It may be difficult to imagine today, but when Sr. Susan Ridley was in her early twenties, learning to drive or acquiring a driver’s license wasn’t even a suggestion. As she said, “I had taken a vow of poverty, I wouldn’t be owning a car, so why would I need a license?” She was a couple of years into vowed religious life when she was missioned in Santa Cruz, New Mexico, joining nine other Sisters in teaching ministry.
Describing the rural setting that was part of Holy Cross Parish, Sister Susan said,”At that time in Santa Cruz, there wasn’t even a grocery store. We walked where we could. But for many errands, we were completely dependent on parishioners to drive us everywhere.”
A humble suggestion that a car might be necessary in this rural western landscape met with a definitive no from their parish priest due to financial constraints. Hearing this news, parishioners decided to spearhead a fundraising campaign. In those days, families enthusiastically collected stamps — Green, Gold, and Frontier– to acquire items like toasters, suitcases, pots and pans. The parish committee determined that a stamp drive would be the path to car ownership for the Sisters. “…completed books would be converted to their cash value… with an aim toward a small, compact and economical automobile,” reported the local newspaper in 1962.
Every parish family was asked to bring two stamp books for the worthy cause. Books and some cash started rolling in. Who could imagine that as word spread, the quest for stamps would go nationwide? Sister Gail Ann Martin, back at the Motherhouse in Grand Rapids, was an avid fundraising voice. She called upon Sisters, who called upon friends and family, and the stamps and books kept coming.
Sister Susan is the last of the living Sisters who resided in Santa Cruz for this most unique community drive and fundraiser. She fondly recalls sitting around the table with her Sisters sticking stamps into booklets. Finally, on December 27, 1963, a Rambler Classic was delivered to the school. It appeared as part of a celebratory parade of students, parents, parishioners, and Sisters. According to the Annals of the Dominican Sisters~Grand Rapids, “The people of the parish, particularly The Home and School Association, worked extremely hard for it, all the more reason for our appreciation. The Arrow Station donated 100 gallons of gas and the Midway Service people offered gas ad infinitum!”
Today, Sister Susan not only has a driver’s license; she is a member of the Congregation’s Transportation Ministry Team. Like the parishioners of Santa Cruz who used to transport Sisters about New Mexico, she drives Sisters who no longer drive, to appointments all over town.