Seventy years ago, Ruth Herman, a native of Reed Township in Seneca County, took her vows and a new name, "Beatrice," to become part of the community at St. Francis in Tiffin. Now retired, she has returned to the campus to reside at Elizabeth Schaefer Apartments.
The June 1 edition of The Catholic Chronicle had a feature article about Sister Herman and her ministry at Toledo St. Anthony Villa from 1959-1969.
June 24, two men who knew her as their housemother at the villa threw a party to celebrate Sister Herman's 70th jubilee as a sister and her 88th birthday. Mike Kane and John Gears contacted her to give them as many names as she could remember to receive invitations for a reunion of sorts. The invitation included two photos of Herman.
"They said 'We'd better put a picture of what you look like today and a picture of what you looked like when you took care of us. You had the veil on yet.' None of them called me 'Sister Bea.' It was always 'Sister Beatrice' because that's the only name they knew. They said, 'We'd have caught the devil if we had called you 'Sister Bea.' I said, 'A lot of things have changed.'"
Those invited included men who had lived at St. Anthony and former seminarian counselors and chaplains. At one point, three helium balloons with notes attached were released. The notes explained the reasons for the celebration and asked the finders to respond to Sister Herman at her current address.
Sister Herman forgot about the balloons until birthday cards started arriving July 11, the day before her birthday. One was from Punxsutawney, Penn. Sister Herman didn't know anyone there, but she opened the card and found a handwritten letter from a teenage girl. She and her friend had found the balloon and note the day after its release. She also had gone online and read articles about Sister Herman.
In reply, she wrote a three-page letter giving more about her work at St. Anthony, which was not an orphanage but more like a group foster home.
"We had house sisters, and the children were mostly from broken homes," Sister Herman said.
Five brothers had come from one Tiffin family struggling with illness and divorce. One had planned to attend the reunion but died a month before the event. The other brothers came back from California, Tennessee, Idaho and Willard. Their sister also came from California in her brother's place, even though her memories were not as positive as her brothers'.
Sister Herman said she had contacted the deceased brother four days before he died. He thanked her for caring for him and his siblings and told her how they had cried when they came, because they didn't want to be there. When they left, they cried again because they wanted to stay. The sister revealed her own similar emotions related to her assignment at the villa.
"I was a preschool teacher at a school and I was asked to go to the villa. I cried and said 'I don't know how to take care of boys.' But you know what? Eleven years later, I cried. I didn't want to leave. I cried, too.' He said, 'We never knew that.'"
In her three-page letter to the girl, Sister Herman also described caring for about 100 Cuban refugees housed at the villa in the 1960s. She has remained in contact with one young man, who now lives in Texas, and even attended his wedding. About 20 "boys" from distant cities came to the party. The guest list also included seminarian counselors and former seminarians who had decided not to become priests.
"Father (Richard) Notter came and Father Edward Tillman. Father Tim Kummerer couldn't come, but he was a head counselor," Sister Herman said. "The seminarians took care of the boys in the summer time."
One of the boys, who now lives in Dayton, sang "How Great Thou Art" at the party. Another guest was Bishop Robert Baker of Birmingham, who often appears on EWTN television programs. He also had been a counselor at the villa. Several people who could not attend sent notes and photos.
During the party, Sister Herman was reminded about the "story" connected to each man and the hurt they had survived to become successful adults.
"That was a wonderful day to reminisce, and the fun was to see them enjoying each other. I got such a joy ... It was just so much fun," Sister Herman said.
After her letter back to Punxsutawney, the girl sent Sister Herman photos of herself, her pet guinea pigs, her best friend, her mother and her half-brother. Her own family had experienced marital discord and divorce. She has moved often and attended different schools. The teen said she wants to become a social worker to help others.
"Talk about God's providence. Why would that girl find this balloon, and (benefit from) the work that I have done helping kids who were in the same situation?" Sister Herman said. "Now I've got another little pen pal."
Sister Herman is hopeful that her correspondence will encourage the young lady to work through difficult times and have a better life in the future.
Sister Herman explained that jubilee is the term for the anniversary of a sister receiving the habit. In 1942, when Herman was accepted into religious life, she and her classmates wore bridal attire for a special ceremony.
"Then the bishop gave you this pile of clothing and you went out and put it on," she explained. "After two years, we got a black veil and took our first vows then. After three years, you got the ring. Now, they have a longer time, up to nine years from when they make their first vows."
Now, most Franciscan sisters do not wear special attire, but they do have a ceremony and mark its date as their jubilee. Although some sisters went back to their baptismal names, Sister Herman was afraid none of the boys would remember her as anything other than Sister Beatrice. Her name was shortened in the 1970s when she was a housing manager at a neighborhood in Toledo. The children there were mispronouncing "Beatrice," so they asked to shorten it to "Sister Bea."
"From then on, I was 'Sister Bea.'"