Sister Rosemary Borntrager (formerly Sister Rose Cecile)
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
When Sister Rosemary chose this Scripture passage, I wonder if she thought of plans as the operative word! She was always planning it seems and her “legendary” organizational skills (as Sister Rosemary Schmalz described them) were well suited to any task she dreamed up. She was also a seeker, seeking God above all else; always praying and planning for a future full of hope, said Sister Ann Casper in her commentary for Sister Rosemary Borntrager, formerly Sister Rose Cecile, who passed away on Monday, March 6, 2023, at Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana. She was 90 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 72 years.
Sister Ann continued: Rosemary was born in Chicago, on Nov. 23, 1932, to William and Esther Michaelis Borntrager. Her only sibling is William, now known as Servite Father Conrad Borntrager, OSM.
Six weeks after graduation from Providence High School in Chicago, she entered the Congregation of the Sisters of Providence on July 22, 1950, known by her religious name of Sister Rose Cecile, until she returned to her baptismal name in 1970. She pronounced both first and perpetual vows on Jan. 23, in 1953 and 1958 respectively. She spoke of her choice to enter the Sisters of Providence thus: “It had to be that way. I am Providence to the core!”
Rosemary earned her bachelor’s degree in art from Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and her master’s in the same field from The Catholic University of America, with a second master’s degree in educational administration from Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.
I will use Rosemary’s own summary of her ministry experience from her autobiographical sketch because it is SO Rosemary: “When I was reviewing my life in preparing my application for a sabbatical year at St. Meinrad’s, I realized that I could separate it into sections of 13 years each – 13 in elementary teaching, 13 in secondary teaching and administration; 13 in diocesan service and 13 in Congregational ministry. … I became conscious of the fact that I am now in my final 13 years.” She broke her own pattern, however, dying 16 years after that writing.
Rosemary spoke of the “dubious” honor that was hers to close two high schools: Marywood in Evanston and Marywood in Orange. Sister Mary Catherine Guiler noted that Rosemary “compiled a three-ring binder of the procedures related to the closing process. It really was a type of handbook. When we were closing Immaculata, I received a copy of the notebook. It was so very helpful, invaluable and I will always be grateful to her for sharing it with us.”
Indeed, I would crown Rosemary the Queen of Handbooks! It seems that she left behind a handbook or manual everyplace she ministered. I came across an Art Educational Manual, K-8, for the diocese of Joliet, as well as a substantial manual on Art Appreciation. She also developed a Joliet diocesan Personnel Policy Handbook, about which Bishop Imesch remarked: “You have given a great gift to the diocese.” He called it “nitty-gritty work (and that) it takes someone with your perseverance and patience to accomplish it.”
Here at the Woods, she developed a Policy and Procedures Manual for the Central Business Office; organized a medical records system in health care, and in Archives, compiled the collections of all the General Superiors from Mother Mary Cecilia Bailey through Mother Mary Pius. She then arranged the China collection and the Marywood, Orange, collection. She managed to develop job descriptions for SP Facilities Management and electronic evaluation forms for SP Human Resources.
Sister Paula Damiano also appreciated that Rosemary was “meticulous in everything she did and how she ran the school.” In addition, though, she noted: “When I was a brand new teacher at Marywood in Orange, Rosemary was my first principal. Her patience and kindness meant so much. Her support got me through some challenging times.”
Speaking of “meticulous in everything she did,” whenever I was at the table with Rosemary, I marveled at how she prepared to eat her meal. She cut up everything on her plate into small bites, arranging everything “just so,” before she even started to eat. Others at the table were well into their meal before she even began.
Other little known facts about Rosemary might include these memories of her long-time friend, Dolores Zygowicz. She identified Rosemary’s favorite snack as M&M candies (but they had to be without nuts!). And picture this, Rosemary in the Chicago Stadium, cheering for the Blackhawks professional hockey team! She even knew all the players by name.
Dolores also mentioned that Rosemary, as the oldest cousin, was “in charge” when family gatherings took place, often at a farm her uncle owned in Indiana where the children were relegated to a separate room so they could be noisy and run around while the adults conversed in another room. On one such occasion, the adults forgot they hid the celebrant’s birthday cake in the children’s room, so when they went to retrieve it, all of the iced piping and rosettes had been eaten. Rosemary was chased twice around the barn by her mother for that!
Sister Martha Wessel shared that “Rosemary and I came together to the Woods for ministry about 30 years ago. Relatively speaking, we were among the ‘younger’ sisters. Now and then, we got a little desperate for a diversion and would take short field trips: A drive on the country roads; a trip to the grocery, not to purchase anything, but just to look at the fresh fruits and vegetables. We even explored the thousands of boots, jeans and accessories at the famous Boot City!”
Another outlet for Rosemary was gardening, which she called her “psychiatrist.” She had several flower beds around Owens Hall and also used her talents in the chapel to create liturgical environments. She did not use her artistic talent in a formal way beyond her six years of teaching art. She did, however, do a watercolor exhibit as part of her sabbatical experience and later designed cards for Linden Leaf Gifts.
Another SO Rosemary story was related by Sister Janice Smith. While ministering in California, she was awakened at 5 a.m. one weekday morning with a phone call from Rosemary, General Secretary at the time. “I struggled to wake up, as Rosemary was asking me about something she wanted me to do. So I said, ‘Rosemary, you do know that it is 5 a.m. here in California?’ She said something like, ‘Yes, I knew you’d be home’ and then just continued speaking about the task she wanted done.”
Also SO Rosemary was her propensity to come up with an idea for someone else to pursue, especially after she retired from full-time ministry! She had a particular fondness for vocations and would often have ideas for Come and See weekends and other vocation promotions. She also passed on her thoughts for Providence Center, for Mission Advancement, and for SMWC Campus Ministry and perhaps others that have escaped notice.
A few ending sentences in her autobiographical sketch seem a fitting way to end her commentary. “Now that I am reaching my finals years, I hope to be freer to be in God’s presence as the hours pass. But who knows the future! I only know that whatever was given to me to do in the past has been a delightful adventure. I am sure the future will be the same. Life is what you make it.”
Let the people say, AMEN!
A Wake took place from 2:30-4:30 p.m., on Wednesday, March 15, with Vespers Service at 4:30 p.m.
An additional Wake took place from 9-11 a.m., on Thursday, March 16, followed by Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m.
Memorial contributions may be made in honor of Sister Rosemary to the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Rosemary in the comment section below.
Sister Rosemary Borntrager (formerly Sister Rose Cecile)
In Indiana: Teacher, Cathedral School, Fort Wayne (1953-56); Teacher, St. Patrick, Indianapolis (1956); Teacher, Our Lady of Greenwood, Greenwood (1956-57); Archivist Assistant, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1993-97); General Secretary, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (1997-2006); Volunteer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2007-2021); Prayer, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods (2021-2023).
In Illinois: Teacher, St. Dennis, Lockport (1958-61); Teacher, Marywood, Evanston (1966-69); Teacher/Assistant Principal, Marywood, Evanston (1969-70); Assistant Superintendent/Teacher, Diocese of Jolie (1980-93).
In Washington, D.C.: Teacher, St. Ann (1961-66).
In Missouri: Teacher/Assistant Principal, John F. Kennedy High School, St. Louis (1971-73).
In California: Principal, Marywood, Orange (1973-80).
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May Sister Rosemary rest in peace and rise in glory. She was a great woman and a wonderful teacher. As Sister Rose Cecile she taught 7th & 8th grades at St. Ann’s in Washington DC. She wrangled this cantankerous 7th grader into being a good student. Thank you for letting us know.
Sister Rosemary was my art teacher in 6th and 7th grade and my full time teacher in 8th. I followed in her footsteps and was also an art teacher for 34 years. She and I always kept in touch until the past 2 years. Her Christmas card was always the first one I would get every Christmas. I knew she was fading since I didn’t hear from her the last 2 Christmases.She was a magical teacher, and I have so many fond memories of her. Thank you for letting us know. I’d been checking the Providence site every so often to check on her. God bless.
Sister Rosemary was our principal at Marywood Highschool. Somehow she got wind that I wasn’t sure about going to college. The next thing I knew I was in her office hearing all about a lovely college she knew was perfect for me, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College. Thank you Sister Rosemary for taking me under your wing and gently pointing me in the right direction. I will never forget you. Rest In Peace.
I am so glad to see your lovely comment on Sister Rosemary. I remember you Mary and am so glad that you went to college at the Woods. I woud love to hear from you. I am on Facebook.
I was fortunate to be a teacher at Marywood High School when Sister Rosemary came to be our principal. My fellow teacher Mary Ann Jenkins and I came one day in the Summer to greet our new principal for the coming year, and also to check her out. We both left that day completely pleased with the choice of our new chief. Throughout her tenure at Marywood she was a great principal, colleague and friend. Unfortunately, she was also the last principal at Marywood as our school closed on June 1, 1980. Through our last year she always was a positive force and she was a great cheer leader for both faculty, staff, parents and students. I think in many ways it was our greatest year. We were truly a band of sisters. We were a real famiy and even today, although our Marywood bricks are no more, our true Marywood is still lives especially in our former students, So, Sister Rosemary, thank you for a very difficlt job well done. May you rest in peace with all the Marywood Sisters that a gone on before you.