A letter of gratitude written to a Westerly justice advocate
Dear Sister Riccarda,
In 1980, our FSPA community—your FSPA community—gathered in our general assembly to reflect, pray and evaluate who we are and why we are. You were most likely present with us at Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as we circled round tables, sharing ideas, sitting for the first time with bishops, priests and lay folks who challenged us to continue to stir up the peace and justice juices that tend to run through our veins. We were called to live fully in the spirit, allow ourselves to be open and pliant to the needs of the times, and to “go to where you’ve never been before.” It was a significant, challenging call to live more fully the Gospel.
However, back tracking to 1966 you, Sister Riccarda, were way ahead of your time. Perhaps even our time. You heard the cry of young women in Spokane, Washington, released from prison, trying to recover their lives. You saw their plight, sensed their fears—stemming from insecurities—as they were thrown out into the larger world, into the lion’s jaws of a harsh, judgmental society. You listened to their questions and pondered their doubts of regaining wholeness: how to restore their darkened reputations and heal their brokenness. You were not afraid to cross over the threshold and step into their distraught lives.
You, in your coy enthusiasm, shared this spark with an elderly neighbor (an account published by the Diocese of Little Rock’s Arkansas Catholic). “On a bright spring afternoon of 1966, Sister Riccarda carried a plate of cookies from [Spokane’s] Marycliff High School, where she taught journalism, to an elderly Presbyterian neighbor, Annie Ogden, age 101. Annie perked up as Sister Riccarda shared her dream to build a halfway house for young women who had been released from correctional institutions.”
And so this dream seed of justice, compassion and outreach was planted in your innermost Gospel yearning soul, hindered by nothing, supported by strong civic and community organizations in Spokane and also $16,000 bequeathed by Annie (after her death in 1969). What grew out of it was Regina House—the first licensed organization of its kind that flourished with many personal accolades in Spokane and branched out to two more homes in Nevada, where you were named Woman of the Year in 1975.
Knock on our door: A home for troubled girls was your written account, published in 1979, of the rapping on the entrance of your own heart to these women, welcoming them to a new world created by you in which they could reside. Your obituary, published in 2007 after your death at 96 years old, states “… from the earliest school years there was a decided void within her soul which caused an intense restlessness and desire to satiate it.” This surging was in your blood and you knew you had to keep that blood flowing for the good of others.
Sister Riccarda, you didn’t know Pope Francis, but his message calls us to “… go forth from our comfort zones in order to reach all the ‘peripheries’ in need of the light of the Gospel.” You stepped out of your security and helped bring light to darkened hearts. You, in your own time, were bringing the joy of the Gospel to life.
In 2013, our FSPA community—your FSPA community—gathered once again for our general assembly. Our challenge was to “Risk Boldly the Future.” You were not present, but perhaps your enthusiastic spirit and heart for peace and justice permeated our table talk as we reflected and pondered over why and who we are today. In what ways are we called to step further out of our own safety to reach a hurting, needy world? How can we continue to let that life—stirring Franciscan peace and justice-filled blood—pulse ever so strongly in our hearts as we are present to others?
Thank you, Sister Riccarda, for opening the door of your heart, stepping out of your own sufficiency and daring to be a ground breaker for peace and justice: an example of pure Gospel living which we strive—in every ministry, in every day—to follow.
Sister Kathy Roberg