Notre Dame High School alum, director answers God’s call

Tour with schools superintendent inspires Jenny Rittgers to join Religious Sisters of Mercy

WELCOME TO RELIGIOUS LIFE Jenny Rittgers, standing fourth, is surrounded by Religious Sisters of Mercy, from right, Sisters Mary Christine Cremin, Mary Sarah Macht, Sean Marie Striby, Jenny’s mother, Kathy Rittgers, and Sisters Mary Marta Abbott and Ana Thu. Also shown is Shiloh, the Sisters’ dog.  Courtesy of Notre Dame High School and the Blarney Stone

WELCOME TO RELIGIOUS LIFE Jenny Rittgers, standing fourth, is surrounded by Religious Sisters of Mercy, from right, Sisters Mary Christine Cremin, Mary Sarah Macht, Sean Marie Striby, Jenny’s mother, Kathy Rittgers, and Sisters Mary Marta Abbott and Ana Thu. Also shown is Shiloh, the Sisters’ dog. Courtesy of Notre Dame High School and the Blarney Stone

Jenny Rittgers finally said yes. And the decision has changed her life.

After a long discernment, the Notre Dame High School graduate and admissions director answered the call to consecrated religious life and in January joined the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Mich.

She is the Religious Sisters of Mercy’s first vocation from the Diocese of Knoxville since the sisters arrived in the diocese.

It wasn’t a decision that Ms. Rittgers made quickly. She had considered the vocation since college but followed a career path in education until a chance meeting in June 2011 with Diocese of Knoxville Schools Superintendent Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM.

In an interview with Notre Dame’s school magazine, The Blarney Stone, shortly before entering the convent, Ms. Rittgers said she finally heard God calling her.

“I recognize now that it was divine providence. One day (June 2011) I was charged with the task of giving the new superintendent a tour of the school. She is a Religious Sister of Mercy. During the tour we spoke about my history as a religion teacher and my extreme love for the Lord. Then she asked, ‘Have you considered a vocation to the religious life?’” Ms. Rittgers told the magazine.

Ms. Rittgers said the real conversation began at this point, and Sister Mary Marta invited her to visit the convent in Knoxville, which eventually led to a visit to the Religious Sisters of Mercy’s motherhouse in Alma.

But first, Ms. Rittgers had to conquer lingering doubts that had shadowed her.

“Fear kept me from visiting for eight months. However, after I visited I knew. The Lord opened my heart and came into it in a way he never had before. I knew this would be my home,” Ms. Rittgers said. “I think back now that if I had not given her that tour and she had not asked the question, things may be different. But it was divine providence.”

Ms. Rittgers said she had considered the vocation since attending Aquinas College, but she didn’t feel she was ready for the consecrated religious life at that point.

Sister Mary Marta agreed that the experience was divinely inspired.

“It was the Holy Spirit. It is very exciting for Sister Jenny and for the Religious Sisters of Mercy. This is our first vocation to come from the Diocese of Knoxville since we arrived in 2009,” Sister Mary Marta said.

Ms. Rittgers, who is an alumna of Notre Dame and worked at the high school for nine years before entering the convent, said she feels as if she’s had a burden lifted from her since deciding to follow a consecrated religious life.

And in an apt comparison, she said the decision is as if she is accepting her groom’s hand in marriage.

“I am relieved to finally have it out in the open that I have made the decision to share my life with the Lord as his bride,” Ms. Rittgers said. “I feel like a freshly manicured, newly engaged, 20-something who wants to shout it from the rooftops that I have finally found the man of my dreams. As my mom says, ‘You’ve found the greatest groom out there.’ Yes, I have.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.