Sister Rita Buddeke, SNDdeN

Sister Rita Buddeke, SNDdeN

Sister Rita Buddeke, SNDdeN
October 7, 1916 - March 25, 2021

Given her 104 years of life on God’s good earth, Rita’s reputation as a survivor is well deserved.  Growing up, she had ample opportunity to learn resilience.  The story of Rita’s family reflects remarkable courage and strength in the face of loss.

Rita was born to Ruth Murray and John Buddeke, Jr., on October 7, 1916, in Cincinnati, Ohio.

She had barely turned two when her father died of influenza just months after losing his own father to the same disease.   In the wake of their tragic loss, Rita’s widowed mother and grandmother built a new household together for Rita, her siblings, and Rita’s aunt.  Ruth Buddeke worked as an insurance solicitor to help with expenses.   From her earliest years, Rita was challenged to face loss and move on.

In 1921, Ruth Buddeke married John Chrest,  a widower with a 12-year-old daughter.  Five-year-old Rita found herself once again in a newly configured family and a new home.  Then, while she was in grade school at  St. Mary’s, Cincinnati, her stepfather and mother moved to Northeast Washington (DC.). 

There, Rita found herself in a new school--St. Anthony’s, where she benefitted from an unusually challenging curriculum.  She spent her high-school years at the  Academy of Notre Dame (North  Capitol & K Streets), where her SND teachers seem to have made a lasting impression on her.  When she graduated in 1933, Rita was 17.  She began working for a degree in mathematics and biology at  Wilson Teachers College (DC), but in her senior year, transferred to Trinity College, once again coming under the influence of SNDs.  At Trinity, she completed her bachelor’s degree with a major in math and a minor in chemistry (1937).  Her M.A. in math from the Catholic University of America (1938) came with a minor in physics, thus completing her foundation for teaching all three sciences at the secondary level.

Wisely, Miss Buddeke took a year to try her wings in the classroom and weigh her long-term options.  Teaching alongside SNDs at Trinity Preparatory School,  on the same campus as the Maryland Province’s novitiate, became the perfect segue for her entrance into our congregation on August 15, 1939.  She was almost 23.  Her lifelong ministry as an educator was off to a  promising start.

Following her first profession (1942), Rita’s teaching was more or less equally divided between Trinity Prep and Notre Dame High School, Moylan (PA).   Then, in 1956, she was awarded an Anna Hope Hudson Scholarship for doctoral study at the Catholic University of America.  The scholarship came with a graduate assistantship that gave her a taste of college-level teaching.   Rita became more and more interested in how students learn, earning her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (1960).   Taken together, her credentials amounted to a highly flexible base for the varied pursuits that would follow – supervision of secondary schools in the Maryland Province; teaching at undergraduate and graduate levels; consulting here and abroad; and eventually, higher-education administration.   “On the side,” she managed to co-author two widely acclaimed biology textbooks.

The versatility and resilience instilled in Rita from her earliest years gave her an unusual ability to be at ease in a variety of settings.  Two examples stand out.  First, as Vice President for Academic Affairs at Strayer College in Washington, DC, she played a leading role in securing that institution’s Middle States Accreditation – no small accomplishment for a for-profit educational institution.   She broke yet another ‘glass ceiling” as the first woman to be appointed Academic Dean of the DeSales School of Theology in DC.  In both positions, she built strong, collaborative relationships.

As a former colleague from Rita’s Strayer days commented at her burial service, Rita’s commitment to her Lord and her community were always apparent.  In the words of one SND, she  “held up her end”  in the community – always willing to lend a hand, always grateful when others did the same for her.  She was always a staunch friend,  always faithful to community prayer, and yes, always ready for a party!  In her later years at Mount Notre Dame, Rita came to be seen as a gracious, silent presence with a welcoming smile.

Rita entered Notre Dame on the feast of Mary’s Assumption in 1939.  It seems providential that she passed into a new life on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, just days before the beginning of Holy Week; and was buried at Ilchester during the Easter Octave, on April 8th, the anniversary of St. Julie’s death. 

As we continue celebrating the Paschal Mystery through these fifty days of Easter, we give thanks for Rita’s dying and rising among us.  May she intercede for all of us, that we, too, will have courage in the face of loss, and the resilience to move forward, trusting that God will open the way.


  • Born October 7, 1916, Cincinnati, OH
  • Parents: John A. and Ruth (Murray) Buddeke
  • Stepfather: John B. Chrest
  • Siblings: Richard, Georgiana, Louise and June Buddeke;  John, Hedwig and Patricia Chrest

Entered Notre Dame August 15, 1939, at Ilchester, MD.

First vows:  March 7, 1942

Final profession: July 28, 1947


  • St. Mary School (Cincinnati) and St. Anthony School (Washington, DC)
  • Notre Dame Academy, Washington, DC
  • Wilson Teachers College, Washington, DC (1933-36; Mathematics/Biology)
  • B.A. – Trinity College, Washington, DC  (1937; Mathematics/Chemistry)
  • M.A., The Catholic University of America (1938; Mathematics/Physics)
  • Ph.D., Catholic University (1960; Educational Psychology/Secondary Education/History of Education)

Ministries include:

  • Secondary Education
    Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA (1942; 1944-50; science/math)
    Trinity Preparatory School, Ilchester, MD (1942-44; 1950-56; science/math)
    Secondary-School Supervisor, Maryland Province (1963-68)
  • Higher Education
    The Catholic University of America
    Graduate Assistant (Instructional while on Anna Hope Hudson Scholarship, 1956—58))
    Instructor ( 1958-61)
    Assistant Professor (1961-64)
    Associate Professor (1964-70)
    Elected Dean of Graduate School of Education (1969)
    Curriculum and Testing Consultant (1956-64)
    Trinity College (now Trinity Washington University), Washington, DC
    -- Lecturer (1957-59)
    -- Visiting Professor, Trinity’s National Teacher Corps and M.A.T. Program (1966)
    Strayer College (now Strayer University), Washington, DC
    Curriculum Consultant (1969-70)
    Vice President for Academic Affairs (1970-81)
    Vice President and Professor Emerita (1981)
  • Cluster of Independent Theological Colleges and  Schools, Washington, DC
    Registrar (1984-89)
  • De Sales School of Theology, Washington, DC
    Academic Dean (1990 – 1992)
    Consultant on Accreditation for Institutions of Higher Education (1981-90)
    Member, Evaluation Teams of the Association of Independent Colleges and Schools

Publications include:

  • Two widely acclaimed textbooks co-authored with Dr. Dale C. Braungart:
  • Biology – The Study of Living Things (Doubleday, 1957-8; McGraw Hill, 1963)
  •  An Introduction to Biology (C.V. Mosby, 1960, 1964, 1968)

Community Service included:

  • Educational Consultant for (Arch)Dioceses of Washington (DC) and Richmond (VA)
  • Member, DC Commission on Post-Secondary Education (1974-76)
  • Member, Board of Trustees, Academy of Notre Dame, Villanova, PA
  • Charter member, Sisters Senate, Archdiocese of Washington (Vice President,1983—84),

Ministry of Prayer

  • St Julie Hall, Emmitsburg, MD (2008-2010)
  • Mount Notre Dame Health Center, Reading, OH (2010-2021)

Death:  March 25, 2021, Mount Notre Dame

Prepared by Mary Ann Cook SNDdeN