Sr. Mary Ruth Dittman, SDS, spent her retirement years in the Diocese of Phoenix, but couldn’t resist the call to continue sharing her NCIU nursing skills, her prayers for the unborn and indigent and supporting others whom society often forgets.
Sr. Mary Ruth passed away June 18. She was 94.
Sr. Mary Ruth Dittman, SDS
Born: April 29, 1924
Solemnly Professed: Aug. 13, 1956
Service in the Diocese of Phoenix since 1996
Phoenix Children’s Hospital, continuing care nursery
Bereavement for parents who lost a young child
Burial services of indigent at White Tanks Cemetery
Communion services for prisoners
Pro-life prayer warrior
Died: June 18, 2018
Noon, Aug. 22
Diocesan Pastoral Center, 400 E. Monroe St., Phoenix
The Divine Savior Sister grew up on an Iowa family farm as one of nine children. She professed perpetual vows Aug. 13, 1956 and served as a teacher for 15 years including, time during formation. Twice she was considered a pioneer, being among the first religious to teach at Holy Name School in Wisconsin and half of the sister pair who volunteered to begin a new mission at St. Joseph School in Huntsville, Alabama.
“She really took a great interest in each individual student,” said Sr. Georgene Faust, SDS, She knew Sr. Mary Ruth in Wisconsin and often attended functions together when both lived in Phoenix.
Sr. Mary Ruth returned to the student side of the classroom in 1964 to become a Licensed Practical Nurse serving in the Newborn ICU and the rehabilitation unit. When she retired to Phoenix in 1996, Sr. Mary Ruth brought her nursing skills along and gave more than 20 hours a week to the continuing care nursery at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. “I help care for some very sick little people,” her formal obituary said. She racked up at least 600 volunteer hours, according to one award.
Related retirement ministry brought Sr. Mary Ruth to also care for parents who lost an infant or young child and service at Los Niños Hospital. It was an extension of her work in Wisconsin where the state chapter of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome made her an honorary member. The National SIDS Foundation also recognized her “outstanding efforts for SIDS and concern for the lives of all children.”
Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, who got to know Sr. Mary Ruth since his early days in Phoenix, said Sr. Mary Ruth will be remembered for her strong commitment to the Gospel of Life. It was “manifested by her presence at crisis pregnancy centers, and also by her commitment to pray in front of abortuaries for the safety of unborn children and their mothers, as well as for the conversion of those engaged in the abortion industry,” he said.
“Throughout the day, she spent much of her time visiting the sick in hospitals, especially children and their mothers,” the bishop said. Her day’s work began in deep prayer, he noted. She often attended daily Mass at 6:15 a.m.
“Nearly always, she arrived more than an hour before Mass to pray,” he said.
Fr. David Sanfilippo, vicar for priests in Phoenix, got to know Sr. Mary Ruth as a newly ordained priest. Her care for “the most needy among us” impressed him, noting her works of mercy.
“Sr. Ruth was dedicated for many years to praying for the dead at the graveside burial services for the indigent people who had no one to pray for them. She would regularly be present for the graveside services of the poor and homeless at the indigent cemetery in the far West Valley,” Fr. Sanfilippo said. ”The pallbearers for the poor and homeless were often chained inmates, and Sr. Ruth would faithfully be found praying at the graveside for the soul of the deceased who often had no loved one present at the time of their burial.”
Sr. Mary Ruth’s schedule also regularly included advocacy against child abuse and leading Communion services for prisoners. Catholic Charities Community Services selected the sister as recipient of a Special Tribute Award for a “Lifetime of Charity and Justice” in 2009.
“Countless people in this diocese have spiritually benefited from her quiet faithful service and fervent prayer,” Fr. Sanfilippo said.
A memorial Mass will be celebrated for her at 12 p.m., Aug. 22, at the Diocesan Pastoral Center chapel, 400 E. Monroe St., Phoenix.