Milwaukee native Rebecca Ruesch experienced the arrival of Pope Francis to the United States from a different perspective – a perspective focused on the trains.
Ruesch, a 2010 graduate of Divine Savior Holy Angels High School, Milwaukee, and The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington D.C., with a major in political science and double minor in sociology and philosophy, is a staff assistant at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), located in Washington D.C.
During Pope Francis’s visit to the U.S., Ruesch was assigned the dull, yet important task of scheduling trains.
“I literally and figuratively am making sure the trains run on time,” Ruesch told the Catholic Herald in a telephone interview.
With the pope traveling to Washington, New York, and Philadelphia, Ruesch had to make sure there were enough Amtrak seats to house the media, bishops and other personnel organizing the trip.
One group Ruesch worked with was the Vatican liturgical team.
“These are the monsignors who assist the Holy Father at all liturgical functions,” Ruesch said. “It was very cool to meet Msgr. Guido Marino, who is the papal master of ceremonies. He is the one you see at all Masses or liturgical functions standing right next to the pope.”
During Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, Ruesch said she experienced how the pope’s visit has united Catholics in their faith.
“When I was at Union Station, there was a ton of extra security at the train station,” Ruesch recalled. “We were waiting on the track for a train to depart with one of the dog handlers, and he asked what group we were with. After finding out that we were with the (USCCB), he lit up and began talking about his involvement in his own parish and the fact that he was with the Knights of Columbus.”
“I’m sure many people working on the visit had these small encounters that remind us how our faith can connect us to people in many and varied settings,” Ruesch continued. “It gives meaning to the idea of a universal church.”
Ruesch stressed the importance the USCCB has had on her faith formation. Coming from a tight-knit Irish, Catholic family (with 43 cousins), Ruesch’s family, who belong to St. Jude Parish, Wauwatosa, was a strong influence on her faith life.
Her faith-filled life gave Ruesch a “great foundation.” But, she added, “The Catholic University made my faith life my own.”
During college, Ruesch helped start a chapter of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, an organization similar to Knights of Columbus, at CUA, as well as interned with the USCCB, located across from the CUA campus.
“By shifting my focus to the church,” Ruesch said. “I made my faith my career.”
She stressed how her work with the USCCB gives her an understanding of what makes the universal church run and exist.
“It’s a really cool way to take a step back to see everything that makes the church possible,” she said.
Although during much of the pope’s visit Ruesch was in media rooms or making sure everyone and everything was on the correct trains, she experienced one more personal encounter with the pope during his time in Washington.
On the one day no one needed to be transported to a different city, Ruesch, along with many other USCCB staff and bishops, attended midday prayer with Pope Francis held at the Cathedral of St. Matthew in Washington.
“I was very close to the front, and at one point the Holy Father was only a few feet away from me as he walked to the Blessed Sacrament chapel of the cathedral,” Ruesch said excitedly. “Words can’t even describe how moving it was to be at the event, to pray alongside the pope and the bishops with whom I work.”
She had only kind words about the pope as her impression of him was “although he had wonderful speeches and messages at the large events, he was most in his element when among average people, especially children.”
As for Catholics’ perception of Pope Francis as a pope of the people, Ruesch quoted Jesuit Fr. Frederico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, “Pope Francis has spent time with the ‘influential, the forgotten and everyone in between’ which I (Ruesch) think is a wonderful characterization of this pope.”
She will continue her work with the USCCB, providing administrative support to various committees at the conference while studying canon law at CUA.
Describing her job, Ruesch said, “It is not like most jobs where you have to check Catholicism at the door.”
She said she can make time to attend daily Mass and grow in her faith with a group of people that inspire and support her daily.
“We are there to serve the church,” Ruesch said. “I feel so lucky.”