“For each of us there is only one thing necessary: to fulfil our own destiny according to God’s will to be what God wants us to be.” This is a quote from Thomas Merton, one of Ruth’s favorite authors. Today we celebrate that Ruth Ann Cunningham has fulfilled her destiny according to God’s will as a Sister of St. Joseph for sixty-five years.
Ruth Ann began her life in Queens, born to Ruth and Francis, and attended St. Michael’s elementary school. Faith in God and care for others was nourished in her childhood shared with her beloved siblings, Catherine, Mary Ellen and John. Ruthie attended Bishop McDonnell High School, forming lifelong friendships and loving to try new things. She was an avid reader and lover of words.
Ruth Ann heeded the words of Merton: “We must make the choices that enable us to fulfil the deepest capacities of our real selves” and chose to enter our congregation in 1955.
She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Education from Brentwood College and began teaching in elementary school in St. James, St. Joseph, Sacred Heart Seminary and St. Ambrose. Her students came first as she encouraged their learning and their belief in their own dignity. This earned her the nick name “Sister Ruthie Baby” from the boys she mentored in an impoverished area of Brooklyn stressed by racial tensions. As a sign the students heard her encouragement, a young student also called her by the name “Miss Good for You.”
Ruthie was then missioned in Puerto Rico where she absorbed and cherished the rich culture of the island as she taught English in the Catholic University, Academia Santa Maria and Academia Maria Reina. Returning to the states, Ruth continued to be an excellent teacher and served as Principal of St. Vincent de Paul and eventually as a Supervisor for the Brooklyn Diocese and resource teacher at TMLA. In all of her ministries Ruth promoted a sense of justice and inclusion.
Ruthie’s ministry was life-giving to her and to those she served but her life was nurtured by her deep spirituality, her close relationships with family, caring for her mother in her last years and especially her sister, Catherine and enjoying new experiences, especially golf.
As she faced challenges later in life her faith, relationships, her sense of humor sustained her. Catherine’s ever-faithful companionship was a source of encouragement and comfort as well as thosel who cared for her in Maria Regina.
As we commend Ruth Ann to her loving God today, we know she is sharing eternal peace with her sister Mary Ellen who died on the same date as Ruthie two years ago. All here feel the sorrow of loss but I think we can hold on to the words of today’s reading: “Do not let your hearts be troubled…have faith in God.”
Sister Ruth Cunningham, CSJ died on March 9 2020 in the 65th year of her religious life.