Sister Mary Philip Bergeron, MM

Born: March 12, 1903
Entered: September 23, 1920
Died: June 24, 1996

“In the evening of life, we shall be judged by LOVE” – words Sr. Mary Philip Bergeron lived by and found in her journal, “My Days of Special Grace.” Today, we celebrate the faithfulness which sums up her response to the God who has “loved us with an everlasting love,” the God who says: “I have called thee by name, thou art Mine.” On June 24, 1996, Sr. Philip passed away quietly and peacefully at 10:00 a.m.

Marie Rose, the youngest of 13 children, came to Maryknoll at the age of 17 with her older sister, Cordelia on September 23, 1920. Their parents, Joseph E. Bergeron and Emma Rita Desmarais were French Canadians who moved to Norway, Michigan. Our Senior Sister in Community until her death, she connects us to those days when Maryknoll was smaller and more family-like. She liked mentioning that they were the first two Michigan vocations. When they came, Sr. Ambrose welcomed them and asked which one was Cordelia. Then she took her inside the hall and came back saying: “I just wanted to make sure she would be the first to enter.” Cordelia became Sr. Alphonsa; she died in 1967. There were only 50 Maryknoll Sisters at the time and some were in Scranton, Los Angeles and Seattle.

To celebrate St. Teresa’s Day, three weeks after they arrived, the community needed place cards with autumn-leaves design. Cordelia volunteered Marie Rose and immediately, Sr. Ambrose went to the attic to bring down the brushes and paints. Her talent discovered, she attended courses in Art, and bookbinding and another given by the Red Cross, to prepare her for the missions.

Sr. Philip appreciated Mother Mary Joseph very much. She also mentioned the loving guidance of Sister Fidelis, the Novice Mistress, a Sinsinawa Dominican. She cherished the Founders’ “strong simplicity and gentleness and their regard for our benefactors in the way we used everything.” On August 4, 1922, Srs. Mary Philip and Alphonsa made their First Profession and then their Final Vows in 1925. Later in April 1926, Philip joined the first group of Maryknoll Sisters to respond to the invitation to start Malabon Normal School in the Philippines. Her ministry was teaching Art Methods. She also had second graders for Catechism, taught art, hygiene, sewing, and crafts to the boys. Carmen Eser remembers her Art classes in Grade 5. In the Maryknoll community, she was bursar, then Assistant Superior until 1933.

Sr. Philip’s desire to join a contemplative community still strong, she was among the first group assigned to the Cloister in 1932. With Sr. Carmencita Gabriel, who was to join Maryknoll, she traveled back in 1933 and entered the Cloister on Christmas day. She became Sr. Mary Philip of the Nativity. Her entrepreneurial skills were put to use in artwork and projects that made the Cloister financially stable the next year. From 1938-44, she was Cloister Superior. During her 22 years there, In 1955, she was assigned to the Motherhouse.

In 1955, she entered the ‘Chair World’. Part of our early days was the so-called ‘Maryknoll movement’, that constant activity that engaged Maryknoll Sisters in moving chairs from one place to another. Because of this constant need to move, it was deemed more practical to have lighter chairs. Chairs bought between 1912 and 1932 were showing signs of needing repair or replacement. Their life-span was extended through Sr. Philip’s efforts in teaching many other Sisters the art of chair caning. Many of these chairs are still in use in the Rogers Chapel and constantly remind us of her. She was an organizer and figured that 5 chairs were needed for every Sister in the Motherhouse. At one time, her inventory showed 1250 chairs!

Sr. Philip’s years here at the Center were interspersed with much suffering and pain. When in fairly good health, she worked very hard and made a significant contribution to the Maryknoll Archives. Among Sr. Philip’s impressive collection were “Fragments” Files of Maryknoll’s Old-Time Music and Souvenirs she called “Maryknolliana” on the Founders and other Maryknollers like Fr. J.C. Murrett and Sr. Marie Pierre Semler. Other Collections were the Motherhouse Memorabilia, Ceremonies and Customs and on the Community Recreation and Mission Melodies. She also had 2 albums on Fr. Thomas Frederick Price, 2 albums on Theophane Venard and the Hawthorne Pictorial and Historical reference, Supplements to Maryknoll Distaff.

Sr. Philip used her time productively in artwork, caning, and retrieving articles, books, or music for the Maryknoll Heritage Collection. Community President, Barbara Hendricks commended her in 1978 for this lovely contribution “at a time when we needed to touch our spiritual roots.” At 74 she retired at Bethany. Then, when work on the Nursing Facility was completed in 1978, Sr. Philip was the pioneer in what is now called Residential Care. Here, she began her apostolate to the nurses and the nursing assistants. She knew them by name, their families and the intentions she needed to pray for. She also offered to keep vigil with Sisters who were awaiting passage to heaven.

Sr. Mary Philip was very close to her big family. She wrote to them faithfully and called this the Apostolate of the Pen. She believed that ” Letters Link Lives.” Her annual Christmas letters connected her Maryknoll family to her natural family. Being the youngest and the only living member of her generation, her nephews and nieces depended on her memory to re-construct the family tree which she traced to 8 generations. At 88, she wrote on selected events which her nephew Clifton and wife, Laura, published into a book called Memories. She and her imaginary Robin Redbreast shared newsy letters which have made family connections very strong to this day.

In all things that she did, Sr. Philip gave her all. She was very adept with her hands; she was also a prolific writer. Sr. Dolores Rosso recalls what an asset her sharp memory was to the Archives staff when they tried to match names with faces in unlabeled photos.

We believe that Sr. Philip is now resting in God’s love. We welcome Fr. Steve DeMott, our Maryknoll brother who will lead us in this Liturgy of the Resurrection. We are deeply grateful for this life that was a gift to Maryknoll for 75 years and remains a gift to us always. As your favorite song goes, “May the songs of the angels welcome you,” Sr. Mary Philip.