Birth: April 14, 1918
Profession: Feb 11, 1950
Death: May 3, 2012
Religious of the Sacred Heart Rita Ryan died May 3 at Oakwood, the Society of the Sacred Heart’s elder care center in Atherton, California. Remembered by those who loved her as loving, sensitive and appreciative, her life will be celebrated in a Mass of Resurrection on Saturday, May 12 at Oakwood, 140 Valparaiso Avenue, Atherton, CA 94027. Burial will follow in the Sacred Heart Cemetery on the grounds of the Convent.
Sister Ryan was preceded in death by her parents and three sisters, Rosalie Hobza, Ruth Ryan and Eileen Ryan and two brothers, Max Ryan and Dean Ryan. She is survived by a brother, Don Ryan of Billings, Montana, and two sisters, Nancy Olderog and Jean Ryan of Omaha, numerous nieces and nephews and her Sisters in the Society of the Sacred Heart.
Born at the end of World War I on her grandfather’s farm near Neola, Iowa, on April 14, 1918, Sister Ryan was the eldest of nine children. Her father Leo, and mother, Ruth Welbourn Ryan, despite the financial struggles of the Great Depression and midwest drought conditions, provided a close and loving environment for their large family.
Sister Ryan attended public elementary schools, then three years of high school in Missouri Valley, Iowa, before the family moved to Council Bluffs, Iowa, where Sister Ryan graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School. She then worked for five years at Northwestern Bell Telephone Company to help support the family.
Attracted to religious life, Sister Ryan made a decision to become a Sister of Mercy and was accepted. However, because of the family’s financial situation and the arrival of two young siblings, she had to delay following her vocation until younger siblings were old enough to help support the family. Meanwhile, she met the Society of the Sacred Heart at Duchesne College in Omaha, Nebraska, where she made retreats for business and professional women. She was impressed by the religious and the spiritual atmosphere of the college. She later described the experience: “The women I met there were wonderful religious, intelligent, educated, gifted and deeply spiritual, and I was greatly impressed by them. Also there was an intangible spirit about the place that totally captured me, a spirit that has been remarked by the alumnae and that drew many vocations.” Since she already had a deep devotion to the Sacred Heart, it seemed to be the ideal place for her to remain.
Mother Helen Casey, president of Duchesne College, nurtured Sister Ryan’s vocation and arranged for her to spend a semester at Duchesne College, while discerning her call to the Society. She was accepted into the Society, and entered at Kenwood in Albany, New York, on February 14, 1942. She made first vows on August 5, 1944.
After Kenwood, Sister Ryan was sent to Lake Forest, Illinois, where she taught third grade in the academy or a year before returning to Duchesne Academy in Omaha to teach in the lower school. For the first time since entrance she was once again able to see her family.
In August of 1949, Sister Ryan left by ship for Rome. She arrived at the convent in Naples, where the religious often stayed before traveling north to Rome. Everywhere the effects of World War II were apparent—both in her travels and in her stay in Sacred Heart convents. She made her final profession of vows in Rome on February 11, 1950.
Returning to the States, Sister Ryan moved to the Academy of the Sacred Heart, Menlo Park, California, where she taught in the middle school and was Surveillante and dormitory mistress for five years. During summers she studied at San Francisco College for Women (later Lone Mountain), where she eventually earned a Master’s degree in English literature. After this, she was sent to the brand new San Diego College for Women to assist Mother Genevieve Clark in setting up the library and to become assistant librarian.
In 1958, Sister Ryan joined the newly-formed Chicago Province at Duchesne Academy in Omaha, where she taught second academic and later became assistant superior to Rev. Mother Jeannette Kimball. In 1968, when Duchesne College closed, Sister Ryan became coordinator of communities at Barat College, Lake Forest, Illinois, for one year before moving back to Duchesne to become director of alumnae for nine years. One of her nieces later wrote to her about these times, “I have such fond memories of you at Duchesne during my childhood. I really get a big smile on my face when I think of visiting you there on Sundays and running down those long hallways with wooden floors and playing in the kindergarten rooms and going up in that elevator with that metal gate. I’ve always admired you so much over the years for your deep faith in God. It is a comfort to me to know you have that at this time in your life. Thank you so much for being such a wonderful aunt to me.”
Sister Ryan's next move was to San Francisco, where she was invited by Sister Mary (Be) Mardel to work part time as director of services at Sacred Heart Schools, and later as moderator for the Children of Mary Sodality—a position she held for fifteen years. Highlights of these years were the privilege of attending the canonization of St. Rose Philippine Duchesne in July of 1989 at St. Peter’s in Rome, where she spent three months at the Villa Lante in a renewal program, “an unforgettable experience”; and the celebration of her golden jubilee of final profession at Oakwood on February 13, (with twenty members of her family present) and again at Duchesne in Omaha on April 30, 2000.
At the end of her renewal program in Rome, her mentor, Sr. Gina Rodee, wrote: “Rita was loving, sensitive and appreciative. Joy marked her relationships, which have been outgoing and easy … I believe this experience has been a time of continued integration for her—an integration not only within herself, but of herself with her community, the Church and the world. Her retreat was graced with a quiet, deep and steady prayer with the confidence that ‘God’s hand was laid upon her.’ This total trust in God and in God’s loving care, I believe, was the ‘governing grace’ of this time,” and others might add ‘of her life’.”
Sister Ryan began her retirement years in San Francisco doing volunteer work and attending classes at the Fromm Institute for Lifelong Learning on the campus of the University of San Francisco. On July 26, 2006 she joined the Oakwood retirement community for the Religious of the Sacred Heart, Atherton, California, where she arrived with the happy heart that had always so much characterized her.
Sister Ryan’s artistic temperament and love of beauty enabled her to see the world with an eye for beauty. She often spoke of her gratitude to God for the gift of living in beautiful California, having spent more years there than in any other state. She also had deep gratitude for her vocation to the Society of the Sacred Heart.
In 2009, Sister Ryan had a fall, which aggravated an already ailing back. She needed to spend long stretches of time in bed. Added to this suffering, failing eyesight deprived her of her great pastime of reading, especially books on the new cosmology and creation spirituality. On May 3, 2012, after several strokes, Sister Rita Ryan quietly left the Oakwood community that she loved so much to enter into eternal life with her beloved God.