Sister Rita was born Margaret Hand in Carrickmacross, County Monaghan in 1935 and grew up near Dowth, Co. Meath. She completed her early education in Dublin and Drogheda and joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in 1953.
After profession she trained as a nurse-midwife in Drogheda. Her first assignment was to Angola (formerly Portuguese West Africa) and she spent a few months en route in Lisbon, Portugal to learn Portuguese.
She served for five years in Angola in a small remote hospital called Cuamato, in the south of the country near the Namibian border. There she cared for many patients, especially women in labour.
Her next assignment was a very different one, to Naples, Italy, where she had to learn another language. She was there for three years and was theatre sister, supervising many operations.
After working as night superintendent in the IMTH for two years and training as a health visitor, Rita went to Kenya in 1978. She brought her nursing skills to the nomadic people of the Turkana Desert, spending twelve years in nursing and community-based health care. During that time she was regional superior for six years and was an inspirational leader, animating the Sisters and organising many helpful workshops and meetings.
After three years as co-ordinator of the Motherhouse community in Ireland, she was assigned to Uganda. She spent a further twelve years in community-based health care and development. In Makondo, water was in short supply and sanitation was poor.
Sister Rita returned to Ireland in 2011 and had a number of duties in the Motherhouse. She helped older Sisters with various needs and served as sacristan. She worked at reception, answering the phone and welcoming guests. She was leader in her local community for a short time. During this time she kept in close contact with her family, enjoying celebrations and being a supportive presence during bereavements.
Her final illness came as a great shock. Rita moved to the nursing facility, Áras Mhuire in December 2014 for more care. She died there peacefully on 4 December 2015.
In all her assignments, Sister Rita did what she loved best. Using the DELTA programme called Training for Transformation she enabled the people whom she was called to serve to take responsibility for their own development and health care.
Rita was a practical woman with a great sense of humour. She was full of common sense and had a hands-on approach to everything she did. She was deeply spiritual and saw God’s hand in the good as well as the problems of life, including the health challenges she faced over the years.