Sister Bernardita Pierson, MM

Born: March 5, 1905
Entered: June 9, 1937
Died: October 10, 1991

About noon on October 10, 1991, Sister Bernardita Maria Pierson died at Phelps Memorial Hospital. We are happy that her long-term illness has ended and she now enjoys her new life with the Lord. Yet, we shall miss her presence with us here at Maryknoll.

Bernardita Maria, formerly known as Bernadette Marie from the time of Reception, was born on March 5, 1905, and baptized Marie Elizabeth Pierson. She grew up in East St. Louis, Illinois, with her parents, Charles and Bridget, and two brothers, all now deceased. When Marie Elizabeth was a teenager, her family moved to Seattle where she graduated from Eatonville Public High School. Later she obtained a secretarial certificate from Brown’s Business College and also attended business courses at Springfield, Illinois, Junior College at night. Before entering Maryknoll, Marie Elizabeth did secretarial work in a business firm, was office secretary with the Children’s Service League and did recreational work with Girl Scouts. She held offices with sodalities, Junior Ladies of Charity and the Diocesan Council of Catholic Women.

Marie Elizabeth entered Maryknoll on June 9, 1937, when she was 32 years old and, evidently, made a good adjustment to her new life and relationships with others younger than herself in the Novitiate. First Profession was made on January 6, 1940 at Maryknoll and Final Vows in San Juan Bautista, California, three years later. San Juan Bautista was Sister Bernadette Marie’s first assignment. It was followed by several years each in Guadalupe, CA, Mother Columba’s office at Maryknoll, Bethany, The Field Afar offices, Houston, TX, Walterboro, SC and Stockton, CA. Her ministries were always parish catechetical work and home-visiting with Spanish speaking people and, in the case of the South Carolina experience, with black people.

In 1965 at the age of 60, Bernadette Marie was assigned to Chile and it is thought that at that time she changed her name to Bernardita as we now refer to her. As preparation for the Chile assignment she studied four months at Cuernavaca, Mexico, for language and orientation. It was while at Cuernavaca that she formed a lasting friendship with the Dominican Master General, Damian Byrne, who later visited her here at Maryknoll. Throughout her lifetime, Bernardita also took theology courses in California and Santiago, Chile.

During her mission in Chile, Bernardita’s most fulfilling time was in a small town called Hualane. There she lived near to the people and did catechetical work. The mention of her beloved Hualane and her many friends there, always brought a smile to her face and a lively conversation. In 1972, Bernardita realized she was no longer able to continue her catechetical work or to remain in this rural area, so moved to Santiago with a more reduced schedule, but still maintained a pastoral outreach.

In 1973 Bernardita returned to the United States as a member of the Senior Region. She spent the next five years in San Rafael, New Mexico, one of the first resident Sisters there, doing her loved catechetical work, teacher formation and initiated a summer religious education program in distant pueblos. Bernardita found her heart and efforts torn between the diocesan and rural work. She resolved the tension with the conviction she herself stated: “When love is divided there is not a loss to either, but rather love shared is always increased!”

Bernardita spent six years at Monrovia from 1978 to 1984 when it became necessary for her to enter the Maryknoll Nursing Home. When well, she enjoyed a good time and talking with the Sisters.

Many members of our Community will remember Sister Bernardita for her enthusiasm for catechetical work, especially for children and family home visiting because both were priority values for her in ministry.

We thank our celebrant, Maryknoll Edward J. Manning, for being with us today.