“Oh would that I were what I’m meant to be,” reads a poem opening Sr. Rita Prendergast’s “Gleanings,” a collection of poetry reflecting fragments of her life experiences.
Aboard the Mauretania, a ship bound for Texas, along with 13 Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word candidates from Ireland in 1949, Prendergast knew who she was meant to be was rooted in the Incarnate Word. Her journey led to Incarnate Word College, now UIW.
She became a student of Incarnate Word in preparation for her ministry with the congregation, eventually continuing her education at The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC. Upon returning to Incarnate Word, she taught as an assistant professor of English for nine years, a time she remembers fondly.
“I loved teaching and getting students to learn English. I had a passion for it,” said Prendergast.
This passion for teaching, particularly language studies, translated to her missionary work with students in Peru, Mexico, Zambia and Ireland. And her love of language and the written word inspired her poetry. Interestingly, Prendergast wrote her first poem as an assignment while a student at Incarnate Word.
Her time as a professor of Incarnate Word extended beyond the classroom. “I was in charge of the Logos (student newspaper) at the time, as well as the yearbook and judging of poetry contests,” she recalled.
In 1963, she returned to Ireland to open and serve as principal of a school in Dunmore, also named Incarnate Word College. The school exists today as Dunmore Community School.
In 1966, Ireland celebrated the 1916 rebellion achieving Irish freedom from British rule. As part of the 50th anniversary, the celebration included competitions in all the arts. Prendergast’s poem “Perspective: 1916-1966” won the prize for English poetry.
The poem is featured in her book, which came to fruition with the assistance of alumnae Sr. Margaret Patrice Slattery, CCVI ’52 BA, who wrote the forward, and Sr. Louise Delisi, CCVI ’67 BA ’85 MA, who typed the poetry for publication.
In fact, Prendergast’s former student Ruth Fowler ’71 BA ’74 MA helped inspire and encourage her for nearly 10 years to finally publish “Gleanings,” the term referring to a common practice in ancient Israel where the poor followed behind harvesters to retrieve what was left to feed the hungry.
The book is a window into to the life of Prendergast, now 85, and though her poetry touches on a myriad of subjects, it reflects on her devotion to her faith and to the ministry of the Sisters. The book itself benefits their benevolent work as all proceeds are donated to the Sisters’ ministries.
To purchase a copy, please visit the gift shop at the Village of the Incarnate Word or contact Prendergast directly at (210) 824-2336.
By Brance Arnold ’10 MA