Sister gets a sense of how big God is by serving

Friday, Nov. 24, 2006

SAN CARLOS, Ariz. — "Working among other cultures and other religious traditions gives you a sense of how big God is," said Holy Cross Sister Ruth Barbara Holtshouser. "I have been serving on the San Carlos Apache Reservation in Arizona for about 12 years.

"We are very fortunate as Christians because our Judeo-Christian tradition, the way we experience God in our lives, is written down for us," said Sr. Ruth Barbara. "But every other culture has that same depth of experience with God.

"The other cultures are not fortunate enough to have their traditions written down, so we tend to think we are the only ones and that we are the best," she said. "The fact is we should come to know other cultural traditions. When I see the deep faith of the Apache people and the ways God has spoken to their ancestors, I begin to realize that every culture is special to God, and that God has spoken to every one of them the way God has spoken to Christians."

Sr. Ruth Barbara said in the past we used to believe that God chose the Christian people as the only people, and God only spoke to us in our Bible and in our traditions. We are coming to the awareness now that God has chosen every people as his own, and God speaks to all of us through our cultural traditions and histories.

She said one of the things she is really excited about in San Carlos, is she is trying to make connections between the traditional Apache beliefs, customs, and culture, and the Catholic traditions, beliefs, and culture.

Sr. Ruth Barbara grew up in Salt Lake City and is a graduate of Judge Memorial Catholic High School. She has been open to other religious traditions since her childhood. Her mother, Florence Holtshouser, grew up in the faith of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her father, Herb Holtshouser, was Catholic and they raised their children Catholic.

Florence has always been a strong supporter of the Catholic Church since she was married. She has been involved in activities at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish, Salt Lake City, for many years and sang in the choir. She volunteered at the St. Vincent de Paul Center serving food to the hungry, and currently works in the Judge Memorial book store.

"My mother taught us to recognize and accept and support both religions," said Sr. Ruth Barbara. "We so often see the dissonances. It is easy for any religious group to push out another and say they are not as good as we are, but we never felt that from my mother’s family. Both religions are very strong and demand a great deal of commitment from their members."

As far as becoming a Holy Cross Sister, Sr. Ruth Barbara said when she was young, many young women considered becoming a religious. Now so many opportunities have opened up for women in terms of careers that this is no longer the case.

"I remember when I was a junior in high school, the priest teaching us religion said priests and sisters give up a lot when they enter religious life, but some of the happiest people he knew were sisters and priests," said Sr. Ruth Barbara. "I think for me, that kind of gave me a nudge to say let’s see."

Following graduation from Judge Memorial in 1963, Sr. Ruth Barbara went to St. Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., where the Holy Cross Sisters attend college.

"I was there for five years," she said. "I graduated from St. Mary’s College in 1968, and began teaching elementary school at various schools in Las Vegas, Nev.; Lynnwood and Los Angeles, Calif.; Salt Lake City at Bishop Glass Catholic School; and schools in Idaho.

From 1979 to 1984, Sr. Ruth Barbara served in Bangladesh. For two years she was in the capital city of Daka where she learned Bengali and taught English as a second language in the high school. For the next three years, she was in the village of Jalchatra working with the tribal people. She worked with the Muslim Women’s Jute Weaving Co-op, and a Christian men’s basket weaving co-op.

"We helped them get loans, and we made items for export," said Sr. Ruth Barbara. "The people would have to travel four hours into the capital city with their bags of goods to sell. We also developed new items they could sell. We worked with Oxfam, which an organization that buys indigenous crafts to sell all over the world.

"It was a wonderful experience of being in another culture learning different ways of looking at life, their different ways of relating to one another, and their different belief systems," said Sr. Ruth Barbara. "It gave me a real awareness that the United States is not the center of the world, and that we really need to recognize there are a lot of other things to evaluate ourselves against besides our own culture and value system."

She said none of us are further ahead culturally, and none of us are further ahead in terms of knowing what it is to be a human being or to live the best way that we can.

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