggling academically and emotionally. They could then function as “consultants” to other teachers in their respective schools who needed support.

Ruth’s experiences in education also provided many opportunities for travel in the United States and beyond. For example, as part of a fund-raising effort for the Mission Advancement Office, she traveled to all the congregation’s missions in Guatemala and Honduras to gather information for a video. But the high point of her travels came from a grant to study education in Russia. This two-week stint widened her appreciation of travel outside the United States, underlining the truth of Mark Twain’s famous quote that “Travel is fatal to bigotry, narrow-mindedness and prejudice.”

Upon her retirement from teaching, sister was invited to write a book entitled, “Seeds of Hope: Catholic Sisters in Action Around the World.” The book was commissioned by the Conrad Hilton Fund for Sisters as a reference guide for missionaries. Published in 2009, it describes 28 creative projects that reflect the commitment of sisters to plant seeds of hope in the most remote areas of the world, where there is little infrastructure for meeting basic needs of families and communities.

Spiritually, Sister Ruth’s Franciscan background makes her middle name, Clara, noteworthy. The spirit of poverty promoted by Franciscan spirituality has always been important to Ruth. During her retirement, she began to develop a growing interest in Ignatian spirituality as well.

“I did the Creighton Online Retreat several times,” she said. “It’s really helped me to develop ‘heart’ in my spirituality. I’ve been transformed in a way I never would have imagined, becoming more aware of how God continues to work to my benefit.” It is obvious that Sister Ruth is aware of the providential hand of God moving through her life. The Ignatian concept of “surrender” to God’s movement is something Sister Ruth continues to pursue.

Albeit not exactly Bernadette’s apparition, Ruth has been urged on by a vision beyond herself.  Returning to Sister Mauritia’s earlier image, butterflies congregate with others to travel immense distances; they depend on the sun like a biological GPS. Ruth, too, relies on the Son of God to direct her path, and we are grateful to journey with her.

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