Sister Mary Ruth Morris
This service is part of our farewell for Sister Mary Ruth Morris. September 8, the day of her funeral, is her 80th anniversary as a member of the CHM community and they have been remarkable years. According to Sr. Micheline Curtis, who had lived with her for many years at Humility of Mary Center, the two words that most often left her lips were “Thank you”. She was the essence of politeness, even when her head was bleeding and she was being transported to the Emergency Room at Genesis Hospital.
Audrey Morris was born in South Dakota to William and Mary Mattson Morris on November 10, 1921. Audrey and her brother, William, Jr., grew up on the south side of Des Moines in St. Anthony parish where she first met the Sisters of Humility. She was preceded in death by her parents, brother, stepmother and two stepbrothers. Survivors are nieces and a sister-in-law in the Phoenix area of Arizona.
While still in high school, Audrey entered the Congregation of the Humility of Mary in Ottumwa, Iowa in 1937. She received the habit and her name in religion, Sister Mary Ruth, in 1938, and professed first vows in 1941. Sister received a BS degree from St. Ambrose-Marycrest College in Home Economics Education and an MS in Science from Marquette University in Milwaukee. She also had certification as a medical records librarian.
Following her early ministry as a pastry cook under Sr. Raphael at the Motherhouse in Ottumwa, Sister Mary Ruth embarked on thirty-five years of teaching high school at St. Mary’s in Marshalltown, Walsh in Ottumwa, St. Leo’s in Lewistown, MT and Bourgade in Phoenix. She then went to Omaha where she received training in medical records at the College of St. Mary. Thus began her third ministry as a medical records librarian and instructor at Ottumwa Heights Junior College, St. Joseph Hospital and Indian Hills Community College, all in Ottumwa.
At age 64, when most people are thinking about retirement, Ruth signed up for the Peace Corps to fulfill a long-time dream to go to Africa. She was asked to go to Ghana to teach chemistry in a girls’ high school. She spent an enjoyable two years there and was recognized officially for her work with the girls she taught . In later years she often talked about her experiences there and the friends she made in Ghana.
Sister Mary Ruth began still another chapter in her career by joining Sisters Bernadine Pieper and Helen Strohman, founders of the Rainbow Literacy program in Canton, Mississippi. Their students were adults who were unable to read well enough to get licenses or to read ads in order to secure employment.They often worked with jail inmates.
After four years in Canton Sister moved to Humility of Mary Center in Davenport and began her “real retirement” years by taking up quilting. She was one of the persons who helped bring to fruition the community quilt displayed at the bottom of the steps to the dining room at Humility of Mary Center. In fact I am told that she cut all of the squares that were given to the individual sisters for their own design. With the help of cutters and sorters, Sister Mary Ruth made several quilts, some commissioned and some for charity. No matter what anyone did to help Sister, the response was always, “Thank you.” In addition she was one quick to compliment others, particularly young sisters. Her ability to interpret situations using her dry sense of humor was uncanny. She was also known to have fitting nicknames for a variety of folks, generally unbeknownst to them.
Just think of the miles covered from high school science classes in Iowa, Montana and Arizona; to medical records training and work in Omaha, Nebraska, Ottumwa, Iowa, and Normal, Illinois; to teaching in Ghana with the Peace Corps; to teaching GED and reading classes in Mississippi; to quilting in Davenport; and catching up with reading at Bishop Drumm. Think of all the “thank you’s” that have been offered and how many people have felt a warm glow because of them. Perhaps the best tribute we could offer to Sister Mary Ruth Morris would be our own effort to say “thank you” more often.
Sister Micheline Curtis, CHM
Sister Mary Rehmann, CHM