Sister Edith Rietz, MM

Born: February 16, 1921
Entered: September 6, 1942
Died: April 1, 2012

We gather this morning to celebrate and to give thanks for the life of our Sister Edith Rietz who died peacefully in the early morning hours of April 1, 2012 at our Residential Care IV.  She was 91 years old and celebrated her 70th anniversary as a Maryknoll Sister this past February.

She was born on February 16, 1921, in Chicago, IL, to William and Wilhelmina (Newhouse) Rietz.  Sister Edith had four brothers and two sisters, all of whom have predeceased her.

Edith graduated from Trinity High School, River Forest, IL in 1939.  She entered Maryknoll from Our Lady Help of Christians Parish, Chicago, on September 6, 1942.  At her Reception, she received the religious name of Sister Marion Cordis, making her First Profession of Vows on March 7, 1945, and her Final Vows on March 7, 1948, both at the Motherhouse in Ossining, NY.  She received her certification in both pastoral and clinical education and also graduated from Mercy College, Dobbs Ferry, NY, where she earned a B.S. in Psychology in 1976.

In 1946, Edith was appointed Assistant to the Postulant Mistress.  There was a very large number of young women entering that year.  In later years, Edi spoke of how unsuited and unprepared she had felt for that position and how difficult it had been for her.  Still, she had exhibited the qualities that caused her to be chosen for this work.

In 1948, Edi was assigned to Kaying, China where she worked for Bishop Francis X. Ford, who was in the first group of Maryknoll missioners to be assigned to China. After studying the Hakka language, she began pastoral and catechetical work.  With the Communist victory in 1949, Sister Edith and Sister Paulita Hoffmann were placed under house arrest until December 1951.

Penny Lernoux’s book, HEARTS ON FIRE, chapter 1 features this 13 month-long time of incarceration as described to Penny by Edi herself.  For the most part, Edi had kept this traumatic experience to herself until her interview with Penny. Penny was the right person, at the right time; the understanding presence Edi needed to pour out her heart. An immediate bond developed between the two women.

In a paper Edi wrote during her golden jubilee, she reflected on the impact her detention and that of Sr. Paulita had on her: “It helped me …to understand where and what the faith dimension is in people of other religions, ideologies. And it has been enriching…made me more aware of the depth and beauty of the culture and to be more sensitive to signs of God’s presence in the life style and the attitudes of the enigmatic Chinese. How many times in my life have I found myself saying: ‘There I go again with my Western and Catholic values and ways’, when a mix so often would be better, by far.  All creation is a reflection of God’s love.”

After being expelled from China in 1951, Edi joined the Maryknoll Sisters in Hong Kong where she worked with Kaying refugees who had fled there following the Communist victory.  In 1953, she was missioned to Taiwan where she continued pastoral ministry until 1971.

It was at this time that Edi began studying Mandarin, which allowed her to get into more diversified types of work.  In her mid-50’s by then, Edi went into this study of a second language with great energy and determination. This was no easy task, but she worked hard at it, and became very conversant in Mandarin.

Edi’s first work outside of the Hakka-speaking area was with young women immigrants in Taipei.  These were young people who were leaving the farming areas in Taiwan for the larger cities where they could find work.  Edi was a shoulder to cry on, a friend to count on and she accompanied many.

In 1972, Edith returned to the United States and did promotion work in the Mid-West for one year followed by two years as Secretary for the Center Unit Board.

In 1976, Edi returned to Taiwan and, from then until 1993, was involved in many different ministries. She served as Dean of Students at the Chinese Language Institute at Furen University, Taipei; then as Assistant National Chaplain for the Young Christian Workers.  During these years, she also did some pastoral care ministry in the Taoyuan Provincial Hospital and provided a Christian presence and witness among non-Christians at the hospital.

Edi’s last work in Taiwan was on the staff of CATHWELL, an adoption agency in Taipei run by the Catholic Church.  Here she worked with unwed mothers and their babies and also provided office support services. For having ‘escorted’ babies three times to Canada and to the States, she was dubbed “the stork”.  One Sister said, “Edi truly gave of herself to all the ministries in which she was involved in Taiwan”.

Edi’s life journey was filled with changes and challenges, which she openly embraced.  She beautifully sums up her experiences in these words: “On the years of growth and change in Maryknoll, the Church and the world at large have affected me and my understanding of my missionary vocation profoundly. Perhaps best summed up in the awareness that we do not have the full answer in the fields of theology, philosophy, social sciences but have much to learn, experience, search through in world religions, cultures and now the beautiful concepts and convictions of our vital relationship to the earth and the universe.”

In 1993, she returned to Ossining to serve in various volunteer positions at the Center until 2003 when she was assigned to the Residential Care Unit where she received Taiwan as her Prayer Ministry.

In response to a question posed to her on what makes it all worthwhile, she mentions what she treasures most: “Pockets of silence – time to reflect on the miracle of God’s presence in love and in daily living, in the lives of so many who are searching… I treasure it all…the shared tears, the shared laughter and joy— the awareness of God’s action.”

We give thanks to God for Sister Edith’s full and well-lived life. We thank the members of the Residential Unit who attended to Sister Edith’s needs with dedicated care during her long illness.

We are happy to have with us today so many of Sister Edith’s family and friends. We also welcome and thank our Maryknoll Brother, Father Larry Lewis who will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial.