Sr. Ruth Marie Soens: Life Lived with Gratitude Is a Rich Life

Sister Ruth Marie Soens claims Kenosha, Wis., as her home and grew up with three brothers and two sisters. An older sister, Ruth Marie, died at age five of scarlet fever before Sister Ruth Marie was born. At reception to the novitiate, she asked for her sister’s name as her religious name in place of her baptismal name, Dolores. Family time was important when she was a child and continues to this day with letters, phone calls and visits.

Even though Sister Ruth Marie considers herself a city girl because she grew up in Kenosha, the backyard of her home was mainly a garden that helped provide food and gardening duties for the family. Her family loved to take day trips to the country to visit friends, which gave her a chance to be a country girl. Getting bunnies one Easter gave her the experience of caring for animals until they got bigger and were given away to a farmer. A love of gardening continued for years and into adulthood, until her knees gave out.

Dominican Sisters in Kenosha at St. James Grade School and St. Mary’s High School educated Sister Ruth Marie. She knew of our Franciscan community through a cousin who was a member and through her father who had been taught and cared for at St. Aemilian’s Orphanage by our Sisters. These connections drew her to enter the Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi on January 9, 1956.

Sister Ruth Marie began her active ministry as a first grade teacher for 21 years in several parish schools. Then she moved to St. Coletta of Wisconsin, Jefferson, where she did a variety of ministries for the next 25 years, the last as librarian in the school.

Sister Ruth Marie reading to young children

As years went by, Sister Ruth Marie found herself in many interesting situations. Imagine being surprised by a cactus! This is the story of what happened when Sister was in charge of a men’s department at St. Coletta.

In the living room there was a huge, dead looking cactus as tall as she was with a rolling platform underneath it to move it around. Vacuuming was difficult because the cactus had to be rolled away from the windows in order to clean and then moved back again. One spring, Sister decided enough was enough. She got a group of her men to move the cactus outside to the courtyard to make it on its own or die! Her secret hope was that perhaps it would not make it. A couple of weeks later she was passing the courtyard windows and saw a blur of white outside. Turning to look, she found the cactus in full bloom with giant white flowers all over it. Obviously, the cactus was thrilled with its new home!

As a promoter of recycling, Sister Ruth Marie developed a personal greeting card line, RECYCLE, INC! Lucky family members and friends were the recipients of cards with an appealing image and a light-hearted message that made one smile, if not laugh.

One recycling effort turned out to be quite interesting! Sister Ruth Marie tells another story from her time at St. Coletta. She was tearing up old Christmas cards just before Christmas and saving a few to make bookmarks. Accidentally, she tore apart a musical card. It played and played and she could not get it to stop. It was still playing the next morning when she returned to her work in the library. Needing to get the card out of her office, she remembered that there were Christmas displays in the cases in the hallway. She put the unstoppable card into one of the Christmas displays until the card ceased playing over one week later. It had played day and night, and during that time, many people stopped by to check on it!

A love of learning and a love of history merged for Sister Ruth Marie when she retired in 2003 and began volunteer service in our New Assisi Archives where the records and meaningful artifacts of our congregation’s history are preserved. Keeping track of volumes of papers and countless objects so that they can be located for research and/or display was a formidable task. Given Sister Ruth Marie’s experience and understanding of our corporate ministries, she managed the materials for our nine sponsored ministries. When COVID-19 restrictions began in early 2020, Sister Ruth Marie concluded her work in the archives.

Whether it is sitting in front of the fireplace, enjoying a popcorn party or playing cards, being together with her Sisters is the best.

In retirement, Sister Ruth Marie enjoyed living at Clare Hall, and she said that one of the best parts was getting to know Sisters who had been on other missions and, therefore, she had had little chance to get to know them. Whether it is sitting in front of the fireplace, enjoying a popcorn party or playing cards, being together with her Sisters is the best. In May of 2019, she moved to the new St. Francis Convent with 79 other retired Sisters and continues to enjoy life in retirement.

A life lived with gratitude is a rich life. Sister Ruth Marie is grateful for all the people she has met in her years of ministry. In turn, they are grateful to have met her. In spite of the ups and downs with medical challenges, Sister chooses to stay engaged in life in ways that keep her energized and participating in community life with her Sisters. She freely shares her sense of wonder, her sense of humor, and her Franciscan spirit with everyone.

— by Sr. Marcia Lunz, OSF