Dust In My Coffee

Loving my life as a woman in agriculture one sip at a time

Emily, Kim, Steve and I surround
Sr. Catherine at the convent in
Campbellsport, WI in May 2009.

Every person has an amazing story and unfortunately we don’t always learn how special until we go to his/her funeral.  I would like to share with you the commentary that was read at the recent funeral of Steve’s aunt, Sister Catherine Ruskamp.   We live on the farm our dear Sr. Catherine grew up on and lived in the same house she grew up in until our youngest was three.  She shared many stories with us about growing up here on her annual summer visits.  I hope you enjoy this peek into her life.

Sister Catherine Ruskamp
July 6,1919 – June 29, 2013
Catherine was born on July, 6,1919, one of thirteen children of Joseph and Anna Gross-Rhode who lived on a farm between Dodge and Howells, NE. The family faithfully attended Sacred Heart Church and School in nearby Olean where the School Sisters taught. Their mother had wanted to be a nun, but was told by one of the sisters that it would be better if she married and then added, “I have a feeling that you will have daughters who will one day become sisters.”

That seemed prophetic, so Anna married, and after having four boys, she prayed for a girl – and Catherine was the first. Her Mom dedicated her and those that followed to the Blessed Mother and prayed that they’d be given a religious vocation if that was God’s will. The girls did not know that until much later. When Catherine was six months old, her one year old brother, Joseph, had serious blood poisoning in his leg; the doctor wanted to amputate. Again, Mom prayed and offered him to God as a missionary if he’d be cured. Little Joseph recovered and became a Capuchin missionary in Nicaragua for 51 years. Both parents had a deep life of faith and trust in God, and the children were caught up in it.

When Catherine was nine years old she took charge of her youngest brother who was mentally
challenged, but very affectionate and dearly loved. When unattended he’d wander off to play or sleep in unlikely places: the sow’s pen, the tall cornfields, the back of the pick-up truck, the machine shed. The whole family would conduct a “search party”. It was a sad day when, at the age of 22, he was the first of the family to die.

At the end of their school year in 1933 Catherine and Joseph approached their mother together and told her they wanted to enter religious life. They asked that “Ma tell Pa”. Though Mom remembered her earlier prayer, it was a big sacrifice for both parents to make, especially when, in the space of four years, five children left home after eighth grade to prepare for religious life.

So it was that Catherine left home on August 26, 1933 to be an aspirant.

Catherine hoped to be a missionary someday like her brother. Father Florian – but not yet. After
reception in 1936, by then known as Sr. Alvina, she told Mother Corona she wanted to be a teacher. She completed her Bachelor’s degree at Alverno College, and later went on to receive a Master’s in Education at Fordham U. in N.Y. Her first teaching assignment was in the rural town of Pesotum, IL from which she says she “held vivid memories for a long time”. Next she was sent east to Staten Island, NY, then back to the midwest to St. Alphonsus in Milwaukee, and finally west to Ralston, Nebraska, Denver, Colorado, and Earling, Iowa. Sometimes she was principal too. As the times and needs changed she asked to try other ministries. So she went to Detroit to do Parish Social Work for a year. Afterwards she taught and coordinated Religious Ed programs for seven years at the mainly Hispanic school of St. Therese in Aurora, IL. That was followed by a return to Colorado Springs and Omaha.

Catherine’s desire to work in Latin America was fulfilled in the 70’s when she was invited to participate in the Latin American Mission Program (LAMP). For five summers she and a sister companion accompanied students from Boylan H.S. in Rockford, IL to Mexico. There they catechized children for the sacraments in the poor villages. From 1989 to 1991 Catherine stayed in Guatemala doing missionary work. Upon returning to the States, she taught Spanish language classes in the LaFarge Lifelong Learning program.

Sr. Catherine had a very big smile, soft
voice and gentle laugh.  Her love was
genuine and humble.  She once said
she couldn’t wait to die because 
heaven was going to be great!

In 1997 she was invited to come to Campbellsport to teach Spanish classes. She did not only that, but organized Bible classes and a weekly sing-a-long. She would also feed the disabled sisters, care for plants and flowers, and helped with other outdoor work. It relaxed her to work with nature and to sing. She wrote in her autobiography:
” I believe that the contemplation of God’s gifts in nature draws a person closer to God. I firmly believe that the more love and joy one gives to others, the more love and joy we receive from

Catherine, you have given that love and joy to us in this place and to all the many people of the two cultures whom you have served in your rich life of ministry. May God now bless you with eternal PEACE, LOVE AND JOY in your final resting place, and keep sharing with us who remain as we cherish our memories of you.
Adapted from Sr. Catherine’s Autobiography by Sr. Barbara Jean Potthast

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