Raised in a family with five sisters, Bernice and her siblings all attended Sacred Heart School in Salinas. Wanting to continue their daughter’s Catholic education, Bernice’s parents then enrolled her in Moreland Notre Dame High School in Watsonville as a boarder. She came home on weekends and in her sophomore year started working as a stock girl on Saturdays (from 9:00 am – 9:00 pm) at ‘The Elegant” dress shop. She made a grand total of $3.00 each Saturday. She progressed at the store and after graduation, her boss wanted her to work full time and even go on buying trips. Tempting as it was, Bernice had other plans in mind and told her boss she was entering the convent.
When she initially told her mother she was thinking of entering the convent, her mother said, “Sit down. You’ll feel better after you’ve had a hot dinner.” Bernice did feel better after a hot dinner, but still felt called to become a Sister and joined her sister, Marie, who had entered the Saratoga novitiate earlier. Sr. Bernice remembers one of her early days with a smile. Her sister had heard her playing boogie-woogie music on the convent piano and told her perhaps that was not the best choice!
Sr. Bernice became a teacher and found that teaching was a natural and joyous fit and one she excelled at for 63 years. Sometimes though she shook her head in amazement at the things she was asked to do, like teach 75 first graders at Dolores School in Santa Barbara in 1948! Or starting a choir for third- to sixth-graders at Notre Dame School in Yuba City. With no experience teaching choral music, the assignment was challenging to say the least. But as Sister learned early on, “You get the grace of the charge.” Within a year she was teaching the children three-part harmony.
For 27 wonderful years she taught at Madonna del Sasso in Salinas. In 2008, the Salinas community surprised her with the Crystal Apple Award–an honor given to outstanding teachers who daily go “above and beyond” for the students and the school.
Another great love for Sister was serving as a lector at Mass for 10 years. Reading and proclaiming God’s word gave her immense joy.
Sr. Bernice now resides at the Province Center in Belmont where she ministers in prayer and service. She may be the friendly voice you hear when you call the Center.
As she looks back on her ministries and life as a Sister, Bernice shares, “God has been holding my hand all my life.”