VIGIL: Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, at the Nazareth Motherhouse
EULOGIST: Sister Marcia Allen
“In this my 80th year of consecrated life, I am in the hospital with the mending of a broken hip. My ministry is offering prayer and suffering on the mission my community and life lead me. My longing is to be released from this life to fully be in the hands of God.”
Sister Celestine realized the fulfillment of this mission and this longing on Saturday morning, Nov. 28, 2015 as she finished her breakfast at Mount Joseph. Her passing was much like her life: matter-of-fact, down to earth, with fidelity to the things of God in stunning and straightforward simplicity.
Rosaline Ruder, the fourth of 11 children, born to Mary Boos and Henry Ruder, on May 15, 1917 in a two-room home southeast of Hays, was baptized the following day in Antonino, Kan. Her parents and all of her siblings have preceded her in death. Surviving are two sisters-in-law, Marge Ruder and Joann Ruder, her many nieces and nephews and their children and grandchildren, her many friends, and her Community of St. Joseph.
Rosaline entered the postulancy on Feb. 5, 1935, and entered the novitiate on Aug. 15, 1935, receiving the name Sister Celestine. The prayers in Latin frightened her but her firm belief that she was meant to be a Sister of St. Joseph kept her steady through the years of formation. She could cook and bake, having been taught by her mother and father, both of whom were good cooks. In her letter to Reverend Mother Mary Rose asking to enter, she cited her ability and willingness to cook and housekeep for the other sisters because she had only gone as far as eighth grade in school.
In 1937, at age 20, she was sent to her first mission – St. Anthony Hospital in Sabetha, Kan. Of that experience she said (quoting from her Life Review, 2005): “…it was different cooking for the sick, but I learned…. I always said the best teacher is doing things yourself and taking risks in trying new things which I always did and am still doing it. I love to cook different things.” She continued this work of service creatively, vigorously and with good humor until 1979. During those 42 years she cooked and kept house for sisters in Sabetha, Damar, Tipton, New Almelo, Pfeifer, Leawood, Junction City twice, Marymount in Salina, Sacred Heart in Salina, and St. Joseph Orphanage in Abilene – all in Kansas. She also was sent to St. Mary’s in Silver City, N.M., twice and the Cathedral convent in Grand Island, Neb. These missions kept her see-sawing from very large communities – whole hospitals, a college population and boarding school, large and very small communities of sisters. In some she expressed the terrible loneliness of being home alone throughout the day and possessed of an evening with school teachers who had too much to study and prepare for the next day. She enjoyed the institutional communities more because she was surrounded by people.
She commented on this in her life review. She said that she was extremely bashful and this shyness was a burden except that in the convent the rule of silence made it easier for her while at the same time reinforcing her woeful temerity among people. At one point in her life this burden was lifted from her. In her life review she says: “The Holy Spirit really came down on me; that’s the day I got over my bashfulness and have been talking ever since, have gotten in trouble for talking too much. It was very painful to be bashful.” She later commented that once she got started talking, she never stopped!
Celestine loved to cook, but she knew that there was something else just as satisfying – something that she could do at the same time she continued to enjoy cooking. And when opportunity knocked, she quickly responded.
The year 1979 was a turning point for Celestine. Father Jerry Morgan wrote to her and asked if she’d come to the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish in Hays to establish a program for the senior citizens. He knew her from the time she was missioned in Pfeifer and taking care of her parents who lived in Hays. Toward the end of their lives she lived with them a short time in order to care for them more easily. During these months with her parents she discovered that she not only had a talent for caring for the elderly but also she had a deep love for this kind of work.
Celestine lost no time getting to Hays where she helped inaugurate the Laudator Program. This was a program in which a Laudator, an aged or disabled person, ministers to the church by his or her prayers. It was Celestine’s job to go to the elderly or shut-ins of the parish and invite them into the Laudator program.
During her years at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish, she was responsible for an enormous number of elder-centered activities. From communion services to socials, she was constantly on the move. About the socials she said that there was plenty of dancing – and she didn’t just watch. As she said: “We all, including myself, loved to polka.”
A change in pastor at Immaculate Heart of Mary parish necessitated Celestine’s leaving the parish for another position. Although this was a painful experience, her reputation preceded her and she soon found another way to minister.
