2015 Jubilarian – Rita (Marie Ambrose) Rennell
Sister Rita Rennell grew up in Detroit with her six siblings. In the sixth grade, she finally convinced her parents she was old enough to cross a busy road and walk to St. Mary of Redford. They allowed her to transfer to St. Mary, where she was taught by the IHM Sisters.
She loved the sisters’ outgoing personalities and kindness and was drawn to their holiness. She and her mother talked about a vocation, and the whole family prayed together, saying the rosary routinely.
After high school, Sister Rita attended Marygrove College, where she enjoyed an active social life. She entered the community after her sophomore year.
“It was more than just the teaching. It was giving my life to God,” she says. After one year of studying religious life and Scriptures, she set out on her first mission.
She began by teaching at St. Mary in Monroe. Subsequent teaching assignments were at elementary school in Detroit, Flint and Port Huron, Mich., and then teaching high school for six years at St. Martin in Detroit. When one of the sisters teaching at El Colegio La Merced in Cayey, Puerto Rico, became ill, Sister Rita was assigned to replace her.
After more than four years in Puerto Rico, where she taught high school, worked in the school library and coached the volleyball team, Sister Rita returned to Michigan. She taught high school at St. Gregory in Detroit, then at Marian in Bloomfield Hills. After 10 years, she left Marian to complete her nursing degree and nursed at the Motherhouse for a few years before becoming the director of nursing; all-told, she ministered at the Motherhouse for 10 years.
After a year of renewal at Lake Michigan College studying Scripture and theology, Sister Rita went to South Africa. During the eight years she spent there, she ministered as a nurse, served as a missionary and in pastoral care/education and taught domestic skills to young mothers. She also ministered as a librarian at the seminary of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) priests – the first non-OMI to hold the position.
Sister Rita loved to sew. “I found a need for sewing on name tags and hemming or repairing sisters’ clothes,” she recalls. I especially enjoyed making and dressing the IHM dolls and often helped Sister Bea Faucher, I’m happy to say I helped make one for a ‘sister doll’ exhibit in Paris and also dressed one for an exhibit her in America.”
The greatest joys Sister Rita has experienced since joining the community have been “the liturgies we have here for feast days, big days in the Church and the community. They bring me closer to God.” The liturgies inspire her to a great social justice consciousness. “We’ve always tried to be right at the place where we are needed in the world,” she says. She is most grateful for the friendships she has made.