Birth: January 11, 1919
Profession: February 9, 1949
Death: May 31, 2019
Religious of the Sacred Heart, Ruth Dowd died May 31, 2019, in Albany, New York.
Ruth Dowd was born on January 11, 1919, in Rochester, New York to Louis J. Dowd and Grace Bailey Dowd, the youngest of five children. A graduate of the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Rochester, Ruth attended Manhattanville College of the Sacred Heart in New York, earning a bachelor's degree in Sociology in 1940. Following graduation, she entered the Society of the Sacred Heart on September 8, 1940, at Kenwood in Albany, New York. She made her first vows in 1943 and profession in Rome in 1949. One of her brothers had already entered the Society of Jesus, where he had a long, distinguished career as a missionary in Asia.
In Sister Dowd’s early years, she taught at the Convents of the Sacred Heart in both Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Greenwich, Connecticut. After profession, graduate study leading to a PhD in philosophy from Fordham University, resulted in her appointment to teach philosophy at Manhattanville. Ruth always called herself “a Manhattanville nun.” As a professor of philosophy and “warden” (a class advisor) for eighteen years beginning in 1949, she was known for her “uncanny ability to make a difference in people’s lives by helping them identify and achieve their goals.” However, visionary that she was, wanting to bring education to those not well served, in 1967, she planned and administered Harlem Preparatory School (the first of its kind in Harlem) in conjunction with the New York Urban League. The goal of the school was to prepare high school dropouts for college. The program at Harlem Prep was successful, with many students being placed in colleges including Ivy League schools.
Subsequently coordinator of teacher education and professor at Medgar Evers College, a branch of City University of New York in the Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, Ruth was recognized in 1972 as a Woman of Conscience by the National Council of Women. She was cited for innovative leadership, “unusual perception” and “freshness of spirit”—qualities instrumental in the execution of programs that addressed social problems. That same year she became director of the School of New Resources at the College of New Rochelle during the early years of that school’s innovative, self-designed degree program, where her leadership is remembered.
In 1982, Ruth returned to Manhattanville. Her impact at Manhattanville is felt to this day as a result of the establishment in 1983 of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies, of which she was named dean; it included a successful program in human resources involving courses in leadership, strategic planning, and marketing. Never ceasing to create and innovate even well into her 80s, she created the Sports Business Management degree program in 2007, only the second of its kind in New York State at that time.
In collaboration with three other members of her RSCJ community, Eileen O’Gorman, Cora Brady, and Adele Fiske, she founded Barat House, “a spiritual and life-giving center.” Barat House courses, now at a new location on the campus of Sacred Heart Greenwich, continue to enrich the lives of an adult community that believes that learning is a “life-long process.” In 2016, Barat House itself was rededicated as the Dowd-O’Gorman Center for Creative Writing, which serves as the home for the creative writing programs at Manhattanville.
One of Ruth’s greatest achievements was establishing Manhattanville as a hub for creative writing. The annual Writers’ Week Conference and Writers’ Week attracts talented students and faculty and serves as a natural platform from which to build this talent. The Writers’ Week evolved into a full time program, The Master of Arts in Writing, where writers feel a sense of community.
In 1999, Manhattanville honored Ruth with the Women of Spirit award. In her acceptance remarks, she stated that “Lifelong learning: conscious pursuit of new knowledge and skills, is the essential component of lifelong living…. So what does it all add up to? It adds up to the fact that our life here on earth is to be as much as we can be. It is for living and learning.”
In 2004, Manhattanville Board of Trustees awarded an honorary doctorate to Sister Ruth Dowd and, in 2009, conferred on her the title of Dean Emerita in recognition of her lifetime achievements and work. Upon receiving the conferral, Sister Dowd said, “My career was very exciting. Could I do it again? I don’t know; but I must say, I have had a good time doing it.”
Finally, anyone who knew Ruth knew her as a dog lover and the companion of a long line of dogs revealing the gentle, loving side of Ruth, which a quick wit and incisive intelligence often concealed.
Ruth retired to the Abba Community in Albany, New York, in 2011. She moved to the Teresian House Community in 2013, where she celebrated her 100th birthday in January. Ruth Dowd, a consummate, lifelong justice seeker, risk taker, and visionary educator, died peacefully on May 31, 2019. Her funeral Mass will be celebrated in the chapel at Teresian House on June 11, at 11:30 a.m., with burial at Kenwood Cemetery.