Sister Bernice Babin, MM

Born: August 5, 1916
Entered: August 5, 1941
Died: August 9, 2015

We gather here today to celebrate, with joy and sadness, the long, full life, in Maryknoll and in ministry of our dear friend Sister Bernice Babin.

Bernice was born in Frenchville, Maine to Joseph Babin and Eulalia Labbe Babin. She was the oldest of five children. Bernice had one brother, Patrick, and three sisters, Jeannine, Rita, and Irene. She entered Maryknoll on her birthday August 5, 1941. Six months later she was formally received and took the religious name Sr. Rose Claire. Over the years, many of us knew her as a very pleasant, active person, concerned for others and always ready to help wherever there was a need. We knew her as a person much loved and appreciated by the many people with whom she lived and worked in her multiple mission assignments. Bernice was admitted to the hospital on August 1, after an injury, and spent her 99th birthday in the hospital. As she became weaker she returned here to Maryknoll and on the morning of Sunday, August 9, she quietly returned to the God she so loved.

When reminiscing about her vocation, Bernice said she had been searching for a community for some time and was rather undecided. She then heard about Maryknoll, came to visit and just knew Maryknoll was where she belonged. She arrived at Maryknoll to begin her mission 74 years ago last Wednesday.

Bernice’s first assignment in 1946 was to our hospital in Riberalta, Bolivia, where she worked as a dietitian for seven years. A short time after her arrival she made her Final Profession. Sr. Mercy, her superior, wrote:“Sister Rose Claire has been here only a short time but already she has endeared herself to all.”

After Riberalta she spent three years in Houston, Texas working in catechetics; one year at Queen of the World Hospital in Kansas City, where she was licensed as a LPN; and two years at Bethany as a nurse. She worked in Chicago for eight years in catechetics followed by three years in Huehuetenango, Guatemala in pastoral work. Her mission work brought her ever further south to Chile where she spent the next 16 years in the small town of Licanten. When she told the bishop she thought it was time to move on and that she was leaving for service at the Center, a very unhappy Bishop wrote to the Maryknoll Leadership asking that she remain there since her work was so valuable to the diocese. But Bernice encouraged by our leadership team prevailed in her belief that as a missioner it was time to have others continue the pastoral service there. She enjoyed numerous farewell parties and in a public ceremony in the town received a commemorative plaque from the municipality for her “immense spirit of service and commitment to the people of this country”. She then came to Maryknoll where she spent three years helping out in Center Health Services.

In 1987 she returned to Chile where a very grateful Bishop invited Bernice, and her long-time companion, Sr. Roseann Hanley, to the small country town of Rauco. She soon learned that it was going to be a difficult place to work. Due to frequent conflicts with the pastor and his policies, the parishioners were sharply divided. Bernice as usual brought her gentle calming ways and in spite of the difficult situation, began her pastoral work there. She gently insisted that her desire was to be of service to all the people of God. Four years later, at her Golden Jubilee Mass in 1991, the Bishop thanked her in his homily and called her a true peacemaker.

In 2006, after 19 years in the parish and 35 in Chile, Bernice, 90 years young, wrote that she had “talked it over with the sisters in the region and all the people we have learned to love and live with for so many years and with sadness they agree” that her time of service to Chile had ended. Again she was celebrated in the town and the outlying areas. Gratitude was expressed to a beloved friend they characterized as “a loving spirit like a gentle breeze.” She returned to Maryknoll where she spent these last nine years generously helping out in Treasury.

I would like to close this short summary of her Maryknoll life with a quote from a letter written by Bernice to our leadership team a few days after her golden jubilee in Chile. I think it expresses very well her life and her spirit.

She wrote: “How I wish you had all been here. It was a feast for the whole pueblo, a day to remember… I want to thank God – for all he has done for us, to have been called to Maryknoll and to work here in the diocese of Talca. I want to thank all who celebrated my jubilee with me here in Chile and all of you who were with us in prayer.”

We extend our sympathy to Sister Bernice’s sister, Irene and husband Charles who are here with us today. We also welcome and thank our brother, Father Gerald Persha, who will preside at our Memorial Mass today.