News From Terre Haute, Indiana

February 22, 2013

Sister Diane Ris, former general superior, dies at 80


Special to the Tribune-Star

ST. MARY-OF-THE-WOODS — Sister Diane Ris, who served as the 16th general superior of the Sisters of Providence from 1996 to 2001, died Wednesday in Mother Theodore Hall at St. Mary-of-the-Woods. She was 80.

Sister Diane was in office when Pope John Paul II announced that Saint Mother Theodore Guerin had been declared blessed, moving her to the last step before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Sister Diane led the pilgrimage to Rome in 1998 for Saint Mother Theodore’s beatification.

“Our Sister Diane will be remembered in many ways by different people,” said Sister Denise Wilkinson, the congregation’s current general superior. “She was a wonderful teacher of primary children and a wonderful teacher of future teachers. She served in elected leadership as both a provincial and as general superior. She also was appreciated as a spiritual director and retreat facilitator. Her love of Saint Mother Theodore consistently informed her thoughts and actions. Sister Diane was an instrument of Providence for many.”

A strong devotion led her to write most of a recently published book titled, “Saint Mother Theodore Guerin: Woman of Providence.” It had been started by Sister Joseph Eleanor Ryan before her death in 1991.

“I have a deep love for Mother Theodore. I have so much respect for what she was going through, all that she experienced from birth to death. What a holy woman she was! In the words of Pope John Paul II at her beatification, ‘Not only was she holy, but she was fully human.’ Put those two things together and you have a saint,” Sister Diane said about the congregation’s foundress.

Sister Diane, whose former religious name was Sister Martin Therese, was a native of Port Chester, N.Y. She was born Diane Lawlor Ris on July 16, 1932, to Irving S. and Esther Johnstone Rise. She entered the Sisters of Providence July 21, 1951, from Holy Trinity Parish in Washington, D.C. She professed perpetual vows Jan. 23, 1959.

She graduated from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College with a bachelor’s degree in education. She received a master’s degree in elementary education from Indiana University. She earned a doctorate in elementary education from Ball State University.

Sister Diane ministered for 20 years as a professor at Morehead State University in Morehead, Ky. She received the Distinguished Teacher Award, the university’s highest faculty honor, in 1989.

Before going to Morehead State, Sister Diane taught elementary school in Evansville, Plainfield, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis in Indiana, and in schools in Chicago and Lansdowne, Md.

While she was teaching at Morehead State, she also served as provincial of St. Gabriel Providence for the Sisters of Providence. She also took a three-month leave of absence from the university to serve as interim director of Global Education Associates in New York, an organization that fosters global systems that will secure ecological integrity, peace, human rights, economic and social well-being, and democratic participation, with special care to include the voices and perspectives of poor and marginalized people of diverse cultural and religious traditions.

Sister Diane was elected general superior in 1996. After her term in office. she became a certified Reiki healer.

She is survived by two sisters, Linda VanDenBerg of Jacksonville, Fla., and Peggy Joneas of Memphis, Tenn. She was preceded in death by four sisters, Bunny Ris, Betty Ann Nichols, Nancy Shank and Leona McCurdy. The wake is 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Monday in the Church of the Immaculate Conception with the Wake Service at 4:30 p.m. The Mass of Christian Burial is 11 a.m. Tuesday with the Rev. Daniel R. Hopcus presiding. Burial is in the cemetery of the Sisters of Providence. The Callahan-DeBaun Funeral Home assisted with arrangements. Memorial contributions may be made to the Sisters of Providence, 1 Sisters of Providence, St. Mary-of-the-Woods, IN 47876.