Sister Ruth Marie Wohlfrom, MM

Born: March 23, 1906
Entered: June 9, 1937
Died: January 15, 1991

We gather this morning to say “Good-bye” to our Sister Ruth Marie Wohlfrom who died on January 15, in our Maryknoll Nursing Home. This morning, even as we mourn her loss, we celebrate the life of one we loved and who lived so gracefully among us.

Ruth Marie Wohlfrom was born in Oakland, California on March 23, 1906, one of three daughters born to John and Katherine Best Wohlfrom. She attended St. Francis de Sales Elementary School and graduated from Oakland Technical High School in 1924. Thereafter she nourished the desire to enter Religious Life but it was not until some years later, while she was working as a secretary at the Catholic Student Center at the University of California, that her desire took a particular direction in favor of Maryknoll. As is true for so many of us the final nudge came through the Field Afar magazine. Ruth Marie entered Maryknoll on June 9, 1937.

At Reception Ruth became known as “Sister Louis Marie”. She made her first vows on January 6, 1940 and her Final Vows three years later (January 6, 1943) at Maryknoll, New York. In recommendations written during her Formation Period, she was described as gentle, kind, thoughtful and down-to-earth, but always “the lady”. As we turn to our memories of her in mission and in community we are awed by God’s transformation of “the lady” into the gracious holy woman who continued to be ever more gentle, kind, down-to-earth and thoughtful of others to the end.

After Profession, Ruth Marie received her training as a Registered Nurse at Providence Hospital in Washington, D.C., graduating in 1946. Thereafter, she is best known and remembered among us for her mission experience at the jungle hospital in Riberalta, Bolivia where she was assigned after graduation from nursing school. It was there that she spent the better part of the next 18 years with the exception of two years at Queen of the World Hospital in Kansas City where she served as Superior and Director of Nurses from 1958 to 1960. In addition to working as a nurse in the Riberalta hospital, she served as Assistant Superior and later as Superior. Friends recall that “Madre Luisa” also supervised the operating room, ordered supplies, trained aides, did home visiting and acted in plays! Her ready participation in homespun entertainment probably got her the starring role in Father Albert Nevins’ first Maryknoll film, “Light Up the Jungle”, endearing Ruth Marie to all of us, especially those of us who memorized the dialogue when we worked on Promotion!

From 1966 to 1971, Sister was assigned to Lima, Peru where she conducted a medical clinic in Ciudad de Dios Parish where over 100,000 low-income people lived. Those who knew Sister tell us that the years following Vatican II were hard transition years for her. But she continued to live religious life as faithfully as she could even as she struggled to understand the changes.

In 1971 the Congregation again looked to Ruth Marie for a position of responsibility: Administrator of Monrovia and Senior Unit Board Member for the Western Area. When Sister Barbara Hendricks was President of the Congregation, she wrote, “You are the kind of person who would encourage growth, development and happiness for our Sisters.” Following this service, Ruth Marie spent a year at our house on the Lower East Side in New York City, involving herself in the parish work and prayer presence for which that community was so remarkable. It must have been during this time that Sister became more aware of her own personal diminishment. We are enriched by a brief note she kept of her 1977 retreat, “As we get older we cannot do big things but can offer little things to God, i.e., an arthritic toe, an illness.” Much greater suffering would be asked of her but she accepted all with the same attitude which had characterized her in other matters: “I will be happy to abide by whatever you say.”

In 1978 Sister returned to Monrovia as a resident and remained there until  April 25, 1990 when she came to Maryknoll Nursing Home. However, she continued as a warm and loving person. As recently as this past Thanksgiving, she planned a surprise for her good friend, Sister Bernardita Pierson by arranging ahead of time for them to have dinner together to ensure that Sister Bernardita would not be alone. It was also her custom to linger in the dining room as long as someone was still there in order to provide some companionship and share with them her many literary interests. She kept several books going at once. After she died, in the pocket of her wheelchair were found two books – a spiritual reading book, Surprised by the Spirit and a mystery story!

Early in the morning of January 15, Sister Ruth Marie was surprised by the Spirit and is now in God’s presence, forever to be enthralled by the Infinite. We rejoice with our Sister and thank God for the gift of her life to us.

We extend our sympathy to Sister’s relatives and friends, in particular her sister, her nephews and a cousin, none of whom could be with us today.

We welcome Father Leo Sommer, M.M., the former Regional Superior of the Maryknoll Society in Bolivia, and Father Thomas Higgins, formerly of Riberalta, the Beni, who will lead us in the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Resurrection.