sister vita marie rudden
December 3, 1907 – October 30, 2008
Sister Vita Marie was born December 3, 1907, in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents, John Edward and Evangeline Haase, named their baby daughter Evangeline. They had her baptized at St. Malachy’s Church on December 15. In 1927 she entered the community. She received the habit and the name S. Vita Marie on March 19, 1928. Her mother opposed her only daughter entering the convent and it was several years before they reconciled.
The name Vita means life and S. Vita loved life. She shared her zest for living within our community and with her family. She was caring, kind and generous with her talents. Even when she could have slowed down and taken life easier, she chose instead to take on a new ministry of work at Rockhaven. While she was there she did the gardening, cleaning and most importantly praying. She said that her ministry was to enable those working at Rockhaven to be able to minister more effectively. Associate Robin Smitherman, who worked at Rockhaven for a time, wrote that Vita “was an inspiration to me from the beginning. She painted beautiful cards. I asked her once why she only charged $1 for her cards. She told me she wanted people to use them as greetings to cheer or console someone rather than being kept as a piece of art.”
S. Vita received her degree in philosophy at Fontbonne College and began teaching at St. Joseph’s Academy in Green Bay in 1930. She taught at Holy Rosary School and St. Leo’s School in St. Louis. From 1935-1939 she taught at Rosati-Kain High School.
From 1945-195l she served as director of religious education at Sacred Heart Parish in L’Anse, Mich. At that time such a position was a novel idea. She and Srs. St. Elizabeth and Anita Joseph established the program, staffed it and taught the catechists.
From L’Anse she moved to Green Bay again, this time teaching junior high at St. John the Evangelist. John LeDuc, one of her 7th grade students, said that he was a young man with no confidence in himself. S. Vita helped him to believe in his own competence and goodness and he went on to be a very successful businessman. He maintained lifelong contact with S. Vita. She subsequently taught again at St. Joseph’s Academy in Green Bay. S. Elizabeth Ganss, who taught with her there, remembers that S. Vita stressed that she taught “students” and not just Latin.
In 1959 she left for Kansas City to teach at St. Teresa’s Academy. S. Suzanne Wesley recalls that “she treated us noisy and at times not too well behaved STA students with the same respect that I saw her treat others all through her life.” Some years ago S. Kathleen Mitchell wrote that S. Vita was the best teacher she had had because she didn’t answer student’s questions but taught them to research and think through to their own answers.
She must have been quite adaptable and willing to go where she was needed because after six years she moved to St. Louis to teach at St. Joseph’s Academy, her own alma mater. From 1966 until 1968 she taught at St. Anthony’s High School. S. Kathleen Karbowski wrote, “I was fresh out of the juniorate and I remember her because she was so even tempered and she was so well liked by the girls at the high school. S. Vita didn’t speak a lot but when she did you listened because you knew that she had given a lot of thought to what she said.”
In 197l she took on a whole new ministry. She began studying geriatrics and took on the task of transforming Redemptorist Convent in Kansas City into a home for elderly ladies. She was administrator at Redemptorist for six years.
In 1977-1979 she took a sabbatical, choosing to study at Fordham University. She did not choose to live in the student dorms but moved into a boarding house in the Bronx. She took off her skirt and began to wear slacks so that she would be warm as she boarded the public transit system every day. She indicated that she learned a lot both inside and outside the classroom and felt energized to do anything and serve God’s people anywhere and anytime.
S. Rose McLarney recalls, “I knew Sister when she was missioned at Rockhaven. She cared for the gardens, making cards and hospitality. I particularly remember her love of nature, creatures and people. Her belief with regard to the community, the poor, her companions, her ministry, prayer and pain seemed to be to make the best of what is, appreciate what comes our way, welcoming of all, with a desire to get to know other people, places and cultures.” At her memorial mass S. Vita’s personal welcome was described as warm, inclusive and non-judgmental. She met many people at Rockhaven especially loving having contact with friends from other countries.
Again from S. Suzanne, “One of her gifts that I came to deeply respect later in life was her approach to her own aging process. S. Vita never gave up, never really retired but made herself an integral part of Rockhaven, caring for the earth and loving the outdoors. Nature seemed to rejuvenate her. She was a wonderful example of turning our older years into a blessing, being an example for all that a well-lived, happy life brings happiness to each life we touch. She spent 16 years at Rockhaven.
When she left there she lived in community with S. Tobias Hagan in a small house in Jefferson County, Mo., where she enjoyed the beauty of nature and the antics of her canine companions.
As her health began to fail, she determined that it was time to go to Nazareth. She was there about three weeks. On October 30 S. Vita slept peacefully. No one realized that these were her last hours. At 6:05pm that evening she died. Sister, full of life, is now enjoying eternal life. We celebrate having known her!
By S. Mary Tobias Hagan and S. Kathleen Karbowski