Araella “Rae” Bornmann’s illness was not her story. Her story, her peers say, was built on a foundation of faith.
It was her violin at Upper Room on Sunday nights.
It was her genuine disposition as a Student Ambassador.
It was her continual joy she shared in every conversation.
These are the memories Araella left behind.
On Sunday morning, April 15, Araella died in her hometown of Elizabethtown, from cancer.
Following her death, the Waynesburg University community gathered in Roberts Chapel Tuesday, April 17, for a time of prayer and remembrance. During the service, Assistant Chaplain Joshua Sumpter said Araella’s life was used for a greater purpose.
“God has been at work through Araella’s life this entire year,” Sumpter said.
Araella, a sophomore nursing major, was one of the violinists on the praise team at Upper Room, a student-led worship service held for an hour each Sunday evening during the semester. For the students in attendance each week, like roommates Brooke Kuhns and Gabriela Gehner, they saw more than just a musician performing.
“I always told her you could always tell she was not playing her violin for herself,” Kuhns said.
Even when Araella wasn’t in front of the crowd that gathered for Upper Room, Kuhns always felt there was something more to her than just a college student working through a stressful major.
“She just had that presence where you could sense the Lord is pouring out into you,” Kuhns said.
Those she worked with took note of Araella’s faith. Having read the Bible from cover to cover over the last year, Araella studied it with the same intensity as a homework assignment. Admissions Counselor Kyle Digiandomenico, who worked closely with Araella, thought she was studying for classes when he saw her reading it.
“If she had some spare time in the office, when maybe there wasn’t as much work going on, she had her Bible out and would be highlighting it,” Digiandomenico said. “I thought it was a textbook – I really did.”
Her roommates saw her finding the positive side to even the most difficult things she was working through in her life. Even then, the joy she approached each day with was something that was hard to completely understand.
“That was just who she was – she was finding the good in everything,” Kuhns said. “Her faith was just the strongest faith I have ever seen, even in adults.”
Beyond student ministry, Araella’s influence stretched through Admissions and her work-study position as a Student Ambassador. In her position, she acted as the chaperone for prospective students and their parents, guiding them on tours through campus and answering questions about life as a student at Waynesburg University.
From the perspective of Digiandomenico, Araella was the perfect candidate for the position.
“[Araella] was genuine and that is what we want,” Digiandomenico said. “When we look for our students, we don’t want to script them…we want these people to be natural, to be fun to be around and to be excited about Waynesburg. We didn’t have to train her to do those things – that was just how she was naturally.”
Away from Admissions, Araella carried the same sincerity into her friendships.
It was almost by chance she found her former roommates, Kuhns and Gehner, on Facebook before school began their freshman years. Through their conversation on Facebook, Araella and Kuhns realized they would be living across the hall from each other on the second floor of Burns.
“She just saw [Gehner and my] pictures on Facebook and just thought to reach out to us,” Kuhns said.
Their friendship soon grew to singing and dancing together to an Easter weekend trip to Cincinnati where Gehner’s family lived. It became evident there was more behind their friendship than a seemingly random encounter on social media.
“Getting to know each other freshman year, we sort of clicked in a lot of different areas,” Gehner said.
In the everyday challenges of a college student, Araella was there for Kuhns and Gehner to encourage them. Kuhns said Araella acted as an accountability partner. When someone started to complain, she reminded them there were things to be thankful for.
“She would never complain,” Kuhns said. “When I would, she would always redirect me to the bigger picture – just [complaining] was not worth it.”
Araella’s approachable personality wasn’t kept for just her closest friends. With a willingness to hear others out, Kuhns said she was very approachable.
“People would just reach out to her and people would feel comfort in her and felt very open to talk to her about things,” Kuhns said. “You had no issue going up to her and talking about anything going on in your life.”
Reflecting back on the moments with Araella, her coworkers and colleagues are thankful for the 16 months she spent at Waynesburg University.
For Gehner, hearing Araella’s name is a reminder of the happiness she brought.
“When I hear her name now and people talk about [Araella] I just smile,” Gehner said. “It’s not something sad. She was a joyful woman, and she would want us to be joyful.”
A memorial service for Araella will be held Saturday, May 12, at The Worship Center in Lancaster at 1:30 p.m.