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Sister Carmela's heavenly talents leave lasting legacy

Sister Carmela's heavenly talents leave lasting legacy - (31-01-2020)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Mary Carmela Rall, OSB died Jan. 30, 2020.

She was born Ruth Rall on Dec. 29, 1930, to George and Rose Rall in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. She was the oldest of her parents’ five surviving children. Ruth arrived 10 weeks early, at home and in a snowstorm and wasn’t expected to live. She was carefully placed on the open oven door for warmth and fed with a medicine dropper for weeks.

Ruth attended Catholic schools until she entered high school. She wasn’t a studious teenager, instead preferring art to schoolwork.

“A religious vocation was not my first priority,” she once said. Even though she had two aunts in religious life, she knew it wasn’t for her. 

After high school, she began nursing school but felt little attraction to the field. Art was her love, but her family preferred that she pursue a more practical career in nursing.

“God had his designs, and gradually he called me to follow him as a contemplative,” she later said.

Ruth learned about the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Clyde, Missouri, through their magazine, “Tabernacle&Purgatory,” now called “Spirit&Life.” An article by Sister Dolores Dowling, OSB spoke to her heart, so she prayed for a sign from the Little Flower. She asked for the sign to be in the form of a rose with pink and gold petals.

“While at the home for nursing students, someone found a rosebud at the entrance matching that description and brought it to me,” she said. “That did the trick. I wrote to the Benedictine Sisters immediately.”

She entered in 1950, made her first monastic profession on Sept. 15, 1951, and was given the name Mary Carmela. She made her perpetual vows on Nov. 9, 1956.

During her years in the community, she served the monasteries in Kansas City, Missouri; San Diego; Mundelein, Illinois; Clyde; St. Louis; and Tucson, Arizona. She was pastoral minister at the St. Louis community and also served as subprioress.  

Her parents presented her with a set of watercolors for her profession, and she could finally follow her passion for art. She was chosen to manage the art department while at the Mundelein community, took correspondence courses in commercial art, tutored in oils, studied water colors and was often asked to teach art to the postulants.

During those 20 years, her talent was developed. The sale of her work brought in much-needed income. She made many friends who became benefactors.

Sister Carmela was often led into new creative areas. When requested to do something she wasn’t familiar with, she took risks in saying, “Yes.” While at Clyde in the 1970s, she was asked to supervise the restoration of the Adoration Chapel damaged by dampness, including repairs to the stalls, mosaics and stencil painting.

“I didn’t know what I was doing; it was a miracle it came to pass,” she said.

The pastor of a nearby parish, a monk of Conception Abbey, asked her to design stained glass church windows with liturgical symbols. She learned how to cut glass for those windows, which are still in use.

She also learned calligraphy. Over the years, she made hundreds of cards for others by special request, at times designing cards for Conception Abbey’s Printery House. She was the co-founder of the Association of Sister Artists in St. Louis.

Soon after her arrival in Tucson in 1998, a group of women was seeking a teacher of icon painting. The prioress recommended Sister Carmela, but she replied, “I don’t know any more about icon painting than those women do.”

So she found an experienced teacher after attending a workshop. This evolved into another art ministry.

“Writing icons is a deep prayer experience for me, bringing together my whole life of artistic endeavors and my religious commitment to community, the Benedictine Rule and contemplative Eucharistic prayer,” she said. 

She received commissions for icons from all over the United States. Sister Carmela’s work was exhibited in several professional settings throughout Tucson.

Yet she said, “It’s not important what I’ve done in my life, but what I have become through my commitment to God and community.”

In 2015, health necessitated that Sister Carmela move to the Sisters’ healthcare center, Our Lady of Rickenbach.

Immediately, her card making talents were in high demand. She never stopped learning. A friend might mail her a book demonstrating a specific type of flower painting, and with eager energy she began that new technique. Sister Carmela continued a practice begun in Tucson of taking treasured quotes from the psalms or spiritual writers and illustrating them. Less than two weeks before her death, she greeted a Sister friend, “I am so grateful for the life I’ve had; God has been so good to me in this community.” But that was something she said often, not just at the end of her life.

Sister Carmela is survived by her monastic family; her brother, Steve; his wife, Carol; nieces and nephews and many friends. Her funeral liturgy and burial at Mt. Calvary Cemetery are scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 1, 2020.