Sister Ruth Greble, MM

Born: November 16, 1921
Entered: September 6, 1949
Died: April 9, 2023

We gather this morning to celebrate the life of our dear Sister Ruth Greble who died quietly early on Easter Sunday morning, April 9, 2023, at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, Maryknoll, New York. She was 101 years old and in her 74th year as a Maryknoll Sister.

Ruth Elizabeth Greble was born on November 16, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Emma (Klotz) Greble and Robert Greble. Ruth’s mother died in an accident in 1930 when Ruth was nine years old and she was cared for by her Aunt Cora. She had an older sister, Mildred, who predeceased her, and is survived by seven devoted nieces and nephews.

Ruth graduated from Hallahan Catholic Girls High School in Philadelphia in 1939. She said that “we were encouraged to pray to see if we had a religious vocation. In my senior year, I thought about it, but I was afraid, so I resisted.” She attended Pierce Business School in Philadelphia, receiving her diploma in 1940 and worked for a few years until she decided to follow her heart, entering the Maryknoll Sisters in Ossining, New York, on September 6, 1949. At her reception, she received the religious name, Sister Mary Joel. Ruth made her first profession of vows at Maryknoll, New York on March 7, 1952, she was assigned as secretary to Bishop Raymond A. Lane, Superior General of the Maryknoll Society until 1957. During that period, she made her final vows at Maryknoll, New York, on March 7, 1955.

In 1956, Ruth began study at Rogers College in Maryknoll, New York, graduating in 1960 with a Bachelor of Education degree. She earned a Master’s degree in geography at Boston University in 1961 and in 1962 went to Africa to do research for her doctoral dissertation on “Villagization in Tanganyika” (now Tanzania). Ruth found support and encouragement from her own Maryknoll Sisters working in the area and from government officials as well. She sent a copy of the dissertation entitled “The Urban Growth Problems of Mwanza Township” to President Julius Nyerere, the President of Tanzania, who wrote back to thank her, saying, “I will send it to the University Library… to be available for all students and research workers in the future.”

Ruth received her Ph.D. in geography from Boston University in 1971. In her final years of study she also served at Rogers College both in teaching and administrative positions. In 1967, she was named Vice-President of the College and in 1968 became President until its closure in 1973, a very difficult ending for her.

Sister Ruth then served in Center leadership for two years. In 1975, The Sudan Conference of Bishops asked Maryknoll to help train lay men and women to minister in remote areas where priests could reach only once or twice a year. Ruth joined the team of Maryknollers, (3 priests and 2 Sisters) who were sent to Juba, Sudan to begin training catechists, pastoral and liturgical workers. Ruth had loved her research years in Africa, so she happily joined Fathers Tom Mantica, Bill Knipe and John Conway and Sister Lucille Fandel. The two Sisters studied Arabic in Egypt, arriving in Juba on November 28, 1975. To their dismay, their assigned rooms were filthy and rat ridden, with very little furniture and no cleaning implements — it was not an auspicious beginning, but the sisters conquered the rat population and scrubbed the place clean.

Sisters Ruth and Lucy were the first foreign missionaries back in Juba since the expulsion of all missionaries by the Islamic Khartoum Government in the 1950s. The Sudanese Sisters of the Sacred Heart exuberantly welcomed them; Ruth was soon dubbed, “Abuba”, meaning, “the beloved mother,” and she holds the title even now in remembrance. Ruth’s kindliness and acceptance of others won people over; opening the door to the training they would offer.

Tragedy struck when in 1978 Father Tom Mantica was killed in an airplane crash; and soon after, the other two priests left because of illness and other assignments. Sister Lucy left for renewal in 1985 and decided not to return. However, Ruth and a diocesan priest as Director and a team of workers continued to run the Center until 1989, when the civil war made it impossible.

In 1989, Ruth offered to teach at the Munuki Major Seminary and was officially accepted in a letter from Paolino Lukudu Loro, Archbishop of Juba. He wrote in part: “I thank you in advance for your sincerity and humility to dispose yourself to help in whatever way you can for the formation of the Sudan’s future Priests.” She taught Psychology and Education, as well as Applied Catechetics and Methodology until the Sudan government expelled all expatriates; they left aboard a Russian cargo plane in August 1992.

By the end of June 1993, Sister Ruth, with four other Sisters, returned to the Torit Diocese in Sudan’s “liberated area”. A few weeks later, Sister Ruth moved to Nairobi, Kenya as Financial Controller in the Diocese of Torit’s office from 1993 to 1996. Two bandits once came into her office and demanded money at gunpoint. When they went for her bag, she said, “Please, take the money but leave the documents!” But, one bandit, looking for more, held a gun to her head threatening to kill her, pushing her around. Ruth later said, “I really get angry when people push me, so I yelled at them, I’m going, but stop pushing me!” She told them again: “You’ll just have to kill me, there is no money here!” They finally believed her and left. Ruth later recounted the story at home in her dry way: “I was almost killed today;” then she got up and went to chapel. The next morning when asked if she slept the night before, she said “Yes, very well.”

In 1997 Ruth joined the Maryknoll Sisters in Chukudum, Sudan and taught English until 1998 when Bishop Paride asked her to return to Nairobi to help with financial matters. From 1999 to 2006 she helped staff the Africa World Section House in Nairobi and worked as a pastoral agent until April 2006 when she and Sister Nancy Lyons returned to Maryknoll, New York.

In 2007, Ruth moved to California and did volunteer ministry. Because of diminishing health, she returned to Maryknoll, New York in 2014. She became a member of the Eden Community’s Home Care Unit until her death on April 9th. We are very grateful to the staff and Sisters who cared for Ruth so lovingly these past years.

We welcome members of Ruth’s family who are with us today: her nieces Louise with her husband Jim, Ruth, Mia with her daughter Alecia, Bobbie, Mary Ann, and her nephews John and Paul and his wife, Liz.

We also welcome our Maryknoll brother, Father John Lange, who will celebrate the Liturgy of Christian Burial with us.