Sister Bernadette Desmond, MM

Born: August 25, 1935
Entered: September 2, 1954
Died: November 3, 2007

After several weeks in New York University Hospital, Sister Bernadette Desmond was brought to our Residential Care IV on Friday, November 2, 2007. Because her illness was not responding to treatments, a decision was made to engage care for Bernie here at Maryknoll. However, she did not wait to begin this journey and on Saturday morning, November 3, 2007 Bernie peacefully entered her New Life. She was 72 years of age and a Maryknoll Sister for 53 years.

Bernadette Desmond was born on August 25, 1935 in Brooklyn, New York, to Mary O’Hanlon Desmond and Harold J. Desmond. She had one sister, the Mary Desmond Baumbach. They were members of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Brooklyn.

Bernie graduated from Catherine McAuley High School in Brooklyn in 1953 and a year later entered Maryknoll. She made her First Profession of Vows in 1957 at Maryknoll and her Final Vows in 1963 in Lima, Peru and was known as Sister Maria Pilar. In 1960 she graduated from Maryknoll Teachers College and was assigned to Peru. This was the beginning of her life-long commitment to people of all ages who are poor and oppressed. She had a special concern for children throughout her life beginning with her years in Lima, Peru and Cobija, Bolivia teaching in both elementary and high schools, as well as serving as principal.

Since her death, we received calls from two of Bernie’s students from Santa Rosa, Lima who spoke of her beautiful smiling face and who consider her one of their best teachers. They said they just had to call Maryknoll and speak to someone about their love and appreciation of “this beautiful woman.”

Bernie returned to New York from Peru in 1982, and she continued to work for the welfare of children even throughout her retirement years. Children in the building in which she and Sister Barbara Lupo have lived for over twenty years and those she met through Mentoring USA, where she tutored individuals and elementary school children in reading, responded to Bernie’s love, humor, kindness and gentleness.

In 1971 Bernie was one of an inter-community team of three, including Maryknoll Father James Madden that initiated an innovative pilot program among the Aymara Campesinos of Mocachi in the Peruvian Altiplano. The team studied Aymara in order to enter into dialogue with the people at the grassroots and to discover the church already present among the people. They took their cues from the people and assisted them in their struggle to control their own lives, including working to gain rights to their ancestral lands.

While this model enabled the local community to appreciate their own culture, it also enriched the lives of the team members. Today Jim continues living in the Altiplano, and called Bernie several times after she was admitted to the hospital. The women’s knitting group with which she worked asked Jim to tell her, “They would like to be with her at this time but it is too far.”

In order to be nearer to her father, who was 82 and suffering from an illness, Bernie transferred to the Eastern US Region in 1982. She continued her focus on the oppressed, especially those in her beloved Peru, through her work with the Peru Solidarity/EcoAndes office, a network in support of the struggles of the poor of Peru. Her understanding of the institutional causes of poverty throughout the world and the potential role of the Church enabled her to address the consequences of the U.S. presence in Latin America and issues of social justice through effective education and advocacy programs. At the same time she expanded and increased the network of individuals and organizations working on behalf of the poor of Peru. Finally, she ensured the continuity of the work by transferring the work of the office to the capable hands of the Diocese of Jefferson City, Missouri which has personnel in Peru.

During her years in New York, Bernie shared her talents and commitment to peace with justice and the integrity of creation with many other organizations by serving on boards and committees. One of these was the Caribbean and Latin American Committee of OXFAM AMERICA. In response to her resignation after five years of service, the director stated: “Your intimate knowledge of development issues in the region, especially in South America, together with your deep feelings for the people of the region and your humaneness towards poor and oppressed people of our part of the world, have been a source of inspiration.”

Bernie’s many gifts were shared with members of the Peru and Eastern US Regions through her service on the respective governing boards many times during her years in each Region. She also was a delegate to the General Assembly in 1974 and 1978.

All who knew and loved Bernie have benefited from her genuine love, compassion, understanding, sense of humor, and generosity. How she loved to surprise friends and family with gifts she thought they would like. Bernie indeed grew in wisdom, age and grace.

We warmly welcome Bernie’s family and friends, as well as many other friends of Bernie. We also welcome our celebrant Maryknoll Father Carmen LaMazza who will preside at this Liturgy of Christian Burial.

Together let us celebrate Bernie’s life and witness.