Sister Ruth Griesemer

Sister Ruth GriesemerSister Ruth Griesemer was known to many of us in the community as Sister Virginia Marie – the friendly, fun-loving sister who studied with us in the summer sessions at Alverno College.

In those early days of her religious life, Sister Ruth became a teacher and enjoyed teaching at various parishes throughout Wisconsin. Never did she imagine that while serving at one parish, former-Sister Kathy Zanio would invite her to join a parish group to serve people in Appalachia, Kentucky. The adventure so moved Sister Ruth that she said, “Yes”, to two more summers.

In 1970, Sister Ruth and three other sisters returned permanently to start a mission in the “hollers” of Kentucky. Upon arriving, each sister found work. Sister Ruth joined a Head Start program called the Kentucky Infant Preschool Project, which took her into people’s to help women teach their young children.

One day she came into a house and the grandmother said, “Do you know that all Catholics are going to hell?” “Really?” Sister Ruth replied. “My bible doesn’t say that.”  Grandma remained silent and continued to serve her cake and coffee.

“Overall, I felt accepted by the people,” Sister Ruth said. “One woman commented, ‘You humbly entered our culture, and we appreciate your being with us.’ When funding ran out for this program, I worked 36 years with mentally challenged adults and children.”

“What has been most life giving for me in our community was living with our sisters in Kentucky,” Sister Ruth continued. “We supported each other in our ministry and although our life was simple, it was delightful. The relationship with these sisters and the people transformed my life.  My happiest times were sitting on one family’s porch with Sister Noel playing the guitar and all of us singing. One song’s lyrics gave us our motto: ‘Jehovah, Alleluia the Lord will provide! Jehovah, Alleluia the Lord did provide!’”

Sister Ruth never envisioned that she would spend 50 years of her religious life in Kentucky.  “These years were truly a blessing,” she recalled, “and I am very grateful to our community leaders for allowing us to start this mission and to all the School Sisters of St. Francis who supported us through the years.”

Sister Ruth remembers that when she was growing up in West Allis, Wisconsin, she was taught by the School Sisters of Notre Dame. “They practically had my bags packed to join their order, when my mother said, ‘Why don’t you become a Franciscan like your aunt, Sister Septima, who is a School Sister of St. Francis?’ ‘Okay,’ I replied, and here I am 70 years later. Thanks be to God!”

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