February 2008: SISTER RUTH BRUEGGEMANN
One stormy day, Ray Brueggemann hugged his little daughter and told her not to be frightened. He told her that the thunder and lightening was a sign of God’s power, and that Powerful God would guide her through life ‘if you are a good little girl.’ The little girl, who we know as our Sister Ruth Brueggemann, was “never again afraid of thunder storms again.”
Story begins in Belleville
Born on February 13, 1928 to Raymond and Louise (Siekmann) Brueggemann in Belleville, IL, Sister Ruth completed eight years at St. Mary’s Grade School under the instruction of the Notre Dame Sisters. As early as the 3rd grade, she was impressed by them, and often thought she would like to be a Sister someday. Even during her four years at Notre Dame Academy, her thoughts of being a Sister persisted.
“A missionary priest from China spoke to our class one day, and I remember thinking how I would like to work in a foreign mission too,” Sister Ruth said. But her path to Religious Life took a slight detour. After graduation, she accepted a job with the local telephone company, and now with some spending money in her pocket, she enjoyed being with her friends, attending dances and parties, and going on trips. “I worked at this job for four years and kept thinking about Religious Life, but I did not know what to do or where to go,” she said.
God's invitation arrives in an unexpected way
Then in early June 1950, a coworker mentioned that she was going to quit her job and go to Springfield to enter the convent of the Hospital Sisters. This was all Sister Ruth needed to hear and she responded on the spot saying “I’m going with you!” And with that, she told her parents and family and entered the convent of the Hospital Sisters on September 8. “I never looked back,” she said.
A foreign mission?
After graduating from St. John’s School of Nursing, Springfield, and working at St. John’s Hospital for approximately nine months, she professed her Final Vows and then was assigned as the Nurse Supervisor at St. Francis Hospital, Litchfield, IL, and worked there from September 1957 to April 1960. During this time, she did not think about working in a foreign mission until a letter arrived one day from the Motherhouse asking any Sister interested to pray about serving in Japan. Sister Ruth submitted her name. “Several weeks later, I had finished night duty and had fallen asleep when Sister Carmeline came to my room, woke me up, and said that she was instructed to bring me to the Motherhouse right away.” Sister Ruth had been selected for this ministry in Japan.
“As we flew across the Pacific Ocean, I was at peace with my decision and was ready for it to be a lifetime commitment in Japan. I was excited, and we arrived at the most beautiful time of year – cherry blossom time. It was heavenly and was April 22, 1960,” Sister Ruth recalled.
Experiences of Japan
After a few weeks of getting acquainted with Tokyo and Himeji, she and two other Sisters from America spent about 12 months studying the language in Tokyo. “I was impressed by everything I saw, but the things that stay with me even today are the written language, the super-modern buildings next to the most ancient structures, and the numerous and fabulous temples, castles, and shrines everywhere, Sister Ruth said. “I immediately felt very much at home with our Sisters and among the people in general,” she said. Sister Ruth served there for 11 years and returned to America in April 1971. “And if my memory serves me well, I think it was April 22!”
Back home in America
Following her return, she had several assignments until 1976. By the last week of May, she was at St. John’s for a refresher course in nursing – USA style. Then she spent about a year and a half at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital, Belleville. From there she attended a semester at Marillac College, St. Louis, which was followed by the rest of that period of time as Nurse Coordinator at the Motherhouse. In October 1976, she arrived in Streator, IL and served there until October 1988. “I loved Streator and the people there,” she said. The feeling was mutual.
Coworkers from Streator express their love
“I met Sister Ruth as we worked together on the 4th Floor at St. Mary’s Hospital,” explained Marilyn Halko Sugg, a retiree of St. Mary’s. “The patients always liked it when she was their caregiver because she was so kind and gentle,” Marilyn said. “When we first changed to fitted sheets on the beds, she would get so upset when she would have to try three or four sheets before finding one that fit the mattress. She did not say a word but just threw it in the laundry bag and started over in her calm demeanor,” Marilyn said with a smile.
Marilyn continued with the following story: “In January 2007, my husband had major surgery in Springfield, and while I was waiting in the family area with my family, I looked up and there she was. She spent the entire day waiting with us, and when the doctor called us to a private room to discuss things, she joined us because she is part of our family. We stay in touch with notes, phone calls, and visits. She is truly the living example of the mission statement we worked under at St. Mary’s through the values of compassion and care.”
Barbara Lentman, St. Mary’s employee, echoes Marilyn’s remarks. “Sister Ruth perhaps would not acknowledge it, but her calm, wisdom, and compassion set an example for physicians and the hospital staff. She has such a warm smile which brightened any situation, whether it is a joyous occasion or a sad event for a patient or patient's family. Her example of caring for the patient as if she was caring for Christ himself is an invaluable lesson she taught that I was fortunate enough to have witnessed,” Barbara added.
Responsibilites at the Motherhouse
Since November 1988, she has served as the Sacristan at the Motherhouse in caring for the Church and Chapel. The responsibilities of keeping these sacred places clean and prepared for Liturgies throughout the year keeps her busy, and she finds great satisfaction in her work.
She also finds time for prayer in the Chapel before the Blessed Sacrament where she prays for the physicians, employees, and volunteers who continue the Sisters’ work. Her message to them is simple: be kind. “You have to show love to each person and be sensitive to their feelings. The healthcare environment may cause you to be overwhelmed, but remember that in those tough times, God is walking with you.”
To paraphrase her father’s wisdom, the storms of our lives are nothing to fear…do not be frightened, God is with you.