In June 1986 she began work at Good Samaritan Center in Hays. One of 11 staff members at the center, her position was that of “spiritual minister.” Her main purpose was to “supply a chaplain to provide the residents, families and employees of the center a personal relationship with our Savior, and to nurture and support their spiritual life.” In order to do that, she was to cultivate meaningful relationships with the residents and employees, as well as serve as a friend and counselor in personal and spiritual problems. She also attended funeral services, celebrated Holy Communion, attended social events and maintained the necessary records. About this work she said: “Ministry to the elderly is like a body of water. Throw in a pebble and it forms circles. We start out in the middle by baptism and grow as years go by and get closer to our Lord. Now we are at the last circle waiting for our Lord to come and take us home, to see him face to face. That’s the way I see my ministry at Good Samaritan Center.” (Mission Statement for 1989-1990) She worked at Good Samaritan for 11 years – until 1997.
Following these years, she more or less retired. Sister Loretta Clare was still working in the Hays parishes and Sister Celestine joined her. Because Sister Loretta Clare had an eight-hour daily job, Celestine took on most of the cooking and the housekeeping. She did some visiting but by this time her health was beginning to fail. In early 2000 she described her ministry as a little visiting, getting the meals, doing the grocery shopping and praying. In the following five years she described her work more and more as praying – and whom she prayed for embraced local individuals, our community, her family and the whole world “where people suffer so much from day to day where there is war.”
She retired in 2005 and moved to the Motherhouse where her most important work of service was prayer. She also crocheted and knitted items for the gift shop. She lived at the Motherhouse until her fall on June 2, 2015. She went from the hospital to Mount Joseph Senior Village where physical therapy would be convenient. And that brings us to the mission statement with which I began this eulogy. At that time she was looking forward to celebrating her 80th jubilee as a Sister of St. Joseph, but actually she was more interested in the final Jubilee, which occurred on Nov. 28, 2015.
Sister Celestine Ruder was an amazing woman. During the years that she ministered among the elderly, she embarked on many educational projects. First she learned to drive because she didn’t want to have people chauffeuring her around. It wasted their time, she said. She took in an Elderhostel program. She also took programs from the Salina Diocese Catechist Formation program: “Before Seriously Reading the Bible,” “Evangelization: Essential Mission of the Church” and “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response.” She held a certificate for having completed the requisite hours of training from Trego County Hospice, and in 1988 she attended the Brazil Mission’s 25th anniversary celebration in Brazil.
She held many citations for dedicated Christian service from Good Samaritan and one from the Canterbury Villa Retirement Center where she volunteered in their social program. One certificate especially caught my attention, and probably says a good deal about Celestine’s love for her work and her world. It is a certificate from the “Paradise Fools School for Sillies.” She supposedly completed the curriculum prescribed for a “Bachelor of Foolishness.” This was awarded her in June 1984 and was a result of some of the Community’s Centenary activities. That she was serious about the clowning business, however, is testified in one of the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish bulletins where she clowned in full attire for at least one of the parish events. As I studied Celestine’s files I realized that she was completely given to whatever it took to bring joy and God’s love to the people she served. About those goals she never had a bashful moment.
She was a woman of deep and faithful prayer as witnessed by her Mission Statements and her Placement Forms. Year after year, they attest to the importance of prayer in her life. The Rosary was her most valued prayer. She kept a prayer journal – a book in which she wrote prayers that she valued and treasured through the years – all handwritten.
At the end of the book she wrote out a prayer that is particularly touching when one thinks of her age. It was something that she gleaned from an April retreat – probably a Holy Week retreat. I want to close this reflection about Celestine with this prayer because it seems to capture the kind of person she was, the way she entered into life and how she opened herself to all others without distinction.
God, widen our minds.
Stretch us in all our ideas.
Broaden our visions that we may value those who are different among us.
God, widen our hearts.
Stretch us in all that we feel.
Increase our compassion that we may welcome even the stranger among us.
God, widen our souls.
Stretch us in what we believe.
Deepen our wonder of what is holy – things yet unknown and unheard of.
In all this she kept a buoyant and joyful spirit, a hope that she knew would be fulfilled. Her face in death testified to the immeasurably profound peace she experienced as she responded to God’s final invitation. The song she ended the above prayer with sums it up well:
I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing.
I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing.
I’m gonna sing when the Spirit says sing – and obey the Spirit of the Lord.
• • • • • • •
Memorials for Sister Celestine Ruder may be given to the Sisters of St. Joseph Health Care/Retirement Fund or the Apostolic Works of the Sisters; P.O Box 279, Concordia KS 66901. To make an online donation in Sister Celestine’s memory, click on the button below: