Sister Bernice (Madeline Marie) Heinz (1928-2021)

Born in Gonzales, Calif., Bernice and her five sisters all attended Sacred Heart School in Salinas. Her parents then enrolled her as a boarder in Moreland Notre Dame High School in Watsonville. She came home on weekends, and in her sophomore year started working as a stock girl on Saturdays 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 dinner, but still felt called to become a Sister and join her sister who had entered the Saratoga novitiate previously. Sister Bernice remembers one of her early days with a smile. Her sister, Sister Joseph Julie, had heard her playing boogie-woogie music on the novitiate piano and told her perhaps that was not the best choice!

As Sister Madeline Marie, Bernice became a teacher and found that teaching was a natural and joyous fit, 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! Or start a choir for third- to sixth-graders at Notre Dame School in Yuba City. With musical abilities, but 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.

Sr. Bernice with some graduates of 8th grade.

Maureen O’Hara, a former student in the first graduating class from at St. Philip Neri Elementary School in Alameda, said that Sr. Madeline Marie, her “beloved principal and eighth grade teacher … was really special to the entire class.” Maureen became an oncology nurse at Stanford and stayed in touch with Sister throughout her life.

For 27 special years Sister Bernice taught language arts at Madonna del Sasso School in Salinas, stressing the importance of speaking and writing correctly. In 2008, her students and 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. The Sisters in Salinas still hear from former students who have appreciated what they learned from Sister Bernice.

Another great love for Sister was serving as a lector at Mass for ten years. Reading and proclaiming God’s word gave her immense joy.

Moving to Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland in 2019, Sister Bernice looked back on her early years and her life and ministries as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, and reflected that “God has been holding my hand all my life.” At the age of 93, Sister Bernice died peacefully on December 23, 2021 at Mercy Retirement and Care Center.

The Sisters are grateful to healthcare coordinators Ann Comer and Sister Sharon Joyer, SNDdeN, and to Mercy Retirement & Care Center in Oakland, where Sister Bernice received excellent care. She will be deeply missed by her many friends, former colleagues and students; by her sisters, Dolores Heinz Pia, JoAnne Heinz Sinatra and Barbara Heinz McDermaid: her nieces and nephews, and by all her Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur. Her sisters Rosalie Heinz Rebello and Sister Marie (Joseph Julie) Heinz, SNDdeN predeceased her.

Sister Bernice's funeral was delayed due to Covid-19 restrictions, but will be celebrated on Saturday, April 2, 2022 at 11:00 a.m. at Cunningham Chapel on the Notre Dame de Namur University campus in Belmont, Calif.

Sister Bernice's Ministries

Sister Bernice Heinz,SNDdeN celebrates her 93rd birthday.

1948 Notre Dame Elementary, Chico, Calif.
1948-51 Dolores School, Santa Barbara, Calif.
1951-53 Notre Dame Elementary, Chico, Calif.
1953-55 St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, Calif.
1955-60 Holy Angels Elementary School, Yuba City, Calif.
1960-61 St. Mark Elementary School, Shoreline, Wash.
1961-62 Notre Dame Schools, Marysville, Calif.
1962-63 St. Mary Elementary School, San Jose, Calif.
1963-67 St. Philip Neri Elementary School, Alameda, Calif.
1967-74 Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Belmont, Calif. (Teacher, Principal, Planner)
1974 Sacred Heart School, Salinas, Calif.
1976-81 St. Isidore Parish, Yuba City, Calif. (Parish Secretary)
1981-81 Moreland Notre Dame School, Watsonville, Calif.
1982-84 St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, Calif.
1984-2009 Madonna del Sasso School, Salinas, Calif.

Sister Bernice Heinz with an entertaining preschooler.


  1. When I saw your former name, I immediately remembered you from Holy Angels in Yuba City. I think you were my 8th grade teacher (possibly 7th grade). There were 17 boys and 8 girls in the class and we had a reputation (well deserved I am sure). Somehow you seemed to pay attention to everyone in the class. I spent a lot of time watching your teaching techniques, which always amazed my sister (she read books instead).

    Congratulations on your 70th anniversary!!.

  2. I remember you very fondly from the first grade at Holy Angels. Very glad to see your picture.
    Frank Coats

  3. Dear Sr. Bernice, I have LOVED Sr. Joseph Julie (Marie Heinz) all my life! I have carried her memory close to my heart! I met her as a 4th grader, had her as my 8th grade teacher, until she was sent to another location. She was staying in my dormatory when I was a boarder. To me, she was EVERYTHING lovely and I treasure my memories of time with her. I had NO IDEA that you were her sister! I used to write to Rose Rebello until she passed away. She sent me a photo of Sr. Joseph Julie which I have placed in a special frame. I send my close regards to you as I have deeply LOVED your sister!! Elaine Barulich Schwarzkopf, class of NDB 1960 (high school)

  4. Sr. Bernice,
    I was one of your students at Madonna del Sasso school in Salinas. You were and are, by far, someone whom I admire with the utmost regard. I will never, ever forget the lessons you taught me.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment, Julie Anne! We will share your message with Sr. Bernice!

  5. Congratulations Sister Bernice. Hope you're still having fun at every meal with the Sisters.
    Hugs, Becca (Former respite cook at SND Belmont.)

  6. I taught at St. Philip Neri while you were principal during 1966-1967. Also my friend Therese Hauer. We both enjoyed having you as our principal. I had a difficult class but you helped me!Now I am facebook friends with my former students and they are about age 64! It was great to read of all your accomplishments.

  7. Dear Sr. Bernice,
    I remember you as Sr. Madeleine Marie so well. You were a real powerhouse at Holy Angeles in Yuba City. My mother (Esther Limper) was particularly fond of you and was so pleased when you returned to the St. Isidore parish. Esther thought of you fondly throughout the years and died at age 99 in 2015.

    Warmest thanks for your friendship and support of my mother and for your selfless devotion to the students at Holy Angeles School.
    Marcia Limper Fulham

  8. Dear Sr. Bernice,
    You were my 5th Grade teacher at St. Joseph elementary in Alameda. We all remember you fondly as best of the best teachers! Learned to LOVE diagramming sentences in your class. Made it easy to learn foreign languages. Still remember so many of the things you taught us (to spell "separate" see-pa-rate but your ma rate, too ha!) So nice but hardly surprising to see how universally loved you are. Hope you are keeping well!

    1. Thank you for sharing your warm memories of Sr. Bernice, Liz! Sister is retired and now living in Oakland at the Mercy Retirement & Care Center, along with other Sisters.

      (For the Sisters)

  9. I woke up this morning thinking about you. You were my favorite teacher at Madonna del Sasso. I hope to see you again someday to hug you and tell you how much you had an influence on my life.

    1. Mattzilla, thank you for your very nice note to Sister Bernice! She is now living at the Mercy Retirement & Care Center in Oakland. I will send your message on to her, and I'm sure she'll appreciate it, though may not be able to respond.

      (for the Sistes)

  10. What a beautiful picture of you at your birthday celebration. I have often asked Sister Barbara about you. Sending much love from the Wallace family. You have always been very dear to us and mom and Rosalie were such special friends. Prayers for your continued health.

  11. Hi Sr. Bernice, You were my 6th grade teacher @ Madonna Del Sasso in Salinas. I fondly remember you as you were a tough teach who expected the best from her students. I enjoy my year with her as my teacher. Thanks for being you.

  12. Sr. Bernice,

    You were my sixth grade English teacher at Madonna del Sasso. I enjoyed your class so very much! I still think of you often, and appreciate you! I still remember your cure for hiccups, "take exactly nine sips of water," and it still works! I tell people every time. I hope retirement is treating you well. You had so much energy, I doubt you have slowed down at all!! God Bless!!

    1. Monica, thank you very much for sharing your memories and good wishes for Sister Bernice!

      (for the Sisters)

  13. I loved Sr Madeleine Marie (as she was known at St Philip Neri) and it gave me a great pang to read that she died last December. I sent a Christmas card to her at Mercy Retirement Home and just hope it arrived in good time … I had written to her about the ways in which she enriched my life as a fantastic English teacher (I’m sure this led to my having gone on to teach English, become a theologian and a writer) and equally, as a role model … I remember her deep faith and spirituality and feel so blessed to have known her.

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