Sister Ruth Marie, 81, head of local Notre Dame branch


Sister Ruth Marie May, who headed the local branch of the School Sisters of Notre Dame for many years and who participated in the Paris peace talks aimed at ending the Vietnam War, died Dec. 24 of heart failure at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 81.

Born Mary Louise May and raised in Baltimore, Sister Ruth Marie earned a bachelor's degree in 1944 from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. She later earned a master's degree from Villanova University and had a certificate of advanced study from the Johns Hopkins University.

In August 1944, she entered the Roman Catholic order and taught English at three area Catholic high schools. She also was on the faculty of the College of Notre Dame.

Sister Ruth Marie was named a member of the special delegation of a citizens committee sent to the Paris peace talks in March 1971. The committee studied the background and reasons for the Vietnam War and met with the delegations from the U.S., North Vietnam and South Vietnam to discuss the war's resolution.

From 1971 to 1983 Sister Ruth Marie served on her order's leadership team. For eight of those years, she was the provincial leader.

"At a time of great change within religious congregations of women, she was able to interpret the implications of the diminishment in religious personnel," said Sister Bernice Feilinger, also a member of the order. "She envisioned and implemented a personnel placement program for the sisters that enabled them to make choices about where they could best serve."

In the early 1980s, Sister Ruth Marie raised money to care for the growing number of retired sisters by leading the merger of two of the order's larger institutions: the Notch Cliff retirement home in Glen Arm and the motherhouse, Villa Assumpta, at 6401 N. Charles St.

Sister Ruth Marie traveled extensively on church business, attending five sessions held at her order's Rome headquarters. She also visited mission territories in Bolivia, Peru and Nigeria.

In 1983, after stepping down as provincial leader, she studied at the Weston Jesuit School of Theology in Cambridge, Mass., and was a spiritual director at the Christian Brothers Retreat Center in Adamstown from 1984 to 1992.

Members of her order said that during her nearly six-decade career, Sister Ruth Marie was an advocate for justice, peace and the advancement of women. She belonged to the Institute of Women Today, the National Assembly of Religious Women and the National Coalition of American Nuns.

Before retiring to Villa Assumpta in 1994, she initiated spirituality programs for women living in poverty in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

A Mass was offered Wednesday at Villa Assumpta in Woodbrook.

Survivors include two sisters, Teresa Blake of Philadelphia and Ruth Zellhofer of Timonium; and many nieces and nephews.

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