Sister Rosalia Bauer wanted to prepare for our talk. I told her she only needed to be present and I would pry things out of her.
You mean, like a can opener?
Exactly, I confirmed.
She waited at The Rock restaurant wearing her red hat with purple ribbon. She doesnt belong to Red Hat Society; she belongs to the Franciscan Order of the Perpetual Adoration.
I have no idea how we met, she admitted, against dishes clattering, televisions and chatter at Bob Prossers new Beloit, Wis., eatery west of the river. We sacrificed a river view for a quieter booth.
How do you pronounce your name? I asked.
You take a rose and an azalea, she said.
She ordered only chowder, a bit nervous about our interview.
We met through e-mail after you read one of my columns, I said.
I remember now, she said.
How old are you? I asked directly.
Im 77, she said.
Youre so lively, I remarked.
I was really lively until last Aug. 27 when I broke my ankle, she said. That slowed me down…has put a real kibosh on my life. In February, I went to Jamaica to build houses; in June and July, I went to the Czech Republic to teach English for my second time; and on Aug. 12, we took off for a vacation retreat, another sister and I. I did the driving…to Colorado Springs to the retreat house. It was wonderful. We were supposed to go to Santa Fe to visit another Franciscan sister. I was praising God for the beauty of the mountains and the clouds, and stepped off the sidewalk and broke four bones.
Oooh. Didnt it seem unfair? I asked.
You know, I was angry, she said. I said, What in the world is this all about?
Some people think youre not allowed to get angry with God, I interjected.
He loves it when youre honest with Him, she said. He knows it anyhow, so what the heck?
Sister Rosalia was born in Pepin, Wis., on a dairy farm. She had 11 siblings.
Was your childhood happy? I asked.
I loved my childhood, she said. I loved the farm. And I love that word gay. We had hills and bluffs. I would see the flowers and smells in the springtime, and I felt gay. I felt very insulted when they changed the meaning of that word.
How did you become a Franciscan sister? I asked.
I remember in sixth grade, I looked at the calendar, she said. It said, The harvest is great, but the laborers are few. I thought, Id love to be a missionary. But then, through high school, I dated a lot of different boys, and had a really good time. When I started riding the motorcycle to school, well, that was too much. The sister said, She will never go to the convent!
Hard to imagine this spunky, petite woman riding a Harley.
They thought you werent nun material? I asked.
Of course, thats all I needed, she said. I was engaged to a really nice Lutheran boy. But, in those days, it was rather difficult. So, I went to the convent to prove that I did not have a vocation. Isnt that a horrible thought?
She added: I remember how badly I wanted to be an airline stewardess. I love to fly.
Youre too short, I chimed. You had to be 5[-foot-]8 then.
I know, she said. And I had glasses.
She had wanted to be a nurse ever since third grade.
Santa Claus brought me a nurses kit, Sister Rosalia said. That was the only thing in my life that I knew I had to do.
Our server at The Rock brought my Reuben and Sister Rosalias chowder. We had a prayer, but I didnt realize I was supposed to follow her lead.
Praise God. Are you watching me? she said.
She held up her hands, palms up, and repeated, Praise God, and then palms down, Bless our food.
I have way more than I can eat, I said, offering half of my Reuben.
I love Reubens. Oh, I will take half of your half, she said.
She made her first vows and, in 1950, was sent to the School of Nursing in Carroll, Iowa.
For more than four decades, Sister Rosalia practiced nursing, sometimes in emergency rooms, or as a surgical nurse, or in public and community health. Her favorite was as a family nurse practitioner for Kimberly-Clark. Shes also been a missionary in Guam, and spent months caring for refugees and starving children in Thailand. Theres no question shes been a great gift for bringing life to others all over the world.
But in 1992, her calling took a radical turn into saving the lives of unborn babies, after a sabbatical retreat and a tape she listened to.
Marjorie Stradinger is a free-lance writer residing in Roscoe. She has covered food, drama, entertainment, health, and business for publications in California and Illinois for the past 25 years. She can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
From the June 14-20, 2006, issue