Sister Phyllis Ruefer

Sister Phyllis RueferSister Phyllis was born in Davenport, Iowa, on September 3, 1927.  She was the fourth oldest of 12; two older siblings died in early childhood.  Being the second-oldest living child in a large family, she learned responsibility and care for others at an early age.

She attended St. Joseph School, which was staffed by the School Sisters of St. Francis and entered the Aspirancy after eighth grade. For Phyllis, entering the School Sisters of St. Francis could be thought of as a “no brainer” since she already had three aunts from her dad’s side in community, as well as her older sister who had entered the Aspirancy a year earlier. 

After completing high school and college at Alverno, Phyllis began a very varied teaching ministry.  She began in Dane, Wisconsin, and was transferred to St. Rita School in West Allis the following year.  After four years, she was called to the motherhouse and told that she would be going to East Chicago, Indiana, the following morning and was not to tell any of the sisters that she was being transferred. This was very difficult for her because she enjoyed the group of sisters she was living with, as well as her teaching experience there. So, when the other sisters went to teach school that morning, she packed her belongings and left.

After five years in Indiana, she was sent to St. Monica School in New York. The pastor in Indiana protested her transfer and held her trunk hostage for several months hoping she would return!  While in New York, she spent summers attending St. Bonaventure University in order to earn a master’s degree in Franciscan Studies. She was close to completing that degree when she was sent to teach high school back in the Midwest.  

This was at the time of Vatican II and the formation of provinces.  After three years of teaching high school, Sister was asked to go to Alverno College as a coordinator to assist the sisters as they formed small living groups. This meant taking care of various things that would free the college faculty to continue their full-time teaching schedules. This was also where she learned to drive a car (and she became a very good driver).

Phyllis was then elected to a two-year leadership position in the Rockford Province. After completing her term, she was invited to do accounting work in the Generalate business office. In order to prepare herself, she attended night classes at Marquette University. Eight years later, she returned to Alverno, where she served as the bookstore manager and director of facilities usage.  She served there 11 years, then worked in the U.S. Province Health Care office until her retirement in 2012.

Throughout her life in community, Phyllis was always open to change, both personally and professionally.  She had many life-giving experiences. She appreciated and enjoyed living and working with her sisters in community, and she is most grateful for a life well lived in this community. While serving in each capacity listed above, Phyllis shared her knowledge and many talents in management, organization, improvisation, and creativity (origami and bottle cribs at Christmas, to name just two). Recounting her various ministries is meant to describe her willingness to accept and adapt to meet the needs of the times.