Sister Rosa Maria Ruiz, former Nogales educator and now superintendent of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, received the Notre Dame Sorin Award for Service to Catholic Schools.
The award was presented on April 28 during a stop in Tucson as part of a 50-city national bus tour organized by the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) at the University of Notre Dame to celebrate Catholic schools.
The tour stopped at St. John the Evangelist and St. Ambrose academies to honor the work done by the local Tucson Catholic school community.
Ruiz has been in Catholic education for half a century. She was a teacher at Sacred Heart School when it was run by her order, the Minim Daughters of Immaculate Mary, who place particular emphasis on education. She eventually became the school’s principal.
In January 2012 she was among eight others honored at the White House for innovative approaches to education as part of the president’s program, Champions of Change: Winning the Future Across America.
Despite multiple challenges in her school district that now comprises 8,000 students at 26 schools spread out over a huge socio-economic landscape from Lourdes Catholic School in Nogales to schools in Tucson’s foothills, northeast to the Superstition Mountains, and west to Yuma, she has served 16 years in her position. That’s more than double the national average tenure for superintendents.
Named for the Rev. Father Edward Sorin, founder of the University of Notre Dame, the award “honors those whose tireless commitment to support, sustain, and transform Catholic schools has shaped the lives of countless children, their families, and communities,” a spokesman said. “These awardees inspire others through their dedicated service to the Gospel through the apostolate of Catholic Education.”
In accepting the award, Ruiz said, “When I was 15 years old, I asked my parents if I could enter the convent because I wanted to help children, I felt the call. Today, I just want to say: ‘Don’t give up. God doesn’t give up. God bless you and I love you all.’”
The Rev. Father Timothy Scully, founder of the ACE, presented the award to Ruiz and spoke about the “blessings” she has provided to Catholic schools in Tucson.
“Sr. Rosa Maria has been in Catholic schools for 50 years,” Scully said. “As superintendent, when she visits a school, the school turns upside down with joy. She is just an amazing model for what Catholic schools are all about.”