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Spiritual milestone

Rosalie Locati, left, a Providence sister, and Celine Steinberger, a Holy Names sister, share a religious milestone this summer. (Colin Mulvany)
Rosalie Locati, left, a Providence sister, and Celine Steinberger, a Holy Names sister, share a religious milestone this summer. (Colin Mulvany)

Longtime Catholic sisters reminisce about 50-year commitments to their faith

This summer, two well-known Catholic sisters are celebrating 50 years of commitment to religious life.

Sister Rosalie Locati and Sister Celine Steinberger don’t belong to the same religious “order.” Locati is a Providence sister; Steinberger a Holy Names sister.

The two women, along with more than a dozen other sisters in their respective communities, are commemorating their “jubilee” year with special Masses and gatherings.

In a recent interview, these two friends – whose religious communities work in collaboration more and more – looked back on 50 years of religious life.

Their calling: Steinberger said: “We lived in the shadow of St. Joseph’s Church in Seattle. I grew up knowing priests and sisters as human beings. Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary taught me all my life, from first grade to college. They inspired me to give my whole self to something beyond whatever I could have imagined.”

Locati, who grew up in Walla Walla, said: “I was born in Providence hospitals and educated by Providence sisters from grades one through 12. I used to go to the St. Vincent’s Academy and help Sister Gertrude prepare sandwiches for the transients who would come to the door. I was called to serve God’s people. I describe it as having the ‘Providence DNA.’ ”

Locati was 18 when she entered religious life; Steinberger was 17. It was the early 1960s, “the time in the church when Catholic families encouraged their daughters and sons to serve in the church,” Locati said.

Both Locati and Steinberger earned bachelors’ and masters’ degrees. Both used them in demanding positions. Steinberger, now the development director for the Holy Names sisters, worked with community and Japanese leaders in the 1980s to transform the former Fort Wright College into the Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute.

Locati taught elementary school early in her career and then worked in vocations for the Spokane Diocese before landing at Washington State University in campus ministry. She is now the director of mission and values for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Children’s Hospital.

The doubts: Times of doubt and discernment surface in any commitment. Both women experienced them. Locati, for instance, fell in love with a man while in graduate school.

“The blessing was that I became more deeply called to religious life by being able to say I’m choosing religious life in a different way than I chose it when I first entered.”

Change of habit: Both women started out in collar-to-toe black wool habits and head coverings that revealed only their faces.

“They were hot and heavy and we had to make them ourselves,” Steinberger said.

By the mid-1960s, both of their religious orders went to modified habits with lighter veils and in Steinberger’s case “we cut up our habits and made black suits. I remember first-graders saying, ‘She has legs!’ They were so shocked.”

By the late 1970s, both wore the clothes of the women of the day.

Daily habits: Both begin with prayer. Steinberger said: “I get up at 4:30 during the week because prayer is such an important part of my life. The first thing I do each morning is ask: ‘What blessings did I receive yesterday that I didn’t even see?’ ”

Locati said: “I wake up every morning and say ‘Good morning Jesus, thank you for the sleep. And what are we going to do today?’ ”

The future: Both women are now 69 and working full time – and then some. Retirement?

“We don’t retire, we die,” Locati joked.

“Ours is a ministry of prayer and presence, and that’s not retirement,” Steinberger said. “We are present to whomever comes our way.”