Sister Rita Rose Stohosky went to a new dentist in Portland. She was puzzled when the hygienist said the office already had a file, including x-rays.
At a funeral service at Marylhurst University, Sister Rita Rose Vistica encountered a young man who greeted her enthusiastically, described her influence on his life and recited the prayer she taught him in grade school.
“At that point, I knew he had the wrong Rita Rose, but I did not have the heart to spoil his joy and just gave him a hug,” Sister Vistica explains.
This summer, both Sisters Rita Rose mark 60 years as women religious. Their lives of service since 1953 have been rich, amusing, busy and on occasion confusing.
Sister Rita Rose Vistica, 80, is a Sister of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary who briefly taught at high school then studied in France, earning a doctorate in French. She would teach at Marylhurst and Portland State universities for decades and then serve at St. Mary Cathedral.
Sister Rita Rose Stohosky, 77, is a Sister of St. Mary of Oregon who taught grade school for decades, including at her alma mater, Our Lady of Sorrows. She now serves sick children at St. Vincent Medical Center and teaches English as a second language to adults.
The identity muddle started early, when women religious refrained from using surnames. Sister Stohosky was attending Marylhurst, a college run by the Holy Names Sisters, during the mid-1950s. Her clothes were marked with her name. On campus, she dropped a handkerchief which got to the Holy Names laundry and ended up with Sister Vistica. The young Holy Names Sister embroidered “God bless you” on the handkerchief and gave it to the young Sister of St. Mary of Oregon on the occasion of first profession of vows.
As was the custom in those days, each woman was given three choices for a religious name. Each was offered Rita Rose and took it. In Sister Stohosky’s case, the two names happened to be prominent in family history. In Sister Vistica’s case, an elder Sister Rita Rose had just died and the Holy Names superiors apparently wanted the name to be carried on.
Both from blue-collar backgrounds, the two had never spoken before their encounter at Marylhurst. Sister Stohosky was a member of Our Lady of Sorrows in Southeast Portland who attended Immaculata Academy. Sister Vistica, who grew up at Blessed Sacrament Parish in North Portland, went to St. Mary’s Academy. They do recall noticing each other once in the girls’ lavatory during an all-city dance.
For both, the early years of teaching were a trial with 50 or more children in classes. Sister Stohosky, after a day of teaching and a night of correcting homework, often felt overwhelmed and cried herself to sleep.
Sister Vistica assigned students piles of compositions, a strategy she regretted when it came time to read the pieces in the evenings at the convent. In confession, the distraught young sister delivered a skillfully-composed and well-expressed discourse on why she should leave the classroom. Her impressed confessor told her: “You will make a fine teacher.”
Both women admired Pope John XXIII and the world-engaging spirit of the Second Vatican Council. They had been Sisters for about a decade when the council began and each slowly emerged from the medieval customs of religious life and shifted to modified habits and then civilian clothes.
Both are reminded of Pope John XXIII when they see and hear Pope Francis, whom they consider “fresh air all over again.” Both are happy with their lives and would live them over again, given the choice.
Puzzlement over names erupts periodically.
More than 40 years ago, Sister Vistica had a niece and nephew in first and second grades at Christ the King School in Milwaukie. Their teacher was none other than Sister Stohosky. “Ask a child to keep that straight: a Rita Rose at school and a Rita Rose ‘at home,’” Sister Vistica says.
Often, one of the Sisters Rita Rose will get into a conversation with someone who thinks he or she is speaking with the other. That even happened years ago when Archbishop John Vlazny first met Sister Stohosky and thanked her for all the service Sister Vistica was offering.
This past year, Sister Vistica picked up a relative at St. Vincent Medical Center whose discharge instructions carried her name. When Sister Vistica got to the room, the nurse did a double take because the other Sister Rita Rose does ministry there.
The confusion even was perpetuated by the Catholic Sentinel. In 2003, this reporter wrote a blurb about an upcoming 50th jubilee celebration for Sister Rita Rose Stohosky, but used biographical details and a photo of Sister Rita Rose Vistica.