Sister Rudina (Rita) Klarer turns a life of obstacles into an opportunity to serve

A teacher and more

“I just assumed I’d be a teacher,” Sister Rita said, and for the next 26 years she was. She served in Paducah, Harrodsburg, Louisville and Fredericktown in Kentucky, then 10 years in Lourdes Central High School in Nebraska City, Neb. She taught every grade except fourth, fifth and sixth.

“I loved all my teaching assignments. I liked high school the best, you could do so many things,” she said. “I taught all boys at St. Bartholomew in Louisville, 7th and 8th grade. Everybody wanted to teach the girls, but I could challenge the boys. They asked questions they wouldn’t have asked if girls were there.” In 1954, she ministered with her 8th grade teacher, Sister Therese Martin Mattingly, when they opened St. Andrew School in Harrodsburg.

Sister Rita spent her summers pursing master’s degrees (she has a master’s in mathematics and one in pastoral ministry), but in summer 1973, she decided she wanted something different. She received a brochure that mentioned jail ministry in Kansas City, Mo., about 150 miles from Nebraska City.

“At my first meeting with the superintendent, he told me he would like me to teach volleyball and other sports to the women,” Sister Rita said. “My response was, ‘Mr. Gagne, I loathe volleyball. Let me do what I can do, I can teach.’ He agreed immediately.” All summer she taught men and women the basics. “What a thrill it was when one of them earned a GED,” she said.

Sister Rita is pictured in 2005 with two of her friends, Sister Marie Bosco Wathen, center, and the late Sister Marita Greenwell, her classmate.

Halfway through the summer, Gagne called her to his office, Sister Rita said. “Sis, you can’t go back to Nebraska. We need you here,” he said. She explained that she had a contract to teach in Nebraska and had to go back. He asked her to come back to stay after that next year.

No Ursuline Sister had participated in jail ministry before. Sister Rita contacted Sister Annalita Lancaster, who was major superior at the time, to seek her advice. “I remember her reply and especially her final words: ‘Our work is to take Christ to the poor. This is it. Make your plans and we will support you.’ And the support was always there,” Sister Rita said.

Her classroom was the gym with a leaking roof, and she had no books or supplies, so she had to borrow everything. She worked with men in the work release program, who were allowed to leave the jail during the day to work, but had to report back at night.

“The proudest student was a 53-year-old alcoholic man who studied day and night to earn his GED,” she said. “No one who ever earned a PhD could have been prouder.”

By the end of her second year, it was clear that the man who ran the STAR program – Specialized Training to Avoid Recidivism – was not doing his job, Sister Rita said. She did not want to be there on the day he got fired, so she left early. The next day, Gagne came to her and said, “You’re the new director of the STAR program,” she said. “I don’t want it,” she replied, but he said, “I didn’t ask you if you wanted it, it’s yours.”

For the next 12 years, she ran the program and made improvements. “I had to figure it out all by myself. I kept track of the guys, made sure they honored their contract,” she said. “I told them if they came back under the influence, they wouldn’t work for three days.”

“I was never worried. I could walk anyplace I wanted in that jail,” she said.



  1. Teresa Weaver

    I knew Sr.Rita in her ministry at the Kansas City Correctional Center, or as it was known at one time the “Farm” since it was someone isolated. At that time I was a Probation and Parole Officer for the State of MO and on occasion had to visit a client who was in the “farm”. I also believe she worked at the Job Corp in Excelsior Springs, MO. I supervised young women who were placed there, this, when I worked for the State Of MO training school in Chillicothe, MO

  2. Sister Eileen Howard osu

    I lived with Sr. Rita on one of our first missions and I can say I never lived with a more talented and generous person. It was a blessing for me!….And now near the end of our earthly pilgrimage we are living together again in our beloved home of Maple Mount. Here again I witness her graced determination to make every moment count on her way to our heavenly home!

  3. Mary Madsen Pichler

    Dear Sister (Rudina) Rita,
    You were a “light” at Lourdes in Nebraska City – such passion and energy. We had no idea about your personal traumas. I’m blessed to receive this article at this time as I go through my own struggle with Multiple Sclerosis. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  4. Mary Madsen Pichler

    Dear Sr.(Rudina) Rita, I remember your “light” at Lourdes in Nebraska City – such passion and energy! We never knew about your traumas. I wish you a joyful life as you have given joy to so many. I send my thoughts and prayers.
    I still have the small address book you gave me for graduation in 1970. It is creased, worn and ragged – just like me!

  5. Pam Knudson

    Everyone here at St. Patrick Parish in Kansas City, MO love Sr. Rita Klarer. We always say she’s our Saint in our small part of the world. Sr. Rita has taught me so many things, and I can never thank her enough for all she has done for our Parish, and for each of us in our own personal ways!

  6. Lupe Clouse

    What a beautiful story of Sr. Rita’s life. Sr. Rita, Thank you for being the person God called you to be and so much more! I miss your presence and big smile at St. Pat’s. May God’s love, care, grace & peace continue to be with you always.

  7. Doug and Maria Eades

    Having Sr. Rita as a friend is one of God’s best blessings in our lives. She truly cares. She even took time from her busy schedule to visit our Mom and Dad in their last years. Sister, we miss you, we love you, we thank God for lending you to us for awhile. Thank you for everything you have done for us.

  8. Vincent & Santa Mary Galate

    Sister Rita,
    Has always found the termination, endurance and commitment to her community.
    Her sincere concern for animals.
    Along the way, she gave use one of her new Cockateels. She named him St. Anthony, later Sister Rita allowed me to rename him Louie, and continues to live with us these past 22 years.

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