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Sister Ritamary

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

When Sister Ritamary Bradley and Sister Annette Walters arrived in Davenport in the mid-1960s to join the faculty of St. Ambrose College, they were already nationally respected in their fields. Sister Ritamary was a Chaucer scholar, while Sister Annette had been one of the first women in religious orders to take a Ph.D. in psychology. She had been academic dean at St. Catherine's in Minnesota. They were about to expand that fame beyond the classroom.<--break->In both academic and religious circles, the ‘60s was a decade of re-evaluation, of testing boundaries and limits. The sisters decided to get in on the action. They chose a very simple boundary as their first test. The word was out on the Ambrose campus that Annette and Ritamary planned to take their meals with other faculty in the Priests' Dining Room, a rumor that caused a stir. A few lay faculty members had on rare occasions eaten there, but then, of course, they were male.  If women were admitted, what would the world come to?

In due course, Sisters Ritamary and Annette were seen one morning heading toward the forbidden room for breakfast—and for battle.

Inside the dining room, the Philistines had selected as their Goliath, Father Edward M. Catich, chairman of the art department with a reputation as a curmudgeon, from whom even deans and presidents backed down.

Father Catich met the sisters just as they passed through the door and introduced himself. "Catich," Sister Annette said, "why, it's the only name known in Christian art in Minnesota." "Oh, it's known throughout the country," added Sister Ritamary. Father Catich took breakfast with the sisters, and afterwards remarked how wonderful it was to have such brilliant and scholarly women gracing the Priests Dining Room.

Sister Ritamary and Sister Annette went on to open many doors after that, doors both social and religious, and they met other Goliaths, whom they conquered without slings and stones. Those of us who got to know them well, however, suspect that they did keep a sling and at least a few pebbles somewhere on their persons, just in case.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.