A Dominican for 65 years, Sr. Ruth Marie earned a Bachelor of Science in Education from Catherine Spalding (Louisville, KY) and a Master of Arts in Education from DePaul University (Chicago, IL). She ministered as a teacher at schools in Orland Park and Chicago, IL; North Cambridge, MA; Spalding and Hastings, NE and Jeffersonville, IN. She was a teacher/principal in McMechen, WV and Greeley, NE.
In 1990 Sr. Ruth Marie helped open a home for abused children in Jeffersonville, IN. She later served as coordinator at Holy Rosary Convent in Louisville, KY. In 1996, she moved to SS Simon and Jude in Louisville, KY, where she provided community service to the parish. In 2002, Sr. Ruth Marie began a ministry of prayer at Sansbury Care Center (St. Catharine, KY).
Sr. Joan Monica McGuire, OP, lived with Sr. Ruth Marie in Orland Park, IL, and was impressed by her dedication and competence as a teacher. She remembers Sr. Ruth Marie as a cheerful and gracious community member who was always generous with her time.
Sr. Ann Frederick Leonard, OP, got to know Sr. Ruth Marie well while living with her in Louisville, KY. She says, “One of the things which many will remember was how she gave each person a hug every day because Pope Francis said that everyone should have a hug each day.”
Sr. Joan Marie Hill, OP, remembered the wonderful tours she and Sr. Ruth Marie took together to places like Gatlinburg, TN and Bronson, MO. Sr. Ruth Marie was a great traveling companion.
In her reflection at the funeral, Dominican Sister of Peace Elaine DesRosiers, OP, said:
Sr. Ruth Marie entered the Kentucky Dominicans the same day I did. She was like big sister to us because she was already a college graduate and had taught for three years. Most of us were just 18 and right out of high school!
When I reflect on her life, I am reminded of Paul’s words in the Letter to the Romans: We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. The infinitely good God predestined Ruth Marie to be conformed to the image of God’s Son and called her to religious life.
God also called her to be a teacher. She taught for over 41 years – nine in junior high school in Chicago; 19 in high school in West Virginia, Massachusetts and Nebraska – twice as principal; and then 13 in middle school grades in Indiana.
She also received the call to minister to those in need, beginning with her pre-convent years when she moved to Birmingham, AL, to teach at the Holy Family High School. In her later years she volunteered at an Adult Day Care facility every Thursday morning.
Most of all she was called to prayer, a call to which she was always faithful. At about 70 she wrote, “As I have aged, I feel I have become more God-conscious.” Then in her humility she added, “However, there is much room to deepen and renew my spiritual life.” I believe that, during her years in Sansbury, she did just that. When I would visit her, she was often praying her Divine Office or the rosary. Early mornings, long before breakfast, she would be in the chapel making the Stations of the Cross or otherwise praying.
During a short period of her life she experienced what St. John of the Cross called the Dark Night of the Soul. This reminded me of St. Luke’s account of the two people on the road to Emmaus, in despair over the death of Jesus. What great joy they experienced when Jesus himself made his presence known to them! He made his presence known to Ruth Marie again, too. She expressed her renewed joy by a new calling – her hugging ministry! Inspired by words of Pope Francis, she began to give great hugs to all who approached her.
A former student said of Sr. Ruth Marie, “We never had to worry about where she was coming from. She told it like it was.” The old expression, “What you see is what you get,” applied to her, She knew who she was.
Her self-knowledge and her dry wit are revealed in a short document she wrote just before leaving Jeffersonville in 1992. I’ll quote a few excerpts:
“In September 1946 I went to Birmingham, AL, and taught social studies at Holy Family High School. At Christmas I went home and stayed because the parish could not afford my $40 a month salary and my $50 room and board.”
“I spent nine weeks in Europe with an Art group from Providence College. I received credits in literature and music appreciation. I am not an artist.”
“I went to another workshop in the 1960s in Conception, MO. This one attempted to update our theology.”
And finally, “Another Sister and I agreed to help open a home for abused children here in Jeffersonville. Many people told us we would find the work too difficult, and we have. But we promised to give it a trial run. This was too taxing for me at age 67.”
Our dear Sr. Ruth Marie at age 91 repeated what she had said several times before, “I am too old for this,” and gently slipped away to her eternal reward. As St. Paul wrote, “Those God predestined he called; and those God called he also justified; and those God justified, he also glorified.”
Sr. Ruth Marie Smith is survived by her sister Patricia and her brother James as well as many nieces and nephews.
The wake and funeral were held February 4 and 5, 2016, at Sansbury Care Center Chapel (St. Catharine, KY) with burial following at the St. Catharine Motherhouse cemetery.
Memorial gifts in Sr. Ruth Marie’s name may be submitted securely online at oppeace.org or mailed to Dominican Sisters of Peace, Office of Mission Advancement, 2320 Airport Dr, Columbus, OH 43219-2098.