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Rosaline Secrest: finding the authentic Church

Rosaline Secrest (back row, left) poses for a photo with some of the Sisters of Providence and friends who attended the 2006 non-violent protest to close the School of the Americas (WHINSEC) at Fort Benning, Ga.

Although Providence Associate Rosaline Secrest has a Brazil, Ind., (Clay County) address and telephone number, she and her husband, Harry, reside in the northeast corner of Vigo County. Married 34 years, the couple blended two families for a total of six children. They now have 14 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Rosaline and Harry are retired educators.

Originally from Detroit, Rosaline was educated by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM). She attended Immaculata High School and Marygrove College, both in Detroit. Rosaline eventually moved to the Terre Haute, Ind., area and taught math at Sarah Scott Junior High School where she met Harry, who also taught math and was later the dean of students. In 1978, Rosaline began teaching physics at South Vigo High School, Terre Haute. She retired from teaching six years ago.

Rosaline’s connection with the Sisters of Providence began in 1982 when a priest at Sacred Heart Parish, Terre Haute, knowing her concern and interest in social justice issues, suggested that she join a newly forming Pax Christi USA group.

“Initially it was a very large group that consisted of some lay men, lay women and a number of Sisters of Providence. Over the years I stayed with that group and it quickly diminished and very soon became a group of almost all Sisters of Providence and [lay women],” said Rosaline, who continues to meet monthly with members of this group.

In the last five years, Rosaline’s connection to the sisters expanded when she became involved with the Congregation Peace with Justice Committee. She just completed a term as a co-chair of the group.

With her close connection to the Congregation, Rosaline feels that the Sisters of Providence are the “authentic” Church. “They are the Church, I think, Jesus wanted carrying out his love and compassion. I think were it not for the Sisters of Providence, I would find it so difficult to deal with some of the institutional Church’s dictates, policies and such things as the investigations of the sisters [Apostolic Visitation],” said Rosaline.

Getting to know this authentic Church took on a very personal nature when Rosaline became a Providence Candidate-Associate. She asked Sister Ann Casper, executive director of the Mission Advancement office (OCA), to be her companion. She knew Sister Ann from her involvement in the Pax Christi group.

“Throughout the associate preparation she and I would meet monthly. We had begun a pattern of alternating her house, my house and having lunch and then spending a couple of hours going through the associate notebook. [Sister] Ann’s a joy. She has continued to literally be my companion. She’s surprised me with reading material and encouragement for contemplation and she’s very understanding. I’m grateful she can take the time because I know she’s a very busy woman,” said Rosaline.

Rosaline readily admitted that she struggled with some of the Spiritual Integration Units. “I am not in the least bit artistic or poetic and so there were some suggestions that we try to become more expressive in ways I found difficult. They were not essential. It was just kind of a joke between us that, ‘Nope, can’t do that! Have to find another way!’” laughed Rosaline.

“Meeting with other candidates and associates, I noticed that all of us are involved in social justice issues and/or works of charity. It is our spiritual lives which are in need of nourishment and sustenance. Like many other candidates and associates, I am grappling with a new and deeper understanding of God,” said Rosaline.

Rosaline shares that throughout her life, she never really had a qualm about her faith. However, spending time with Sister Ann, other sisters, other candidates and associates and reading new theological works opened a new world to her — the new cosmology and the story of where God is in the universe and who God is.

“As a physics teacher, I could talk with my students about the vastness of the universe and what we know of the billions of stars, but I never really wanted to go there in a spiritual way. It was overwhelming and literally took my breath away. I feared falling into a spiritual black hole. Not that I didn’t believe God was responsible for all of this, but the God I had grown up believing in was still the God who had created all of this just for us here on Earth. That just didn’t fit anymore and were it not for some of the Days of [Reflection], some of the guest speakers the sisters brought in, workshops that I’ve done, were it not for that I would never have come to an appreciation of the beauty and power of the new cosmology story. I was shaken to the core and rather than, to use that expression ‘lose my faith,’ I now have a stronger faith, so much richer. And I know I’m just barely on the fringe of an understanding of Providence at work in the universe and where I fit in with all of this,” said Rosaline, who keeps connected with the world of teaching physics by attending twice a year the conference of the American Association of Physics Teachers.

Rosaline’s commitment is to continue her involvement with the Congregation and to assist in the sisters’ work. She volunteers once a week at St. Ann Clinic in Terre Haute. She also continues her ministry with the Congregation Peace with Justice Committee and her Pax Christi group.

And Rosaline has also made a commitment to her prayer life. “That’s still an area of great need. I know what a difference that makes in my life when I simply make the connection between what I’m doing at any given time of the day and where Jesus is in my life at that moment,” said Rosaline.

In the midst of all this activity, Rosaline fills her need to continue to learn by taking classes at Indiana State University (ISU) through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. “We can actually take ISU classes with students,” said Rosaline.

Before concluding her interview, Rosaline shared, “I just hope that anything and everything I have said is conveying somehow my gratitude to the Sisters of Providence for friendship, for support, for hope — the hope that the authentic Church will continue to carry on the works of love, mercy and justice.”

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Connie McCammon

Connie McCammon worked in the communications office for the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.

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