Donor: ‘Sister kind of saved me from myself’

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Rich Risemas and Sister Karlene Sensmeier

Rich Risemas believes two things saved him – basketball and the Sisters of St. Benedict of Ferdinand.

Benedictine sisters taught him throughout his grade school years from 1951-1959 at St. Benedict Cathedral School in Evansville, Indiana, and he later returned to teach for 12 years at the school under the leadership of Sister Karlene Sensmeier, OSB, principal.

Otherwise, he jokes, sort of, “I could be a bum today, I really could.”

Sister Karlene hired him in 1972 to teach math and science at St. Benedict’s. He had already been coaching the school’s 8th grade boys’ basketball team for several years.

“Those years I spent with Sister Karlene, that was Camelot,” says Rich, referring to the legend of King Arthur and Camelot, a magical place of peacefulness, enlightenment, happiness, truth, and goodness.

“We all got along so well, the faculty and Sister Karlene. It was all for one and one for all. We all pitched in. When somebody got in trouble, we were all there. It was a Christian way of life you don’t see much. Sister Karlene created that atmosphere as the principal. That’s the Benedictine way of life.

“She was so willing to help, even outside normal school hours. Back then I was emotionally up and down. But after 12 years with her, I figured things out. That’s because she was like a rock to me, just very steady and so kind. It calmed me down. She created the environment where I could grow up.”

Rich also talks fondly of another of his Ferdinand Benedictine grade school teachers, Sister Mary Claude Croteau.

So it’s little wonder he has been a benefactor of the Ferdinand Benedictines and their causes for nearly 40 years.

At age 33 he joined the Benedictine Society, a partnership with the sisters in which members donate annually. And nearly 20 years ago, Rich became a member of the St. Hildegard Society when he decided to name the sisters as a beneficiary in his estate plans.

“It has been a pleasure to donate to the sisters, it really has,” says Rich. “To me, leaving money to the nuns is probably one of the best ways to help people later, after I’m gone.

“Many people I know are doing well, so they don’t need the money. I know the sisters do need the money. And I know it goes to worthy causes, since they do a lot of good work and are so diversified. That’s a main reason I give money to the nuns. The beauty of it is by giving to a good cause, a lot can be accomplished.

“I really do hope other people consider leaving some portion of their estate to the Ferdinand Benedictines, because I want them to continue their good works.”

Rich views his donations as a way of honoring the past, and how much the sisters have done for him, and a means to support them in the future, because he knows they need the help. And another benefit of his contributions is more personal. “You feel good when you donate to a good cause,” he says. “And mentally, if you feel good, it’s worth more than money. It’s worth more than anything to feel good about yourself.”

He also chuckles about how often he calls asking for the sisters’ prayers.

“I have worn them out on praying for people who are sick. When you reach my age, there are a lot of people who really need help. I’m a believer in the power of prayer, and the sisters do a great job there. I’ve probably called them 10 times already this year. They’re a great group to talk to when you’re in trouble. They have the right words to console you. And their example is just terrific.”

After Rich worked for Sister Karlene, she helped him land a job at Evansville Memorial High School, including his much-coveted position of head boys’ basketball coach from 1982 to 1990. It was a great fit, as he led the team to the final game of the semi-state three times in Indiana’s one-class basketball tournament.

“What Sister Karlene did for me, she and basketball, both of those things kind of saved me from myself. It was a great contribution from her. And all the sisters combine to make a great organization. That’s why they’re in my will. It’s a good way to continue giving back.”