Funeral Reflection for Sister Rita Miller
Sister Nicole Kunze, Prioress
May 18, 2023
We gather as a faith community today to celebrate the life of Sister Rita. We extend our sympathy to Sister Rita’s family, including her sister Rosemary and many nieces, nephews, and cousins. I know some of them are joining us on the livestream today. We also welcome Sister Rita’s many friends from St. Alexius. We thank all of you for your prayers and support for us.
In the Rule of Saint Benedict, one of the more frequently quoted verses comes from Chapter 53 on the Reception of Guests: “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say: I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” For those of us in western North Dakota, an adaptation of this verse – “Let all be received as Christ” – has become synonymous with St. Alexius, the hospital founded in 1885 by the Benedictine Sisters who were our foremothers. Our monastic community and the women and men who continue the mission of St. Alexius today live this verse in their ministry to all who come to the hospital.
This verse is a wonderful description of the way Sister Rita Miller lived her 94 years of life. Her warm smile, hearty laugh, and gracious welcome greeted friend or foe wherever she went.
In sharing her vocation story, Sister Rita said, “I entered the monastery in 1947 because I needed to respond to the call I felt within myself, the call to prayer, hospitality, and service to others.” During her lifetime, she certainly did respond to those three calls. I’d like to take a closer look at each one.
A Call to Prayer – In a reflection written at the time of her 25th Jubilee in 1974, Sister Rita said, “My greatest joy over the years has been the daily participation in the Eucharistic Celebrations and Liturgy of the Hours. These have proven to be enriching experiences which have provided me the strength and courage of that inner peace for which I am responsible to share with those around me.” Praying her daily rosary was also a very important practice for her. After moving to the monastery in 2020, Sister Rita would spend most summer afternoons on her outdoor swing under one of our decks with her spiritual reflection books and rosary while enjoying nature. I’m sure she prayed over and for the beautiful flower beds she cultivated over the years. Petunias were one of her favorites. In her final days, I told her that the petunias would always be in full bloom in heaven.
A Call to Hospitality – Sister Rita welcomed each and every person she met into her life. She had a heart big enough for everyone. In terms of offering hospitality, one didn’t expect an invitation to coffee with fresh baked goodies with Sister Rita. She was not known to have had many talents in the kitchen. She did enjoy spending time with her friends going out for meals, but no coffee for her. She never drank it.
Another way Sister Rita offered hospitality was in how she stayed connected with family and friends through phone calls and letter writing. She enjoyed her nightly calls with her sister Rosemary over recent years. Sister Rita’s penmanship was quite gorgeous, with flowing lines and large curves. Her letter writing to friends and relatives was frequent. I’m not sure a day went by where she didn’t have a letter or card in our outgoing mail. As I visited with some of her relatives these last days, many commented on the wonderful letters they received from Sister Rita.
Her final ministry at St. Alexius was as a “hospitality hostess”, greeting patients and their families and assisting them in finding their way around the hospital. She greeted many people by name and if she didn’t remember your name, she just called you her friend.
A Call to Service – Sister Rita was proud of being a city kid from Hague, North Dakota. Knowing what the town of Hague is today, it is hard for me to picture it as a “city”, but it did hit its high population of 442 in 1940 when Sister Rita was nearly a teenager. In talking about her youth, Sister Rita shared how she would polish shoes and iron shirts for her brothers before they went to dances. They would give her good tips in appreciation for her work. Sister Rita credited her parents with teaching her self-discipline and responsibility through her work at home and assisting her father in the creamery.
In her professional ministry, Sister Rita served as a nurse, a physical therapist, and a hospice chaplain. Going back to her 25th Jubilee reflection - “I have found that being a servant for Him has required me to value greatly the dignity of all with whom I work or meet. It has made me deeply aware of the pricelessness of each person for what they are and not for what they say or do.” She surely did live that out every day of her life. Former patients have been among those who have paid their respects the past two days.
Sister Rita lived a full and faithful life in our Benedictine community for over 73 years. Her presence will be missed. She answered the calls of prayer, hospitality, and service in remarkable yet humble ways. Thank you, Sister Rita, for sharing your life with all of us. We are grateful for the gift you have been to us. May you now share in the glory of God with the saints in heaven.