Sr. Rita Flaherty, CSJ

Sister Rita Flaherty, CSJ

Submitted by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

If I were a singer, I would begin this reflection about Sr. Rita Flaherty with the song, “You Light Up My Life” because she did that. She lit up the lives of so many, family members, Sisters, residents and staff here at Nazareth, staff at St. Joseph Health Center in Kansas City, and the students she taught in her math classes.

She was born December 23, 1919 in a taxi cab in Kansas City, Mo. The story of her birth was told to her by Sr. Magdalita (Thilbault) who said that evening she had gone around and made sure all the windows and doors of the hospital were locked for the night. She heard the front doorbell ringing and there stood a taxi driver frantically saying, “I have a lady in my cab and I can hear the baby already.” He was told to drive around the back and mother and baby were taken to the Maternity Ward. But the baby was blue so sister took her to the nearest water fountain and baptized her. Rita says that because of Sr. Magdalita’s good care, she and her mother survived well and went home to Dad and to her big brother, Edward. (He is present with us today…Fr. Ed Flaherty, SJ).

Her parents Edward and Marie Best Flaherty took the baby three weeks later to St. John’s Church to have her baptized where she was named Rita Magdalita Flaherty. Rita felt that from her first moments of birth she was called to be a Sister of St. Joseph; born at St. Joseph Hospital, baptized by a Sister of St. Joseph and later educated by them at St. Elizabeth’s school in Kansas City, she was convinced God was inviting her to accept a religious vocation and she happily accepted.

The family grew three and half years later when her brother, Don was born. Life for the Flaherty’s revolved around Church. They attended Mass; Lenten programs, Forty Hours devotions, etc. Catholic education was important and Rita worked hard to win a scholarship to college knowing that it would be a great assistance to her parents. Her mother would give her money every Sunday to light a candle…she felt a little guilty she said because although she did pray for her mother’s intentions, she also prayed for her own and was hoping that wasn’t “stealing”. Rita’s prayer was always the same…a prayer she learned from one of the sisters…”Draw near to God and He will draw near to you”..she prayed that she would stay close to the Lord.

She graduated from college in 1938 and one evening sat with her parents to talk about her desire to enter the convent. Her mother was very happy but her father was reluctant. He didn’t want his baby girl to leave home. But he drove the family to Carondelet on September 1, 1938 a few days early because it was Sunday and he wasn’t working. He was not at all happy to see those grey walls at Carondelet and wanted to turn around. But finally gave in when Don, her youngest brother said, “Dad let her do what she wants to do.” Years later her father told her that he was proud of her and “would have it no other way.” It helped somewhat when she received the habit and name Sr. Marie Edourada on March 19, 1939.

Leaving the Novitiate she was assigned to observe Kindergarten teachers. In 1941 she was assigned to teach kindergarten at Holy Rosary school here in St. Louis. The next few years found her teaching elementary grades in St. Louis, Denver and Kansas City. All the while she was working on graduating from college and getting her Masters degree in Mathematics. She graduated from Fontbonne College and then St. Louis University. Her ministry then changed to teaching on the secondary level. She went back to Denver to teach Math at St. Francis de Sales High School from 1953-1956. After teaching high school for 15 years, she received word that she was to teach Math at Avila College in Kansas City. She was so happy because that was her alma mater when it was a junior college; then it became a senior college and of course today is Avila University.

Now she would have more time to visit family. Her parents were growing older and needed care which she could provide on weekends. She took them to doctors’ appointments or shopping or cleaned house, doing whatever to make their lives easier. At the same time, her brother Don, his wife Claire and family were there. Having seven children gave her opportunities to attend baptisms, communions, grade school, high school and college graduations…then weddings and more baptisms, communions, etc. She became very close to them and fell in love with them because they treated her as a close, close family member.

In 1965 she rejoiced with the family and her brother, Ed as he was ordained a Jesuit. They were always close as children and she was happy that he was able to serve our country in the service and then be able to pursue his own religious vocation.

At the age of 67 Sr. Rita thought it was time to retire from teaching. Computers were being introduced and she didn’t feel qualified to teach with them and didn’t want to learn. She also felt that she was too old to be working with teenagers and twenty-year olds. She took a short sabbatical and then started a whole new ministry which gave her great satisfaction. She began to work in Medical Records at St. Joseph Hospital in Kansas City. She said she just loved the people there….they were so happy. Some of them had never worked with a sister before. Unfortunately, after a few months her manager came to her and said they had to “cut back on staff” but she could stay on if she worked the night shift. Rita said, “No, at my age I need my sleep and I would miss out being with community on that kind of schedule.” So she had a slight break and then was offered a job in the Business office as an aide. She always liked any job she had and this new job was just right for her at the right time. She got to meet all the people in all the departments at the hospital. She felt that God really led her there because she said over half of the people never worked with a Sister of St. Joseph. And aren’t we glad that if that was their first experience it was with Sr. Rita who was such a wonderful example of what a Sister of St. Joseph should be! While she was there she celebrated her Golden Jubilee and the staff held a surprise party for her. She felt so blessed.

Sr. Rita came to the Nazareth Campus in 1994; she lived in the Jeanne Fontbonne Community and volunteered at Nazareth. She worked with Sr. Rita McGovern as the Hospitality Coordinator. She always welcomed guests and prepared rooms for them. We were always grateful when she would give tours of Nazareth to various visiting groups.

Sr. Rita was always committed to her prayer life. She said, and I quote…”God has filled my years with happy days wherever I have traveled. My heart is filled with gratitude. Now, I am at another fork in the road as I journey to my God. I do so, free from apprehension and blessed with peace. I trust in the Presence of the Good Shepherd, knowing I will receive the graces I need to be faithful to God. I trust God will strengthen me when the journey is difficult and give rest as I need. For these graces I pray and journey on joyfully.” (May, 2005).

These last weeks were not easy for her but as she said, she knew that God was always there with her. Now her loving God welcomes her…welcomes her with open arms…just as she did for so many others.

May she rest in peace. AMEN!!


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October 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph