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A doll named Susie, aka Sister Mary Rose

Sister Rosemary Borntrager made the habit for Susie.

By Sister Rosemary Borntrager
Feast of the Visitation
May 31, 1990

Forty years ago in the winter of 1949-1950 I received a pair of black doll stockings. That’s how it all began.

In the days before Barbie dolls, it was not easy to find a teenage doll, but somewhere I did. She was beautiful, with long golden braids and bangs. And she was getting ready to enter the convent. Sister Helen Rose Newland and Sister Marie William Hoerner helped me with the details of her habit. She was dressed strictly according to Rule and to a scale of ¼” to 1”. Her pocket held a tiny handkerchief and a rosary. A little medal was pinned to her blouse. She had a miniature pin cushion and her chaplet had the regulation clasp, two medals, bead cross, with an additional metal cross at the bottom. Her cap had the proper wire going through it to bend it to her head, and the Sister in the laundry at Providence High School in Chicago starched and ironed it so that it was as stiff as could be. Her tiny arm bands held up her sleevelets and even her voluminous underwear mimicked the current convent fashion. It was a sad day when her beautiful blond braids were cut off. The top bangs had to be removed, too, for the serre-tête, which was also made according to Rule, fit very tightly to her head. She had a nightgown, an exact replica of the one that I had made for myself, and her own shawl, fashioned after the one I had crocheted for my own use. The latter had her religious name in it: Sister Mary Rose. When I left for the convent on July 22, 1950, I gave her to my mother.

After I entered the convent, I realized that Sister Mary Rose had skipped several important steps in her life. So my mother prepared a white veil for her. The day I received the holy habit, Susie came to Providence [Hall] parlor and received her white veil also. The metal cross on her chaplet was raised to be even with the bottom of the beads. Her white cross and black veil were carefully put away until the time of her profession. Susie began to live my life with me.

On January 23, 1953, my first profession day, Susie’s turn came afterwards in the parlor at the Woods. Her black veil and her white cross of gladness were returned to her. In January of 1958, when her cross was lowered on my Final Profession Day, Sister Mary Rose was again complete.

But the years passed swiftly. In late December of 1960, in the convent parlor at St. Dennis in Lockport [Illinois], Sister Mary Rose changed her cap and neckerchief to the modified one. Over the years, the original cap and neckerchief have unfortunately been lost.

In the late ’60s Sister Mary Rose adopted a shorter skirt, nylons, the new cross, a blue habit, a blouse — and returned to her original name of Susie. However, she has retained her veil. Her beautiful gold hair is forever gone, but a hairpiece in front enables her to wear the small cap and veil.

My mother was not a Catholic at the time I entered the convent and had many misgivings and questions. Thanks to Susie, she never had to ask me how I dressed. In 1989, after my mother’s death, I found Susie carefully preserved over these past forty years.

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Sister Rosemary Borntrager

Sister Rosemary, formerly Sister Rose Cecile, has been a Sister of Providence since 1950. She ministered many years as a teacher and principal. She also ministered as an assistant superintendent in the Diocese of Joliet Schools Office and as Diocesan Personnel Director. She has served in the Congregation’s Archives Department and as General Secretary for the Leadership Team. Currently, she ministers at Linden Leaf Gifts.

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