Providence to the core
This article is reprinted from summer 2008 issue of HOPE.
In many ways, Sister Rosemary Borntrager entered the Sisters of Providence community twice.
Her first entrance into the novitiate was at age 17. “I didn’t have the slightest idea what [being a sister] meant,” she says. “I just knew that Sister Helen Rose was the happiest person I’d ever met, and I wanted to be just like her.”
Sister Helen Rose Newland, Sister Rosemary’s eighth-grade teacher, had asked her one day, “Would you like to be a sister?” Upon hearing this question, Sister Rosemary realized, unexpectedly, that her answer was, “Yes!”
Looking forward to having time to pray, she joined the Sisters of Providence and was given the name Sister Rose Cecile. She remembers her first year in the novitiate as “a hotbed of prayer.” Recalling days full of structured community prayer times and meditation every morning, she says, “It was one of the happiest years of my life.”
In the years that followed, Sister Rosemary grew to see her community like a family. This has been invaluable to her. “On my own I wouldn’t be able to do it,” she says.
Sister Rosemary’s second entrance of sorts came years later, in the midst of the post-Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) turmoil that changed religious life dramatically. As many sisters around her were leaving the Congregation, Sister Rosemary realized she was meant to stay. She says, “I ‘entered again’ as a mature person, knowing what I was getting into.”
This transition period was not always easy. For example, starting to go without the habit was a traumatic experience for some sisters. “It’s an outward sign of an inward grace,” says Sister Rosemary, and going without this outward sign could be difficult. She emphasizes that each sister’s choice was hers alone. “You couldn’t do it until you were ready.”
In Sister Rosemary’s case, the transition happened naturally. When she began a year of study at Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, she began going by Sister Rosemary instead of Sister Rose Cecile. Remembering this year, she laughs. “I looked around at all the crazy things the other students were wearing and decided I would fit in better with the habit than without it!”
After her year of study, she moved and began a new position. In this new place where no one knew her, there was little reaction to her wearing “civilian” clothing.
Despite outward changes like this, Sister Rosemary has stayed true to herself. Prayer, important from the beginning, still holds a high place in her heart. A block of time each morning and each night is spent in prayer, time which she cherishes. During a recent 30-day retreat, Sister Rosemary grew in love of the Blessed Sacrament that has remained with her. About her ever-growing spirituality, Sister Rosemary says, “I cherish the spiritual depth that comes with maturity.”
Sister Rosemary also enjoys the way Sisters of Providence seem to find each other for prayer and for community. “We love to get together,” she says. “We’re like magnets.” Currently living in the novitiate, Sister Rosemary gets to display a bit of her own magnetic personality. She takes part with other sisters in daily group prayer and provides an experience for the novice of living in community. Her life serves as an example for a woman learning what choosing to be a Sister of Providence really means.
About her own choice, she smiles. “It had to be that way. I’m Providence to the core.”