Sister Rita Sturwold, SNDdeN, entered the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur after high school like many young women her age at the time. Always wanting to be a teacher, she enjoyed working in girls’ high schools for many years as a teacher and later had many administrative roles. Working nationally and internationally for her congregation, Sister Rita traveled and met Sisters from many countries and worked with Notre Dame schools across the US. Currently, she lives in Mount Notre Dame, participates in events at Notre Dame schools in the area, is involved in several communications projects, and serves on the boards of two organizations.
Here’s a conversation we had with her in December 2022.
Sister Rita, although you no longer have one specific ministry, we know that you are still very present in your community and within the educational community in Cincinnati and the Dayton area. Could you share with us some of them?
Two years ago, I was invited to begin Province Happenings, a newsletter for the Sisters, Associates, our volunteers, and our co-workers, in which I highlight things that are happening. For example, if one of our employees receives a special award, I will interview the person for an article in the newsletter. If the Sisters in the Health Center have a Bengals party or a St. Patrick’s Day party, I take pictures or ask someone to do so, so they can be included in Province Happenings.
When I learned that two of our sisters worked at the polls on Election Day and on the evening before, I interviewed them. Given all the talk about free and fair elections, it was fascinating to learn about the training they received at the Board of Elections and all that was involved to secure each person’s vote on Election Day. I am proud of them for working long hours in service to our democracy. In addition, one of these Sisters recently returned from serving 28 years in Nicaragua where elections are not free and fair.
Each month I also write an article for our Sisters’ United States eNewsletter. I also serve on our National Communications Advisory Board, which works with Meg Glendon, our National Direction of Communications, who lives in Connecticut.
During the year I am honored to share a reflection for a feast such as Thanksgiving or Easter and then be filmed which will be posted on our Province website.
About four years ago, Badin, a co-ed Catholic High School in Hamilton, Ohio, became affiliated with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. I attend various events at Badin, including their all-school Masses. Recently I took part in an overnight retreat with about 30 girls from Badin and their teachers. Last September. Badin’s President invited me to join the board of Badin High School.
I am also a member of the Advancement Committee at DePaul Cristo Rey High School in Cincinnati. I believe strongly in the school’s mission to serve students who could not otherwise afford a Catholic school. They receive a strong academic education and work five full days each month in professional settings such as law firms, hospitals, and other businesses.
Even though I am unfamiliar with health care, I was invited to join the board of WinMed, which is a nonprofit organization that has three clinics that provide medical, dental, and mental health services to people who are underserved In Cincinnati. The clinics are in Winton Hills, Over-the-Rhine, and Roselawn. They also have clinics in six public schools. I have learned so much and admire the dedication of the Board, the CEO, and all involved in this organization.
We’ve also seen you giving presentations in local high schools, would you share with us some of them?
Yes, I do enjoy giving presentations on various topics. I have spoken to the faculty and staff at Badin High School’ on their back-to-school in-service day. When The Summit Country Day School was celebrating the school’s 125th anniversary, I gave the back-to-school presentation to the faculty and staff.
I have been the Commencement Speaker at a few high schools.
I have given presentations on various topics to our Notre Dame AmeriCorps volunteers at their local and national meetings.
In addition, I enjoy talking with high school classes. Often I am asked to talk about being a Sister or about our Sister Dorothy Stang who was murdered in Brazil.
What do you see happening at our schools when you visit them?
I would just say that I'm a longtime educator, teacher, and administrator in our Notre Dame schools. In addition, in my last position, I was asked to create and co-direct our National Office of Sponsorship and Mission Integration. The purpose of that office was to enrich the awareness of our administrators, teachers, and students about St. Julie Billiart, the foundress of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, and about the mission and values of our Sisters today. Everyone in our schools and other ministries is our “living legacy.” In the spirit of St. Julie, they are carrying out our desire to witness the goodness of God, and to serve others, especially those who struggle with life’s inequities.
I enjoy getting together with my former students and hearing about their families, life experiences, and the challenges in their lives. They share with me now things I would never have known about their lives when I taught them… including some of the tricks they played in school!
I enjoy being in the schools, sometimes just to socialize with or give a presentation to school personnel. I'm invited to speak to their classes, either about being a Sister or just to respond to whatever questions the students have, perhaps about the Church. They are interested in what I, as an adult, and, I assume, as a Sister, think about some of the issues of today. And I always learn from them. I want to know what they're thinking, not to judge it, but to enrich my own understanding. Students are our present and our hope for the future! Sometimes I'll ask them, “What do you want people my age to know about young people your age?” Then the students may ask me “What do you know now that you wish you had known when you were our age?”
What are your answers to those questions?
Well, definitely, I wish that I had known more about the importance of thinking positively, the importance of imagination, of goal setting, of writing down our goals and visualizing them, so that all of those gifts that we have within us, of imagination and feeling and visualization and organization can really help us move ahead in our lives and become more and more the person whom God created us to be, and to do the work that we were brought here to do.
You’re communicating the stories of the Sisters right now. Who they are and what they’re doing. What do you want the public to know?
I want people to know that there are many more Sisters around than they may realize and that we continue to be very relevant. As a Sister, growing closer to God, serving others, and praying with and supporting each other in our community living are important to us.
Our experience with people has, hopefully, given us insight and compassion. While we may not be in an official role in a school, a hospital, or a social service agency, we have gifts to share just by being present and supportive to people of all ages.
Many Sisters engage in volunteering. Some teach and tutor. Others welcome immigrants, accompany Sisters to appointments, give Spiritual Direction, have discussions with students at Mount Notre Dame High School, participate in Mount Notre Dame’s Adopt-a-Sister Program, and give presentations about our Clean Water for Life Project to students and adults in various organizations.
We also have many good times together with our Sisters in the community.
I also want people to know that every day we gather for prayer. Many people ask us to pray for them, and we also pray for the needs of the world. People driving past our home at Mount Notre Dame may have no idea of the positive energy that is going out to them because of our connection with God. We continue to contribute a lot to our world.
As Jesus said, “Come and see!”