Sister Rita Foster, who served the poor and protested against violence, dies at 89
Sister Rita Foster was a Catholic nun who practiced tai chi chih daily, always stopped to remove dead leaves from trees, and was repeatedly arrested for protests.
Her first arrest came in November 1982, when she joined 35 others protesting gun manufacturing at Honeywell’s headquarters in south Minneapolis. In a lengthy testimony written five years later, Foster explained the reasoning behind his acts of civil disobedience: “I believe that the ideal of justice is violated by laws which permit the pursuit of military build-up at the expense of the nation’s poor and abroad.”
“She never took her commitments lightly. Everything she did, she researched in depth — always looking for the right answer, the right answer,” Deanna Abbott-Foster said of her sister, who died April 12 at age 89.
As the eldest of seven children growing up in Minneapolis, Foster developed her sense of conscience at a young age. At 19, she joined the congregation of the Sisters of Saint-Joseph de Carondelet.
She earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and mathematics and began teaching in Catholic schools. Then superiors asked him to teach physics in college, so Foster got his master’s degree. But she was never quite satisfied with teaching, said Sister Mary Ellen Foster, Rita’s biological sister who also entered the convent.
So eventually, Foster went to San Francisco for another master’s degree — this one in theology — before moving to North Dakota to work at a Newman Center parish and university. One summer in the late 1970s, a Minneapolis nun traveled to Fargo to recruit help for St. Joseph’s House, a new women’s shelter in the city’s Phillips neighborhood and part of the labor movement Catholics.
Foster returned to her hometown to begin working with the homeless population. She lived in the shelter for a while before moving to a nearby house with Sister Char Madigan, one of the shelter’s founders, to make room for more guests. An avid walker, Foster quickly got to know all of her neighbors.
“People were always coming to see Rita,” Madigan said. “She didn’t preach to them. She listened.”
In 1981, Foster helped start Ascension Place, turning a former convent in north Minneapolis into another women’s refuge. It was during this time that she became more involved in the protest against Honeywell, citing a realization that the communities she served were receiving less and less assistance with food and shelter as a increasing amount of financial resources was devoted to national security.
“She was so brilliant that she figured out what was wrong, and she investigated it,” Madigan said.
Foster loved to travel, and she wrote that her resistance work was partly inspired by trips to Washington, D.C., and Central America. Later in life, while on sabbatical in South Carolina, Foster discovered and developed a passion for touch therapy, massage, and tai chi chih, which she taught in the Twin Cities. .
“I still consider her a seeker of peace,” said Mary Ellen Foster. “There was peace that she wanted for the world and for her community and all that. But as she got older, I think she was also really looking for peace for herself.”
Besides Mary Ellen, Foster is survived by her sisters Shirley Rian, Susan Pumarlo, Jennifer Taylor and Deanna Abbott-Foster, and her brother, Charles Foster. Services took place.