Tell us about your growing up years and family.
I was born in Oakland, grew up in Hayward, CA to a pair of Catholic converts. In 1999, my mother died of lung cancer; my parents had been married for 54 years. A few short years later, my dad moved to Santa Barbara. My dad and I shared a strong bond, growing up; I can state he had a great deal of influence on me. At the time, I was living in Santa Barbara and fully engaged in Retreat Ministry. Over the years our roles however, had progressed, and I became more of the caregiver. We lived together the last two and half years of his life…he had a great mind and didn’t need much assistance with daily living activities. Truth be told, I worked a full-time job at the Retreat Center and came home in the evenings; I cooked, and he did the dishes. In 2017 he marked his 95 th birthday; a week later he died peacefully at our home. My younger brother is brilliant, a self-taught skilled craftsman. As a young man he entered the St Francis Minor Seminary in Santa Barbara and after two years, he left the community. He earned two undergraduate degrees: Chemistry and Philosophy. He later moved to southern Oregon, where he continues to live today…mindful of his carbon footprint. He lives completely off the grid!
Please share a favorite story about your early community service
Over the years I have been blessed with a variety of ministries. As a young sister, I taught at three of our schools: I taught at our high school in California, a middle school in Seattle, and at our international school in Rome. However, another memory came to mind; a deep learning experience that has remained with me my entire life. Another sister and I were attending summer school and we had been studying at the Los Angeles downtown library. After a day of studying, we were making our way up the hill to our car. We were dressed in modified habit and deep in conversation. Suddenly, an older woman with a walking stick came out of nowhere and she spit on me! Startled, I looked up at Sister Mary Jane and said, “you were as much of a target as I was- why me?” I really took some time to think about what had just occurred. It wasn’t a personal afront to me, personally; since we had never met before, and no words were ever spoken between us. It was a ‘NO’ to my personal appearance, clearly it was a non-verbal cue that not everyone has warm memories of nuns … specifically, nuns in habits. I stood out-and I became the target. I learned that I didn’t have to be the loudest voice, or the strongest person in the room to become the target or affect change. The habit at that time in my life was a symbol of our commitment to a religious life and sometimes it set us apart from the community. Today we work for social justice and community building among the poor (without our habits) while living in and being a part of this community. Habit-free we may not be as “visible” but I think we can still carry a strong message.
Why did you decide to become a sister?
My first twelve years of school, Dominican nuns taught me. To state that they were a huge influence would be an understatement. During my discernment process, I went to the Franciscan friars in the bay area and sought assistance from the vocation director, who in turn referred me to the Franciscan sisters in Redwood City. They were friendly, personable, joyous, and visibly good natured…I thought immediately, I could live here! I joined the community in 1964 and was given the religious name Sr. Ruthann.
How do you share your Franciscan values and spirituality now?
Almost every evening Sr. Norberta Villasenor who has a parish ministry in nearby Guadalupe, comes home with loads of stories about the challenges and successes of working with the Latinx parish community. Currently I serve as a Councilor on the leadership team for our Franciscan community and my ministry of leadership has kept me busy, however, the stories bolster me and remind me of how blessed I have been over the years. Previously, I have served as a teacher, a spiritual minister in the retreat ministry, and an associate director for a local non-profit social service provider, every one of these ministries have given me so many rich experiences; “my cup runneth over.” At this moment in time, however, I about to undertake a new and exciting ministry – starting the second Week in September 2022, I will be the sister minister to my infirm sisters in the extended Care Center and those living independently with assistance at the Marian Convent. I can hardly wait for the stories to come!
What would you like us to know about being a Franciscan?
We identify as Franciscans by the way we try to live the gospel life. I hope those we encounter along the way; understand how we choose to live. Like facets of a diamond, kindness and understanding are the unique characteristics of being Franciscan. St. Francis and St. Clare were kind; they were a presence to the people in their communities and had a distinctive ability to be present in kindness. The Dalai Lama famously said: “My religion is kindness.” We need more kindness as a society, and we need more kindness in each of our individual lives. This is what I pray for every day: understanding and kindness.
Please share a favorite quote or verse.
Early as a young vowed religious woman I had a very personal experience and this passage from the bible, Luke, 13:10-13 brings me closer to God:
Cure of a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath.
“He was teaching in a synagogue on the sabbath. And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect. When Jesus saw her, he called to her and said, ‘Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.’ He laid his hands on her, and she at once stood up straight and glorified God.”
One of my favorite and frequent prayers is: LET ME BE FREE IN YOU! and then I hear Jesus/God saying the same words back to me. When we desire, Jesus frees us to love more and more.