When asked how it feels to be celebrating her 60th anniversary as a Sister of Mercy, Sister RoseMary Boessen responded with awe and disbelief.
“I can’t believe it!” she said. “It has gone by so fast.”
The first of 10 children in her family, Sr. RoseMary grew up on a farm in rural Cole County.
A graduate of what is now St. Thomas the Apostle School in St. Thomas and of St. Peter High School in Joplin, Sr. RoseMary attended classes with girls in formation for the Sisters of Mercy as a student at St. Mary College in Omaha, Nebraska.
Seeing how happy they were, she decided during a freshman retreat to join them, following her great aunt, Mercy Sister Mary Benedicta, into religious life.
“I was so struck by the sisters who taught me at the College of St. Mary,” said Sr. RoseMary. “They really practiced the works of mercy.”
She entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1958, at age 19.
She recalled that the rules of family visitation were much stricter when she was in formation, and one of her early struggles was missing her family and the familiarity of life on the farm.
“I didn’t see my father for five years because he couldn’t get away from our dairy farm,” she noted. “He didn’t trust anyone with his cows. However, my mom did come see me once a year.”
Equally challenging was the dynamic of community life with her new sisters.
“I was with a lot of girls in formation who were from the city, and they looked down on me as a backwards country girl,” she said. “It took me about eight years to accept who I was and to take pride in my upbringing.”
Welcoming the stranger
In 1966, Sr. RoseMary made her final profession of vows and hasn’t looked back as a servant of God’s people.
Through the years, she has been a high school teacher and a school administrator.
However, she said her real passion has been serving the Hispanic communities in the Diocese of Boise, Idaho, for more than 35 years.
Since 1980 she has been helping provide tax services, assistance with government paperwork and the filing of other necessary forms for immigrants who want to establish legal status as a guest or a citizen of the United States.
It started out when a bilingual priest who asked her to help him start a ministry known as Guadalupe Center in Twin Falls, Idaho.
“This was our first outreach to the Hispanic community,” she said. ‘I told him I did not know much Spanish. However, Father said ‘You know the people and their needs.’
“With God’s help, I’ve been able to get by,” she said.
Guadalupe Center eventually was renamed La Posada in 1993.
Not only did the size of her office increase threefold but so did the number of people she was helping to serve.
La Posada means “The Inn” in Spanish and is a reference to Mary and Joseph searching for a place to stay in Bethlehem in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus.
Sr. RoseMary’s ministry has become a safe place for those needing assistance with paperwork or emergency food and clothing, among other things.
She noted that her team of volunteers and staff help not only the Hispanic community in southern Idaho, but also a growing contingent of immigrants from Ethiopia, the Congo and a myriad of Central American countries.
All of these, said Sister, came in search of a better life.
She estimated that in the past year alone, the ministry helped 175 people attain U.S. citizenship.
When she is not helping out at La Posada, she serves at her parish in Jackpot, Nevada, just on the other side of the Idaho border.
“We have Mass there in Spanish and when needed I can pitch in and lead a communion service for the 100 or so families who are part of the community,” she said.
Proud farm girl
More than 1,000 people passed through the doors of La Posada every year, and none were turned away.
“Because of the work of RoseMary, there was always room at the inn,” stated the Catholic Extension Society of America, which presenteed her with its Lumen Christi (Light of Christ) Award in 2009.
Sister RoseMary said she has the utmost respect for the people she helps at La Posada and can relate to their work ethic.
“These immigrants who arrive often for seasonal work in the nearby fish hatcheries, large dairy farms and in the potato fields, work hard to provide for their families,” she said. “I can identify with that. That was my upbringing — hard work on a farm.
“They are thousands of miles away from their home, doing the work others don’t want to do,” she added.
She is proud and grateful for the opportunity to serve so many people during her decades of religious life.
“I love being with the people and walking with them,” she said. “I believe that the Spirit of God is in everyone. I see my mission as bringing that goodness out of them.”
In June of this year, Sr. RoseMary returned to her home parish of St. Thomas the Apostle for a celebration of her 60th anniversary as a Sister of Mercy.
Father Jeremy Secrist, pastor of the St. Thomas parish and of St. Cecilia parish in Meta, said it was a most joyous occasion.
“The church was packed with family members and friends,” he said. “We had a reception after Mass, and there were various tributes to Sister for her years of service to the needs of the people of God in Boise.”
Sr. RoseMary loved being home with all her brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews and getting a taste of some fine down-home cooking — mid-Missouri style.
“I requested catfish and fried chicken,” she said with a laugh. “Not that I am tired of beans and rice, but nothing beats catfish and deep-fried chicken!”