Mary Rita Rohde, SNJM
I learned about charity and justice from my parents at an early age. Born in O’Neill, Nebr. in 1940, one of my earliest memories was of a strange man knocking at our door. While my mother answered the door, I hid under the kitchen table. My father, who worked at a small grocery store, had given this homeless stranger some food and told him to go to our home and ask my mother for dad’s overcoat. My mom immediately gave dad’s coat to the stranger.
At age 5, we moved to Richland WA where dad worked at Hanford and mom taught school. Our family of six moved to Kennewick where I graduated from the public high school. I attended Marylhurst College two years before entering the Holy Names Sisters Novitiate. After making first vows I attended Fort Wright College in Spokane, graduating in 1964.
My first mission was teaching Spanish and Religion at Immaculate High School in central Seattle. I loved the multicultural student body. After seven years at Immaculate, interrupted by a year out to get my Masters degree, I taught at Fort Wright College for four years. Then I returned to be principal at Immaculate H.S.
In 1980, a sabbatical allowed me to live and work with Maryknoll Sisters in Nicaragua. I felt very blessed to know three of the Maryknoll Sisters later killed in El Salvador. On returning to the U.S., I knew I wanted a ministry that involved being with Latinos/as. When Kathleen Ross, SNJM invited me to participate in founding Heritage College in Toppenish, I accepted. For 15 years I taught in the Education Department and was Vice President of College Advancement. Then I had the privilege of being on our SNJM Congregational Leadership team, residing in Quebec, and visiting the ministries of our Sisters in Lesotho, Brazil, Haiti, the U.S. and Canada.
I returned to the Yakima Valley in 2002 and asked our sisters and associates to discern with me about what ministry God was calling me to. That process led to founding Nuestra Casa, an educational ministry that “welcomes the stranger” in Sunnyside, WA. The strangers here are immigrants from Mexico. At Nuestra Casa we provide various classes, workshops, and referral services aimed at educating immigrant women.
I am incredibly grateful for my parents who taught me to “welcome the stranger”, for the Sisters of the Holy Names, for many lay persons and for my family who have encouraged and supported my desire to work among oppressed and marginalized people.