Sister Ruth (Bernard) Ella – 75-Year Jubilarian

Ruth Frances Ella was born to an Austrian father and English mother who were new to the United States. Living through the Great Depression, the family learned to improvise and to make the most of what they had. She recognized that her creativity in childhood grew through improvisation, a capacity which has served her well in ministry through the years as she worked in 26 different assignments!

Sister Ruth was inspired to become a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur from her contacts with her elementary school teachers at Dolores School in Santa Barbara, Calif. In 1946 she entered and as Sister Bernard became a versatile educator.

Sister Lucy Holguin with Sister Ruth as Postulants.

She earned degrees in home economics, general science and science education, and served in teaching and leadership positions in elementary and high schools: Sacred Heart, San Jose; Mt. Carmel in Redwood City; Notre Dame High School in Marysville, and St. Francis High School in Sacramento were among the many schools throughout California and in Washington State. She later became a teacher of home economics at the then-College of Notre Dame in Belmont, Calif.

In 1979, Sister Ruth volunteered for mission in Kenya where she joined the staff of Egoji Teacher Training College as instructor in Home and General Science. Her early lessons in improvisation came to good use with respect to lab work in her science classes: "We created 'beakers' and 'funnels' from soda bottles," she wrote. "The caps of these bottles functioned as 'petri dishes.' Bougainvillea flowers became our 'litmus paper.'"

Later, she was invited to start Village Domestic Centres as part of the Pandipieri Catholic Centre in Kisumu. Two Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur were already working there with very poor girls. Spurred on by the enthusiasm of the people, Sister Ruth was able to establish three centres. There she drew on her home economics and science backgrounds to teach about personal growth, childcare and development, disease prevention and first aid, dressmaking/tailoring skills, nutritional food preparation, and how to start a small business!

In the note about this favorite photo from Kenya, Sister Ruth writes, "Like Julie, "Catechism in the fields."


Sister Ruth in Kenya.

After serving for more than nine years in Kenya, she returned to California. In 1993, she happily returned for the tenth anniversary of the Centres. She wrote: “Where once I used a book entitled Where There Is No Doctor, now computers are used as sources of information.” She says she will always be grateful for her time in Kenya, living simply among loving people. Today, the Centres continue to thrive, and have helped thousands of girls over the years.

Sister Ruth served in hospitality and coordination roles at the Sisters' Provincial House in Saratoga, Calif. at the House of Prayer in Carmel, Calif. and at the convent in Belmont, Calif. She also coordinated religious education at St. Cyprian Parish in Sunnyvale, Calif. and volunteer activities at the Province Center in Belmont, Calif. where she now resides.

Sisters, Bernie Barnes, Loretta Olsen and Ruth Ella at the Carmel House of Prayer in 1994.

Today she looks back with gratitude for a life full of blessings lived within Notre Dame de Namur, but sadly is missing the loss of Sister Margaret Hoffman who completed her earthly journey in March, 2021. They would have been remembering their special times together and sharing together the joy of their 75th Jubilee celebration. Ruth is especially pleased that she was able to bring to Sister Margaret’s funeral Mass the banner of Margaret’s artwork titled "Hearts as Wide as the World" which Ruth had brought into reality through fabric.

Sister Ruth's Ministries

For many years, Sister Ruth was the Sisters' unofficial videographer

1949-52 Sacred Heart School, San Jose, Calif. (Teacher, Grades 1 & 2)
1952-53 Moreland Notre Dame School, Watsonville, Calif. (Teacher, Grade 7)
1953 Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Redwood City, Calif. (Teacher, Grade 4)
1953-54 St. Charles Borromeo School, San Carlos, Calif. (Teacher, Grade 7)
1954-60 Our Lady of Mount Carmel, Redwood City, Calif. (Teacher,  Grades 5, 6, & 7)
1960-61 St. Francis of Assisi Elementary School, Seahurst, Wash. (Teacher, Grade 8). (Assistant Principal)
1961-62 St. Mary School, San Jose, Calif. (Teacher, Grade 8 and Principal)
1962-65 Notre Dame High School, Marysville, Calif. (Teacher)
1965-66 Notre Dame High School, Salinas, Calif. (Teacher)
1966-67 Notre Dame High School, San Jose, Calif. (Teacher)
1967-70 St. Francis High School, Sacramento, Calif. (Vice Principal and Superior of the Sisters' community)
1971-74 Notre Dame High School, San Jose, Calif. (Teacher of Home Economics)
1974-75 St. Francis High School, Sacramento, Calif. (Teacher)
1975- 79 College of Notre Dame, Belmont, Calif. (Professor of Home Economics)
1979-82 Eregi Teacher Training College, Kenya (Teacher of Home Economics and Resiliance)
1982-88 Kisumu, Kenya (Urban Apostolate with Girls and Young Women)
1988-89 Provincial House, Saratoga, Calif. (Hospitality Coordinator)
1989-93 House of Prayer, Carmel, Calif. (Staff)
1993-94 Kenya
1994-96 House of Prayer, Carmel, Calif. (Staff)
1996-1989 Notre Dame de Namur Convent, Belmont, Calif. (Community Coordinator)
1999- 2002 St. Cyprian Parish, Sunnyvale, Calif. (Religious Education)
2003 Notre Dame de Namur Province Center, Belmont, Calif. (Volunteer service)
2004-08 Villa Angelica, Carmel, Calif. (Staff)
2008-2015 San Carlos, Calif. (Volunteer Services)
2010 Notre Dame de Namur Province Center, Belmont, Calif. (Volunteer service)


  1. Sister Ruth has been a role model for many students that have been privileged to have her in their lives. To me she is a connection to one of my very earliest years in school – first grade, and my introduction to the Sisters of Notre Dame. Our paths have crossed so many times over the years. I will always see her as a beacon of what St. Julie says in proclaiming How Good is the Good God!

  2. In 1978 I lived with you in a second story wing of ND High School Belmont, converted into a living space for 4 of us: you, Diane Reese, Anna Voss, and me (a novice finishing a BA in music at CND). I had my 22nd birthday in that small community, and you presented me with the most wonderful, intricately knitted stocking cap that you created. I am now 66 years old, and to this day it warms my head and ears in the cold. I remember you fondly at each wearing. Much thanks over the years.

    1. Laura, what a perfect tribute to Sr. Ruth! You won't find it surprising that during the period that the Sisters were confined to the Province Center, she sewed countless masks for use in various of the Sisters' ministries.

      (For the Sisters)

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