Following Her Grace
By S. Joan Cook
Friends and Sisters describe S. Christine Marie Rody as always eager to encourage others to be their best selves. She says about herself that in her varied ministries as teacher, missionary, canon lawyer, congregational leader and volunteer she looks for ways to promote growth and healing among the people she serves.
Born in Cleveland, Ohio, S. Christine was the first child of Joseph and Ruth Rody. Her brother William Joseph (Bill) is deceased and his widow Sandra lives in Florida. Her brother Robert Joseph (Bob) lives in Norwalk, Ohio; her sister S. Ruth Ann lives at the Motherhouse; and her youngest brother Joseph Francis (Rusty because he has red hair) and his wife Janice live near Ravenna, Ohio. At a young age S. Christine developed an intercultural awareness from her father, a crane operator on Lake Erie. She occasionally toured with him the different ships he loaded and unloaded, and she was fascinated that the crews spoke different languages. Her correspondence with a pen pal in Bombay, India gave her further appreciation of the common features we all share, along with our many cultural uniquenesses.
S. Christine was taught by the Vincentian Sisters of Charity at St. Mary’s and St. Pius X elementary schools in Bedford, Ohio, and by the Adrian Dominican Sisters at Marymount High School in Garfield Heights. When she heard a talk about vocations in sixth grade, she remembers realizing, “I could do that!” She entered the VSCs after her sophomore year in high school, and was given the name S. Mary Thomas Aquinas – a name that suited her well because of her Dominican connection and her interest in learning. After Vatican Council II Sister resumed her baptismal name, S. Christine Marie.
She earned a bachelor’s degree at St. John’s Teachers College in Cleveland, and taught at St. Mary’s and St. Barnabas elementary schools and religion at Lumen Cordium High School, Bedford. She was eager for her religion students not simply to learn about Catholicism, but to also become committed Catholics. Her 1970 article in Religion Teacher’s Journal, “Teen-Aides in CCD,” describes her program of fostering the students’ good will and generosity by preparing them to serve as aides in CCD classes. They learned to listen to primary children’s prayers, instruct them in participating in offertory processions, and prepare lessons using filmstrips – 1970s audio-visual technology. She further enriched her religion teaching by earning a master’s degree in theology at St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota. The program included a summer in Israel and Greece, making it possible for S. Christine to broaden her students’ multi-cultural awareness.
S. Christine joined the Cleveland Latin American Mission Team, realizing she could enrich the Salvadoran women who wanted to learn the same subjects their children were being taught in school. And she knew that her high school students in Ohio would benefit from her intercultural experience. When several members of the Cleveland Mission Team were brutally assassinated, S. Christine and her fellow missionaries discerned with Archbishop Pilla of Cleveland about their future in El Salvador. She realized she would likely be the assassins’ next target. So she celebrated Christmas with the other members of the Cleveland team, then returned to the United States. She served for a year at the Vincentian Center for Spirituality while discerning how her gifts could best serve the people of Northern Ohio.
S. Christine recognized the need for a Spanish-speaking member of the Cleveland Marriage Tribunal, and enrolled in the Canon Law program at The Catholic University of America. That program was interrupted when she was elected general superior of the VSCs, and eventually completed the licentiate program at CUA and served in the Marriage Tribunal and as delegate for religious in the Diocese of Cleveland. S. Mary Ann Flannery observes, “A thread of compassionate justice motivated S. Christine throughout these careers, each one leading to the next with even greater awareness of the need to serve those seeking justice in their life situations.” [Intercom Spring 2010 p. 15]
As general superior, S. Christine continued her efforts to enrich the lives of her Sisters and the people they served. She negotiated for VSC Sisters to work in Pineville, Kentucky. This Appalachian ministry was a significant outreach opportunity for all the Sisters: they collected toys and clothes for the people of Pineville, benefitting the recipients and broadening the Sisters’ awareness of the extreme poverty in that area. Another significant step was to join the SC Federation, another opportunity for the VSCs to stretch their awareness of the larger world.
A significant challenge was developing as the Sisters began to experience diminishment in their numbers. They were determined to maintain their commitment to ministry, and a major opportunity arose with the realization that Lumen Cordium High School was no longer sustainable. While the decision to close the school after 24 years of educating young women was a sad and difficult one, the Sisters and the Bedford community were at peace, realizing they had made a wise and timely decision. Continuing in a spirit of communal discernment, the people concluded that a senior living facility would be an asset for the Bedford community. Light of Hearts Villa was born two years later. At the blessing ceremony S. Christine invited the attendees, “Let us pray that we may continue to do the work of God in this building with the people we count as blessings to our lives.”
S. Christine was serving as general superior as the Sisters began taking significant steps into an unknown future and merger with the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati. She opened the 2003 General Chapter, reminding the Sisters of their commitment to maintain the mission in the midst of diminishment. “We are called to fix our sights on Christ and to walk together down our road toward the future God has planned for our good – a future full of hope.” The two communities merged in June 2004.
As a Sister of Charity of Cincinnati, S. Christine continues to share her gift for encouraging people to grow. In congregational leadership as councilor and treasurer, her experiences with diminishment, care of property and support of the Sisters served her and all the Sisters well as realities in the Church and world have continued to change.
Today S. Chris serves in the Marriage Tribunal of the Toledo Diocese and volunteers at the St. Vincent de Paul Society in Cincinnati, using her fluency in Spanish in both of these settings. And she shares her enjoyment of quilting in her hobby of gathering groups to make purses for the Motherhouse Gift Shop. She lives the advice of Saint Elizabeth Seton always to follow her grace.