By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
After making her perpetual vows 10 years ago, Mother Susan Rueve of the Franciscan Sisters of Christ the Divine Teacher experienced, one by one, the deaths and retirements of her fellow Sisters. Eventually, she was alone in the convent across the street from St. Alphonsus Church in Davenport.
For three years, she trudged forward as the sole active Sister in the order, turning to God for companionship and guidance. She believed God was calling her to stay, despite the challenges. “I pray to God and he hears and answers me. I trust in him,” Mother Rueve, OSF, said.
Now, she is surrounded by a new generation of women who seem just as eager to serve God, the order, and St. Alphonsus Parish. As Mother Rueve and her two new Sisters entered St. Alphonsus Church on Aug. 2 to welcome a new postulant, the women in habits were smiling and laughing in the joy of their growing order.
Sister M. Anthony Worrell, OSF, was effusive in her gratitude and admiration for Mother Rueve’s perseverance. “Many would have given up at that point and joined another order, or given up on religious life completely.”
As the women waited to formally welcome their new postulant at Mass, a box of tissues and a camera joined them in the pew. Mother Rueve expected the moment when she placed the tau cross around postulant Kimberly Karwath’s neck to be a highlight of the Mass, and it was. The two women shared an emotional embrace in the presence of the pastor, Father Paul Appel, while the congregation applauded.
Mother Rueve’s two active Sisters, however, had a few tricks up their sleeves. At the end of Mass, Sr. Worrell and Sister M. Seraphin Beck, OSF, ascended to the ambo to honor Mother’s commitment to the order, presenting her with a box of cards from well-wishing parishioners. Fr. Appel, also in on the secret, offered Mother Rueve a blessing for her continued ministry.
Sr. Worrell looked at Mother Rueve from behind the ambo and fought back tears, saying, “If you think of all God has asked of you, Mother Susan, for the past 10 years, we have many reasons to celebrate.”
Mother Rueve joked that she had “taught them well” in their ability to keep a fun secret, but she was primarily thankful for God’s guidance and love in the renewed life of the order. “How can you not love him back?”
With the addition of Karwath as a postulant, all four stages of religious life are now represented in the order: Sr. Beck is a novice, Sr. Worrell is junior professed, and Mother Rueve is perpetually professed.
The increased numbers allow the Sisters to expand their teaching apostolate and to take on new responsibilities. In addition to helping with RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) and religious education at St. Alphonsus, the women plan to open a Catholic bookstore. They are currently renovating a house next to St. Alphonsus for the bookstore and recently installed shelving and a rosary rack. Mother Rueve believes that Karwath’s love of books and retail experience — she worked for seven years at Sam’s Club — will be an asset to the bookstore, should she decide to profess first vows and officially enter the order.
Additionally, Mother Rueve will teach religion courses part-time at Assumption High School in Davenport this fall. Through her work there, she also hopes to expose, through example, the possibilities available to women who feel called to religious life. “The calling is real,” she said, “but they don’t always know what to do about it.”
Fr. Appel is confident that the order will continue to flourish. “The Sisters are always joyful, always excited about their mission of teaching the faith, and it is no wonder that a number of young women have responded to the call to religious life in the order.”