Sister M. St. Brigid (Hilda) Bromeling, C. S. C. (1916-2020)
The Least Likely to Become a Nun
When Hilda Bromeling applied to the Sisters of the Holy Cross in May 1941, after graduating from Saint Mary’s College in 1940, her motivation was “to serve God and to remove the obstacles which hinder my perfection.” She was accepted into the Congregation and entered a few months later. Among her college classmates, Hilda was viewed as “the least likely to become a nun.” Yet, she spent over 75 years seeking perfection in charity as a consecrated woman religious as Sister Mary St. Brigid. There were obstacles along the way, whether due to her personal history or restless spirit.
She was born in Woodlawn (now Aliquippa), Pennsylvania, September 1, 1916. Hilda was the youngest of eight children born to Czechoslovakian immigrants. When the children’s mother died, their father needed help raising the youngest siblings, one boy and two girls, as the rest were older or close to adulthood. Since no one was able to care for all three children as the father insisted, they were placed in a home for adoption. It is known that Merton and Margaret Blacker Bromeling adopted Hilda, “who was a very sweet child,” giving her every advantage, providing for an excellent education and extensive travel. In adulthood she called them her guardians.
Sister St. Brigid developed a very deep faith. At the end of her novitiate formation at Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame, Indiana, she seriously considered entering a contemplative order instead of the Sisters of the Holy Cross. After counsel by her spiritual director and the Congregation’s superior general, she accepted God’s will and freely pronounced vows. Two other times she felt called again to enter a monastery and twice more, her discernment led her to remain in Holy Cross.
Sister earned a master’s in theology in 1952 from Saint Mary’s School of Theology, Notre Dame, the first of its kind for Catholic women. The first 28 years of her ministry were spent mostly in elementary education in Utah, California, Indiana and Michigan.
In her pursuit of perfection, Sister St. Brigid always wanted to be or do something more. Not only had she felt drawn to the sacrifice and silence of the contemplative life, she simultaneously felt compelled to throw herself into being a missionary in the new Holy Cross foundation in São Paulo, Brazil, where she taught at the Colégio Santa Maria from 1956 to 1961. Later, in 1971, having given two previous summers of service in the leper settlement of Kaulapapa on the island of Molokai, Hawaii, she managed to secure an extraordinary permission from the state’s Department of Health to live for one year on the island, lest she develop the infectious Hansen’s disease herself. Her mission was to write for blind and handless lepers, visit them in their cottages, and read them the Bible and other books. Upon advice of the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis of Syracuse, New York, who trained her for this ministry and with whom she lived, Sister St. Brigid returned to Saint Mary’s in 1972 and gave service to the Congregation in various capacities for many more years. She retired to a fully contemplative life of prayer in 2000 at Saint Mary’s Convent. [Adapted from an obituary written by Sister Catherine Osimo, CSC]