Sister Rita Slattery, CSC
(Sister M. Rita Edward)
April 11, 1933–November 29, 2021
We share news of the death of Sister Rita Slattery, CSC, who died at 3:47 p.m. on November 29, 2021, in Memorial Hospital, South Bend, Indiana. Sister Rita entered the Congregation from Los Angeles, California, on September 6, 1952. Her initial profession of vows took place on
August 15, 1955.
Please join us in prayer for Sister as we renew our faith in the resurrected Jesus and strengthen our hope that all the departed will be raised to eternal life.
Sister Rita Slattery lived 69 years in community as a consecrated woman religious, believing that she was chosen to be a friend of God, appointed to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last. She trusted that God would give her whatever she asked in the name of love. (John 15:16-17) These words seem woven into the life of Sister Rita Slattery from the day of her birth on April 11, 1933, to the day of her death, November 29, 2021. She died as she lived, “at home with herself and her inner space of stillness,” said a good friend.
That space of stillness and inner serenity came initially from feeling secure in a large, stable, loving family. Rita Clare, fourth child of Beatrice Catherine (Buckley) and Edward Slattery, was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1933. Her father was a real estate broker, and her mother cared for their seven children. Rita followed Edward, Mary Catherine and Patricia. Then came William (Bill), Judy and Beatrice (Snookie). In 1942, when Rita was 9 years old, the family moved to Southern California, where Rita began second grade at St. Paul’s Elementary School in Los Angeles, California. That was her first contact with the Sisters of the Holy Cross. She graduated from eighth grade in 1947, entered St. Mary’s Academy, founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in Los Angeles, receiving her high school diploma in 1951. She then attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, staffed by the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. At the end of her freshman year, Rita applied to the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Cross, was accepted, and began her religious formation at Saint Mary’s in Notre Dame, Indiana, on September 6, 1952.
One wonders why the 18-year-old student was attracted to Holy Cross and not to the other congregations of women religious. The family spirit of the Holy Cross sisters in her home parish at St. Paul’s was the most likely answer. Her pastor, Monsignor Thomas Blackwell, knew the Slatterys well and wrote of Rita, “I feel qualified to make an accurate estimate of her character and ability. She comes from a staunch Catholic family and reflects the superior qualities associated with this rich background.” Her sister Judy, who was two years younger, later followed Rita into the convent, but unlike her, felt the call to become a Holy Cross missionary overseas.
Upon reception of the holy habit on August 5, 1953, Miss Rita Slattery became known as Sister M. Rita Edward, her father’s name being added to her own. Her sister Judy, at her own reception later, received the religious name, Sister Marian Therese. Soon after initial profession of vows on August 15, 1955, Sister Rita Edward was missioned to Long Beach, California, to teach the middle grades at St. Barnabas School. Then began a ministry of Catholic education for the next 14 years in California. Her superiors recognized Sister Rita Edward’s qualities of leadership, appointing her as principal of Immaculate Conception School in Sacramento, having developed as a teacher at other parochial schools in San Diego and Redwood City. She was a low-key principal but effective and remembered as gracious, welcoming and generous, with a vibrant presence.
Sister Rita Edward earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of San Diego, California, in 1962, and master’s degrees in theology and history in 1971, also from the University of San Diego. All that education required a lot of reading. Everyone who knew Sister Rita Edward knew that she loved to read. She read the daily and Sunday newspapers from cover to cover, especially the editorial pages. She read good books and would happily make recommendations for the “good ones.” She was a dreamer and a visionary. Being an avid reader, she was very aware of currents in church and society and was open to respond to the Second Vatican Council’s call to read the “signs of the times.” As the Catholic Church renewed itself, baptismal commitment of both laity and clergy in mission together required fresh thinking and new pastoral strategies. About this time, Sister returned to her baptismal name and became known as Sister Rita Slattery. From 1969 to 1975, Sister Rita was elected to be a member of a newly structured region called West Elementary I, serving on the regional councils of Sister Kathleen Anne Nelligan, CSC, and Sister Anita Andreatta, CSC. Regional government went through another structural change when the Western Region was formed and Sister Rita was elected to serve on the council of Sister Patricia Mulvaney, CSC, from 1975 to 1978.
Sister Rita’s listening skills, openness to new ideas, and utter trust in God guided her and others in leadership when changes were taking place in the Church, religious life, society and the world. She lived with calm dignity, respect for person, and with the flexibility that was needed in leadership at this time. When her term as councilor ended, she enrolled in theological studies at Aquinas Institute of Theology in Dubuque, Iowa, for two years. In 1980, she was appointed by the Congregation to design an Associates program for lay women who might actively partner with Holy Cross sisters in their ministries for one to three years or support them through prayer. Some aspects of lay volunteers and sisters sharing community life and ministry together did not work out, and that piece of the program ended. Modifications to the Holy Cross Associates program allowed relationships with the sisters to continue.
After a sabbatical, Sister Rita expressed a desire to assist with the formation of young Bengali Holy Cross sisters. She was missioned to Bangladesh from 1990 to 1994. During that time her flexible nature enabled her to undertake a variety of ministries, such as adult religious education and formation, pastoral care, social justice ministry and mission effectiveness. Sister Rita ministered in Sonapur and Moulvi Bazar, Bangladesh. When she returned to the States in 1994, she left memories of her goodness, dedication, compassion and hope for a better world for her beloved Bengali friends.
From 1994 to 2012, Rita served wherever there was a need, such as pastoral care in South Bend, Indiana, retreat ministry in Tiberias, Israel, vocation ministry at Saint Mary’s, and chaplaincy in Texas. She and Sister Marian Therese were happy to live together in San Juan Capistrano, California, to care for a family member and celebrate numerous family events, while Rita ministered at nearby Mission Hospital in Mission Viejo. In 2008, Rita accompanied Marian, gravely ill, to the motherhouse. Sister Marian Therese died September 24, 2008. Sister Rita retired to Saint Catherine by the Sea Convent in Ventura, California, in 2012 until October 2021, when she herself left for Saint Mary’s gravely ill. According to a friend, “Rita could go calmly with the flow of things with a sense of hope.”
One of the Holy Cross sisters who lived with Sister Rita in Ventura wrote that she did not have any stories about Rita’s accomplishments but said, “Rita was a master at touching up things so they looked their best. She could adjust a vase of flowers simply by turning a flower ever so slightly to a more perfect way to see it. Once I saw her rearrange a bowl of fruit so it looked even better.” Sister Rita Slattery’s loving touch has flowered, borne fruit, and brought beauty to many. Now she is at home with God.
We invite you to donate to the Ministry With the Poor Fund in Sister’s name.—Written by Sister M. Timothea (Kingston), CSC, and Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC