Sister Rita Frances Hekker

Sister Rita Frances Hekker died at Saint Joseph  Villa on May 15, 2024. In her living history, Rita shared that from an early age, she understood the value of learning whether in the classroom, on the basketball court, through travels, or through life’s lessons. She was grateful for her holistic education which both challenged and afforded her rich opportunities to expand her mind, to understand the importance of being a member of a team, and to experience the wider world through her travels abroad. Unsurprisingly, her love of learning led her to become a teacher in the classroom and on the basketball court.

Rita’s vocation story bears witness to the words in our Constitutions which remind us that each vocation is a unique mystery. Rita finally entered the SSJs in 1958 after a long road of trying to convince her parents to allow her to follow her heart’s desire. Letting go of Rita was a difficult task for them. They lovingly demanded that before Rita could make such a commitment, she needed to go to college – she did. Then she was asked to teach – she did. Then she was encouraged to travel – she did. Her sister Mary Jane shared that in a final act of desperation, her father approached the Bishop to ask him to intervene – he didn’t. When the Bishop declined, he told her father that he couldn’t stand in Rita’s way and that it was time to let her go. Her parents finally freed her to enter our congregation.

For the next 65 years Rita was committed to the ministry of education on multiple levels in the classroom and the basketball court and to any opportunity to serve her dear neighbors.

Rita’s practical nature aided her classroom methods… when teaching boys on the freshman football team, Rita shared that she applied the coaching methods for instructing, demonstrating, applying and confirming their understanding of the subject. Rita was delighted when one boy’s mothers commented that her son spent more time preparing for her class than any other.

Another example of Rita’s practical approach to teaching was found in her senior religion class which focused on matrimony… she had her students complete a monthly financial budget for a family of four. Rita believed that this exercise would prepare her students for their future and was an important topic that, although wasn’t found in the curriculum at that time, it needed to be.

Always the lifelong learner… Rita shared what she learned through her experiences. While touring in Norway, Rita was so impressed with the beauty of the Norwegian ski sweaters that she taught herself to knit them. As her family knows so well, Rita took great pride in creating and gifting them to her family and friends. When a trip to California introduced her to body surfing … Rita was quick to ride the waves. She was always ready to try anything.

Of the many lessons Rita learned in life, it seemed that the most valuable one was sharing herself with others – the Congregation, the sisters with whom she lived, her students, their families, and all those she encountered. Once again Rita seemed to embrace the words in our Constitutions which “reminds us to serve others by our lives.”

We know that for years, Rita spent her summer vacations as a faithful volunteer in the Villa laundry and when Rita retired from teaching a few years ago she became a Hospice Visitor –sharing the gift of her presence as she companioned those on their sacred journey.

So today, Rita, we give thanks that for 65 years you lived our mission with generosity, joy, and passion. We are grateful for your example. We rejoice that you are with our loving God.

Rest in Peace, dear Rita!