Tuesday, August 1, 2017


Died July 21, 2017 at 95

My Tribute to Helen Ritter

“On the Hunt for Who I’ve Not Yet Become”
Cathedral of the Assumption
July 29, 2017
Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true. 
Behold, I make all things new.
Revelations 21:5

I believe you can tell a lot about a person by what Scripture readings they choose for their funeral. As I studied the readings Helen chose for her funeral, I see a distinct pattern, a pattern of optimism about the future even after death. From Isaiah we heard the words, “No longer will your sun set or your moon wane. For the Lord will be your light forever.” From Revelation, “Behold I make all things new.” From the Gospel of John, “I will come back again and take you to myself, so where I am you also will be.”  The pattern I see is the pattern I saw in her life in the years I knew her. She was a woman on the hunt for who she had not yet become. In other words, she was open to change. As result, she was always growing. When God says to us, “Behold, I make all things new” he was surely speaking to the likes of Helen Ritter. She took the talents that God gave her, invested them and watched them pay off in service to others.  

She was a lifelong member of the Cathedral of the Assumption. She was baptized here. She went to school here. In good times and in bad, she faithfully supported the ministries of this sacred place. She was here during its glory days. She was here during its decline. She was here for its revival. In fact, when I arrived she was part of that small number of faithful women who “kept the lights on” when the parish had dwindled down to about 110 members. I felt her encouragement and support and enthusiasm when I arrived here as probably the youngest pastor ever at 39 years old. She believed with me that indeed “all things could be made new” with God’s help. Her faith, positive energy and subtle, often tongue in cheek, humor and quick wit was contagious and life giving to me, the whole staff and the various committee members of this parish. She was a symbol of the best we had to offer as a parish.  

As a university graduate, school teacher, leader of several associations and volunteer in multiple service organizations, Helen Ritter has been on a hunt for who she had not yet become. She was dedicated to personal growth and change in herself and in those she mentored and served. She exemplified the words of Albert Einstein. “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” I would add that the measure of an authentic human person is the ability to adapt and change with the times. The words of actress Audrey Hepburn apply to her way of thinking.  “People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed.”  “Behold, I make all things new!”

Let me insert a personal observation. It occurred to me last week when I was being interviewed by a radio station in the Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines where I am volunteering in my retirement. I thought of her as I was making my point. The interviewer was asking me about celibacy and the single life.
He was heading down the familiar path many people take when they talk about celibacy and the single life. It is perceived by those who are not called to it to be limiting and stifling and miserable. I used to get irritated, but now I just laugh at their ignorance. As I told my four married sisters, “Look at this face. Do you see an unhappy miserable person? Don’t feel sorry for me! I am very happy with my single life! I haven't met anyone I would trade with yet!

Marriage is a wonder life, a beautiful life and the most common way of life for most people. God intended it to be that way. I honor it and I admire those who follow that call. God also calls some of us to the single life so that we can serve the many. Taking the risk of speaking for Helen Ritter and myself, I would like to say in clear and most uncertain terms that the single life can also be a rich, generous and happy way to live as well. Helen, being single, was free to love the many, not just a few. She was fun, funny, generous, affirming and free to be herself. She did not suffer from singlehood, she was freed up by it! The whole point of celibacy is not to be against love and marriage, but to free one up to offer one’s life in loving service to the whole community, not just to one’s family.  She did that in a marvelous and amazing way. Her singlehood made her available for service.

Let me end this homily by saying what all homilies are supposed to say. The big story today is not what Helen did for God. The big story is what God did for Helen. As good as she was, she did not strive to be good so that she could earn God’s love. Her goodness was a response to the unconditional love that God has always had for her. Let me repeat. Her goodness did not spring from an effort to get God to love her. Her goodness was a response to the love that was there from the moment of her conception.

Finally, on behalf of the parishioners, myself, Fathers Fichteman, Father Linebach, let me thank the Ritter family and her friends for sharing her with all of us. She may be one of the last of those 110 faithful parishioners whom I met when I first came here in 1983, those who “kept the lights on” during the waning days of the old Cathedral Parish and those who welcomed the possibility of living to see a second “golden age” for this place, those who believed in the words of our first reading she chose for her funeral, words that apply to her personally, as well, as she enters into eternal glory.

Write these words down, for they are trustworthy and true.
Behold, I make all things new.
Revelations 21:5

Helen Ritter was a niece of Cardinal Joseph Elmer Ritter, born in New Albany, Indiana.
Cardinal Ritter was the former Archbishop of Indianapolis and later Archbishop of St. Louis, Missouri, when he was made a Cardinal.
Helen referred to him as "Uncle Elmer."

Cardinal Ritter died in 1967

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