Sister Rita Marie Hemminger died on the 50th anniversary of the day she took her vows.
Yesterday, members of the Arthur Slade RegionalCatholic School community gathered at a memorial service to share the loss of their friend and mentor, who lost her battle with cancer onSunday.
"We will miss her dearly," said Sister Francis McCann, a close friend and member of her religious community. "She loved children and she wanted to see each child advance, not just scholastically, but in personal happiness."
A member of the teaching order the Sisters ofNotre Dame de Namuer, Sister Rita was honored last November for 50 years of service within the order.
She came to Slade in 1972 to teach elementary mathematics following teaching assignments in Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland. She became vice principal of the school in 1974, and continued in that capacity until, in deference to her illness, she retired last week.
Sister Rita's teaching career began at a time when most teachers in parochial schools were nuns. As more lay teachers began to participate in the Catholic education system, she chose to be a mentor to the new teachers.
"Sister Rita was quitepositive about the changes. She saw it as a natural progression," said Sister Francis. "She was energized by their willingness to take onthis ministry."
Standing just 4-foot-6, Sister Rita created a special bond with the younger elementary-age students.
"One of the goals of the primary students was to be taller than Sister Rita," recalled Sister Francis.
A plaque presented to her at her Golden Jubilee by the Father McGivney Knights of Columbus expressed this sentiment: "The little ones are attracted to you, Sister, not because they canlook you in the eye but because they see in you a loving heart."
In her 68 years, Sister Rita touched many lives through her teaching,her compassion and her strength. Yet in the final days of her illness she was unprepared for the numerous calls from colleagues, friends and former students inquiring as to her well-being, offering their prayers.
"There were three of us with her when she died," said Sister Francis. "I like to think we represented all of our sisters."
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. today at the Church of the Crucifixion, 100 Scott Ave. Interment will be at noon onthe grounds of her Mother House in Ilchester.
In lieu of flowers,the order has requested donations to: The Sisters of Notre Dame BaseCommunity Provence, P.O. Box 152, Pasadena 21122.
She is survivedby a sister, Jane Muth, four nephews, two nieces and hundreds of students.