In 1967 Rita left the MMS community and remained living in Atlanta rather than returning to her native Detroit. In addition to working as an associate professor of nursing at Georgia State University for 15 years, in 1976 she began meeting annually with the “Southern Gathering,” a group of MMS as well as nonmembers from Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas. At a 1980 meeting, she was invited to be a part of a committee that would eventually lead to the creation of the MMS Associate Program.
While working as an administrator at the Catholic Colored Clinic in Atlanta, Georgia, Associate Rita Engelhardt was baffled at the panic that arose among her colleagues one day because there was no white doctor available for surgery. The doctors at the clinic had always been white but, to Rita, the solution was obvious. She suggested hiring a doctor of color and, two weeks later, the staff followed her advice. Before long, there were seven black doctors working in the clinic. Rita, who then was a professed Medical Mission Sister with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, helped to establish a Holy Family Hospital in Atlanta in 1964. It would be the first integrated hospital in the city.
Now retired and living in Atlanta, Rita reflects on how the program has evolved and grown, saying “it provides an opportunity to be with people whose presence and values affirm, deepen and expand my values. There is a joy in being part of each other’s lives. This joy permeates who I am and what I do.”