Sunday, December 31, 2023

Remembering Rita McDonald, CSJ – 1922-2023

Before 2023 ends I want to acknowledge that my dear friend Rita McDonald, CSJ, journeyed home to God just over a month ago on November 20. She was 101.

Rita was a loving and steadfast friend and mentor to many, myself included. As our mutual friend Marilaurice says, Rita was “our dear sister, friend, activist, justice-seeker, peace maker, singer, and laugh-out-loud child of God.”

Over the years, Rita and I had many good, meaningful, and happy times together, and I’m so glad she got to meet my parents and other family members in 2005 and 2008.

Rest in power and peace, dear Rita.

Above: In the summer of 2005 my parents visited me in the U.S. (before the three of us traveled to Europe for two weeks). In this photo Mum and Dad are pictured with Rita and fellow CSJ Marguerite Corcoran.

Above: On May 16, 2006 I made my commitment to being a consociate member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet (CSJ). My companions during my two-year consociate candidancy were Rita and Marguerite.

In the summer of 2008 my older brother Chris and his family visited the Twin Cities. Pictured above are my nephews Mitchell, Liam, and Brendan with Marguerite and Rita.

Above: Over the years I’ve hosted many parties at which the McDonald sisters were lively participants! These gatherings ranged from birthday parties to tea parties!

In this photo are (from left) Rita, Daniel, Mike, Mary Lynn, Kate, Kathleen, and Marguerite. If I remember correctly, the event was my 43rd birthday party in 2008.

Above: The McDonald sisters: Brigid, Jane, Kate and Rita – October 2012.

Above: At the 2014 Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet Ministries Foundation Gala. Pictured with me from left: Rita, Kate, Brigid, and our mutual friend Kathleen. This annual event helps raise money for the St. Mary's Health Clinics. These clinics are an ecumenical ministry of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet and are located throughout the Twin Cities metro area. They offer primary care, referrals to specialists, laboratory, radiology, in-patient, and prescription medications – all free to patients who otherwise would have no access to medical care.

Above: On the afternoon of Friday, January 30, 2015 I hosted a tea party for a number of the wise and inspiring women in my life. Pictured from left: Brigid McDonald, CSJ; Marguerite Corcoran, CSJ; Rita McDonald, CSJ; Theresa O'Brien, CSJ; Paula Ruddy; Rita Quigley; Florence Steichen, CSJ; and Kate McDonald, CSJ.

Above: With Rita – Sunday, December 27, 2015.

Following are excerpts from Chris Kornelis’ December 29, 2023 Wall Street Journal obituary for Rita.

After Kenneth McDonald served in the Army during World War I and saw action in France, his 11 children in Watertown, Minnesota, were raised being told that their father had served in the war to end all wars. Then his son Ewan fought in World War II. Patrick and K.J. served in the Korean War and, eventually, all five of his sons served in the armed forces.

Four of his daughters became both nuns and anti-war activists.

The oldest girl – Rita McDonald, who was the first of the four to join the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in St. Paul – died on November 20 at the age of 101. She and her sisters Jane, Kate and Brigid (all of whom survive her) became known throughout the Twin Cities as the nuns who could be seen singing, dancing and chanting at peace and social justice protests, vigils and marches – efforts that sometimes landed them in handcuffs.

The sisters’ many causes included opposing the war in Iraq, [military] aid to El Salvador and the production of land mines at an area weapons maker. They were fixtures at a weekly peace demonstration on the Lake Street-Marshall Avenue Bridge that connects Minneapolis and St. Paul.

"You couldn’t be aware of what was happening politically in the Twin Cities without being aware of the McDonald sisters," said Chris Coleman, a former mayor of St. Paul and the current president and cheif executive of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

. . . Rita Frances McDonald was born on October 10, 1922, to Kenneth and Margaret (Burns) McDonald. She was raised with her 10 siblings on what they called the Old McDonald Farm in Watertown.

During World War II, Rita McDonald worked in Minneapolis cleaning B-25 bombers. In 1946, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. Family members said her reasons for joining the convent included her desire to work as a nurse (though the convent had other plans for her) and her faith in God. During the next decades, three of her sisters joined her.

. . . Sister Jane said that though the four of them had been raised thinking that war could be a solution, they went through a kind of conversion and came to belive that war only led to more war. She said a turning point occurred during the Vietnam War when a draft-age nephew spoke to the sisters about his opposition to the conflict.

In the decades that followed, the four sisters became a ubiquitous presence at demonstrations. Sister Rita was arrested numerous times. The sisters’ lives were the subject of a play, Sisters of Peace, written by Doris Baizley and commissioned by the History Theatre in St. Paul. It premiered in 2019.

“I’ve got to be out there saying something, that I don’t agree, I resist,” Sister Rita said in [Four Sisters for Peace] a [2003] student-made documentary.

. . . Sister Jane said Sister Rita had a gift for creating space for constructive dialogue with those who opposed or confronted them – whether they were counter-protesters or police officers. Coleman, the former mayor of St. Paul, said he got a taste of her diplomacy a number of times. He said the sisters let him know they didn't approve of the way St. Paul dealt with the protests during the 2008 Republican National Convention. But he said they were “so loving in how they did it.”

“There was always a little, ‘I’m a little disappointed in you, mayor, and I know you can do better than this,’” he said. “And you just went, ‘Yes, Sister, I’ll try.’”

Chris Kornelis
Excerpted from “Anti-War Nun Became a Political Force
The Wall Street Journal
December 29, 2023

NOTE: A more accurate title for Kornelis’ obituary would have been “Anti-War Nun Became a Nonviolent Force.” Just sayin’.

Following are some images of Rita’s December 18 funeral service and burial.

Sister Brigid McDonald, CSJ (above) and Sister Kate McDonald, CSJ (below) leaving their sister Rita’s funeral service at Our Lady of the Presentation Chapel in St. Paul, MN – Monday, December 18, 2023.

Above: Sister Jane McDonald, CSJ, holding the youngest member of the McDonald family at the funeral reception for her sister Rita – December 18, 2023.

Above: With my dear friend Kathleen at Rita’s funeral reception.

Related Off-site Link:
Minnesota Sisters Who Became Sisters Made a Habit of Fighting for Peace and Justice – Kathy Berdan (Pioneer Press, March 21, 2019)>

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Celebrating the “Sisters of Peace”
The Inspiring Brigid McDonald
Beginning the Process
Making My Consociate Commitment
The Vatican and U.S. Women Religious
Three Winter Gatherings
In Wintry Minnesota, An Australian Afternoon Tea
Award-winning “Hellraisers” at It Again
Alliant Action
It Sure Was Cold!
Walking Against Weapons

Opening image: Photographer unknown.
All other images: Michael J. Bayly.

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