CHARLESTON — These teaching sisters are not the ruler-wielding nuns of lore. Their heartfelt love of teaching and sharing the Lord’s goodness with young people comes across in wide smiles and gentle hands.
Sisters Margaret Mary Faist, Joella Marie Ruffing and Rita Marie Schroeder are Sisters of Notre Dame. They were all taught as children by the Sisters of Notre Dame in Ohio. It was at a young age that each of them was touched by the work of this community of nuns.
“Their charism was so apparent in the way they lived their lives,” Sister Faist said.
The trio came to the Diocese of Charleston in August of 2002. Two elementary school teachers and a campus minister were needed, and the three women volunteered.
Sister Faist was a principal at a school in Whitehouse, Ohio. After 17 years at that post, she was ready to get back to the classroom. So when Charleston Catholic School had an opening for a second-grade teacher, she took the opportunity.
“Charleston Catholic is an amazing school, and I came from an amazing school. There is such a strong family spirit here,” said the teacher. “There’s a solid core curriculum, and the arts are highly valued. It’s been great fun being back in the classroom.”
“She is an inspiration to all of us,” said Yvonne Tolley Orr, principal. “We are blessed to have her.”
Sister Ruffing filled the other elementary school position at St. John School in North Charleston, where she teaches second- and third-graders.
“Sister Joella is truly a gift to St. John Catholic School,” said Principal Carole Anne White. “She is an excellent teacher who believes and actualizes our philosophy of teaching to the needs of each particular child. She is a firm but gentle disciplinarian, and the children know that she loves them.”
In her position at Charleston Catholic, Sister Ruffing also works with special needs children.
“Children have so many challenges today that make learning and even just living difficult,” said the nun. “We at St. John School try to help each child learn in whatever way they can. That’s what education is all about, isn’t it?”
But it’s kids in general that bring joy to her life’s work.
“I enjoy seeing them light up when some piece of information about science, social studies or math suddenly makes sense,” she said. “Their curiosity about God is also so wonderful. Their searching questions keep me aware of the loving God who surrounds us all each day.”
Sister Schroeder also taught and was an elementary school principal. She was working in Muncie, Ind., when a position in campus ministry at Ball State became open. At the time, the sister was looking to leave the school setting, but hadn’t considered campus ministry.
“I fell in love with them,” she said. “Young people give me so much hope.”
She was at Ball State for four years, then for the next 10 years she did vocations work for her community and was associate director of vocations for the Toledo Diocese. She still managed to fit in campus ministry one day a week.
“Since 1988, I’ve had my heart in campus ministry,” she said.
The sister saw her way back to campus ministry full time when the position in Charleston was opened to her community. She came into a program at the College of Charleston that was underway but having trouble finding a steady pace.
“She started a successful Mass with the students,” said Father Jeffrey Kendall, diocesan director of campus ministry. “It had been tried once or twice before, but never got going.”
Now, after less than a year, the weekly Sunday night Mass attracts between 30 and 40 students.
“College kids need someone who’s friendly and approachable with a blend of maturity and wisdom,” said Father Kendall. “She really is that for the students.”
“Students really give me hope for the future,” said Sister Schroeder. “I feel sorry for those who don’t work with young people or share my view.”
Each of these Sisters of Notre Dame strives to be an outward sign of the Lord’s presence and to teach the goodness of God to the future of the Catholic Church.