Sister Edith Riehle, MM

Born: June 6, 1908
Entered: October 13, 1925
Died: August 5, 1990

It was just after 8:00 a.m. on Sunday, August 5, 1990 when the call came from Phelps Memorial Hospital that Sister Edith Riehle had anticipated the Feast of The Transfiguration and gone to God. She died at 7:00 a.m.

It seems she may have sensed that death was not far away. A few days before her illness Sister Edith gave away many things. Those who went to her room on Sunday found very little left.

Nelda May Riehle was born in the District of Islington, London, England on June 6, 1908 to James and Frances Mary Hulme Riehle. She was one of eight children, four girls and four boys. Two years after her birth the family moved to Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada and eight years later to St. Paul, Minnesota. In England, her father was a Master Farmer and foreign correspondent. In Canada, he did homesteading and worked as an accountant, which profession he retained when he moved to the U.S. It is clear that his daughter inherited this trait.

At 17 years of age, Nelda entered Maryknoll on October 13, 1925, and at Reception received the name Sister Mary Edith. She made her First Profession three years later on April 30, 1928, and subsequently made Final Profession on April 30, 1931. Her movement through this timeframe was noted in two ways. She was viewed by her superiors as earnest, willing and obedient and she was perceived by all as a person with intellectual promise.

Between 1928 and 1937 Sister Edith completed high school at The Venard, worked there, here at the Center and Bethany, gained her accreditation for elementary teaching from New York State through Maryknoll Teacher Training School and was assigned to Seattle, Washington to study.

It was in Seattle that her long career in education began in depth. She gained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the Arts with a concentration in history from Seattle College, and after a year back at the Center in 1943 to teach, she went to The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies in Toronto, Canada where she earned a Licentiate in Medieval History in 1947. This was closely followed by a Ph.D. in History in 1950 from the University of Ottawa.

As those of us know who were at the Center during the 1950’s and early 1960’s, Sister Edith’s classes in History were not to be taken lightly. She was a scholar to her fingertips and filled her classes with wit, wisdom and wonder. Few were those who were not challenged to prepare well even if sometimes motivated by temerity over the response to unfulfilled expectations re.: homework.

To enhance her understanding of the Far East, Sister Edith went to Hong Kong in 1963 where she taught for a year and then went on to Japan for another year of teaching. After a brief return to Mary Rogers College at the Center, Sister Edith was assigned to Panama where she did University teaching for three years.

The termination of Sister’s work at this University and Mary Rogers College’s closing were almost simultaneous and Sister Edith asked to locate a position in the St. Paul area or in the State of Washington. As a consequence she began what was to become seven years of teaching Oriental History and advising foreign students at Fort Wright College of The Holy Names in Spokane. She had strong feelings of love and gratitude for The Holy Names Sisters during this time. In 1969 she was named Distinguished Teacher of the Year.

In order to live in greater proximity to Maryknollers she moved to Escalon, California and taught at the University of the Pacific. It was only as the Sisters left the Stockton area that she decided to return to Washington State in 1979 and resume some duties at Fort Wright College. This time, to her delight, she had a Maryknoll companion, Sister Claire Downes.

Failing health and problems of aging caused her to consider retirement and in 1984 Sister Edith moved to Monrovia. The assignment form carried the question, ” What foreign language skills have you,”  to which she answered, “I fail to see the pertinence of this question. I read about eight languages and speak two well enough!”

By early 1990, continued diminishment made a transfer to the Center seem wise. When asked why she was coming to the Center, Sister said that she couldn’t think of a better place and that she would see herself in mission here through sociability. Earlier she had stated that the style of community life which attracted her was one that allowed daily contact around meals, prayer and recreation. Throughout her years of academic discipline and freedom of movement, Sister maintained strong ties to the core values of her life – mission, prayer and presence to and with Maryknollers.

Sister Edith used her gifted mind to challenge and enlighten others to the riches of past and present civilizations. She was trained to teach Maryknollers and she did this for over a decade. Then she worked with students from around the world in Asia, Central America and the U.S. The years brought mellowness, an increased sense of fun and an ease in relating. That God asked of her the gift of that beautiful mind did not embitter her. Instead she allowed herself to be led and she seemed genuinely happy. The words of St. Paul to the Romans on the day of her death ring true… “These are the trials through which we triumph by the power of God who loves us.”

As we begin this Liturgy of the Resurrection, we offer our sympathy to Sister’s family and friends. We join now with Father John Moran, M.M. who will offer the Liturgy with us.