Driver identified in hit-and-run that killed bicycling nun

ALMA, MICH. - A stunned mid-Michigan community continues to mourn a beloved nun's death as police announced they have found the driver suspected of hitting her while on a bicycle.

Sister Joseph Marie (Madeleine) Ruessmann, 64, died after the Aug. 17 accident in Alma, where she lived as a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy. It happened during her early morning bike ride on Michigan Avenue. 

The Alma Police Department posted on Facebook on Wednesday night that a citizen's tip led investigators to the person responsible for the crash. The vehicle has been located and secured, the post said.

The Gratiot County Prosecutor's Office is reviewing the case.

The police detective handling the investigation, Jason Biehl, did not return messages from the Free Press. No other information was released.

Ruessmann's friends, colleagues and former classmates are trying to make sense of their sudden loss.

"This is so tragic, because apparently she had done everything right," said Ann Therese Palmer of Lake Forest, Ill., a classmate of Ruessmann's at Marian High School in Bloomfield Township. "She had worn a helmet. She had worn reflective clothing. This was just a freak accident."

Ruessmann had an impressive résumé; she was both a civil lawyer and a Catholic canon lawyer. She also had a master's degree in business.

Ruessmann used her knowledge to help people.

"She was an invaluable assistant to the community in financial, legal, and immigration issues as well as an assistant to many other religious communities," her obituary said.

Ruessmann was in her late 40s when she joined the conservative Religious Sisters of Mercy on Sept. 1, 2000.

She wore a ring engraved with the motto: “Greater love no man hath.”

"She strove to live her life in that mystery," the obituary said. 

Ruessmann came from a deeply religious family, Palmer said. She leaves behind six surviving siblings, one of whom is a priest.

As a teen, Ruessmann was taller than the rest of her classmates at Marian. She was also younger, Palmer said, because she previously skipped two grades at St. Hugo of the Hills Catholic School.

"She was very bright, but she wasn't geeky," Palmer said. She called her "effortlessly brilliant."

A well-liked student, Ruessmann was on the student council and in the National Honor Society. She loved basketball.

"Even though Madeleine was the tallest and probably the most talented, she made opportunities for other players to play," said another classmate, Christine Range Roman of Pittsburgh, Pa. "Even when people wanted her to be front and center all the time, she always deferred to let other people have a try." 

Roman and Palmer, who didn't have much contact with Ruessmann after high school, remember their classmate being friendly to everyone around her.

"She was so funny, so smart, so warm and genuine," Roman said. "That’s a hard thing to achieve in high school.

"I think we all knew she was pretty special."

Sister Mary Sarah Macht, a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, said the community is praying for the driver who struck Ruessmann's bicycle.

"We hold no animosity," she said. "It was truly an accident. We pray for him and everyone involved."

A funeral was held Monday at Our Lady of Grace Chapel in Alma. Burial was in the cemetery of the Religious Sisters of Mercy in DeWitt.

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© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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