Remembering Sister Ann Bernadette "Bernie" Barnes (1932-2020)

A generous, multi-talented person, Sister Ann Bernadette was a lifetime believer in the power of education and the importance of making this world more just, especially for those with the greatest needs. She was known for her commitment to the Blessed Mother and her insistence on the equality of women’s voices in the Church and national affairs. She loved the color purple.

The older daughter of Nebraskan parents who moved to California to work for United Airlines in the early days of passenger air travel, Patricia Barnes grew up in San Carlos and attended Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Redwood City and Notre Dame High School in Belmont. After a year at San Jose State College, she entered the convent.

In her seventy years as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, Sister Ann Bernadette served for many years as a dedicated elementary and secondary teacher and administrator. She brought her rich educational experience to Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento when she helped establish the school in 2006, and she enjoyed both teaching there and mentoring new teachers.

One of her favorite experiences was teaching English as a Second Language and coordinating a high school diploma program for students ranging from 18 to 70 at the Notre Dame Education Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts. One of her former students wrote to her, “My life has been changing for the better, thanks to your dedication and patience . . . . you will always be a role model in my life.”

In her five years as a staff member of the Emergency Housing Consortium in San Jose, Sister Bernie advocated for homeless people needing mental health and employment services. She also served as the liturgy coordinator at the large multi-cultural Most Holy Trinity Parish in East San Jose; she provided Notre Dame hospitality at the House of Prayer in Carmel, and she contributed as a Board member at Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont.

Sister Bernie Barnes with her youngest nieces and nephews. See below for more photos of Sister Bernie!

She was fortunate to live close to her only sibling, Bonnie Barnes Fox and her husband, Jim, and their very caring family, joining them for weekly family dinners surrounded by grand-nieces and nephews, and enjoying the comedic skits they performed.

Sister Bernie died peacefully on October 16, 2020, at Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland, after being a member of the Province Center community in Belmont for the past ten years. She will be lovingly remembered by her family, her Sisters of Notre Dame, and many former students, colleagues and friends.

Memorial contributions may be made online (click here) or mailing to Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, 1520 Ralston Avenue, Belmont, CA  94002.

Click here to view Sister Bernie's funeral Mass on YouTube (there are four segments to watch).


Sister Bernie's 70th Jubilee Tribute (2020)

In her senior year at Notre Dame High School, Belmont, Patricia Barnes was approached by one of her teachers who startled her by saying, “I hear you’re going to enter.” Becoming a nun was NOT in her plan, however, and after graduation, she went off to San Jose State University. During that next year, she continued to keep in touch with one of the Sisters. It was through her encouragement and Pat’s own growing attraction to a life of prayer that eventually moved her to join the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur.

As Sister Ann Bernadette, she remembers making her first vows on a Saturday, and on the following Monday she was teaching a 5th grade class at St. Joseph Elementary School in Alameda! After five years in elementary schools she was assigned to teach at her high school alma mater, where one of her students was her own sister, Bonnie (now Bonnie Fox). In 1968, she became the Assistant Principal for Notre Dame High School in San Francisco and then served as Principal from 1970-1975, and later returned to the school as Dean of Curriculum.

Sister. Ann Bernadette Barnes with an adult student graduate at the Notre Dame Education Center in Lawrence, MA.

Sister Bernie also worked with Father Miles O’Brien Riley as an associate director of communications with the Archdiocese of San Francisco and then, in 1983, she was asked to assume ever-expanding responsibilities at the newly established Emergency Housing Consortium in San Jose. There, she worked with people who were experiencing homelessness, and helped set up programs for those needing advocacy and assistance through mental health programs and employment services.

Returning to the classroom for seven years at the Notre Dame Education Center in Lawrence, Massachusetts, was one of Sister Bernie’s favorite experiences – teaching English as a Second Language and coordinating a high school diploma program for students ranging in age from 18 to 70. “Adults are so eager to learn,” she says with a chuckle, “and there are no discipline problems!” Ricardo Franco from Colombia was one of the many adults she taught. In 2007, Ricardo wrote Sister, “My life has been changing a lot for the better, thanks to your dedication and patience … encouraging me to give the best of myself. As a result of it, I continue my education, and I am working on my associate degree! You will always be a role model in my life.”

Sister Bernie Barnes (far right) performs with students and other SNDdeNs at a fundraiser for Cristo Rey High School.

When Sister Bernie returned to California, she volunteered to be one of four SNDdeN pioneers to help establish Cristo Rey High School in Sacramento. She brought her lifetime of educational experience and energy to this new school, where she enjoyed teaching students and mentoring new teachers.

Other ministry assignments have included directing the sacramental program and coordinating the liturgy program for the large, multi-cultural Most Holy Trinity Parish in East San Jose, CA, from 1987 to 1992. She also served for several years on the Board of Trustees for Notre Dame de Namur University, and assisted at the Notre Dame House of Prayer in Carmel.

Sister Bernie was a member of the Province Center community in Belmont for ten years before recently moving to Mercy Retirement and Care Center in Oakland.

A generous, multi-talented person, Sister Ann Bernadette has been committed most of her life to working on behalf of those struggling with poverty and who have found themselves on the fringes of society. “At this time of Jubilee,” she said, “I am grateful for the wide range of educational experiences I have enjoyed, the students who have enriched my life, and the co-workers who believed in the work we were engaged in.”

Sister Bernie Barnes with her family in 2010.

Sister Ann Bernadette's Ministries

1953-54 St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, CA
1954-56 Notre Dame Elementary School, Chico, CA
1956-58 Dolores School, Santa Barbara, CA
1958-64 Notre Dame High School, Belmont, CA
1964-65 Notre Dame High School, Alameda, CA
1965-66 Mora High School, Watsonville, CA (Assistant Principal)
1966-68 St. Francis High School (Bishop Armstrong High School), Sacramento (Assistant Principal)
1968-75 Notre Dame High School, San Francisco, CA (Assistant Principal and Principal)
1975-76 Provincial House, Saratoga, CA
1976-80 St Columbkille School, Los Angeles, CA (Elementary Principal and Teacher)
1980-81 Notre Dame High School, San Francisco CA (Dearn of Curriculum and Teacher)
1981-82 Archdiocese of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA (Assistant Director, Office of Communication)
1982-87 Office for Human Concern & Emergency Housing, Diocese of San Jose, San Jose, CA (Associate Director & Volunteer Coordinator)
1987-92 Most Holy Trinity Parish, San Jose, CA (Sacramental Coordinator, then Liturgy Coordinator)
1993-96 Carmel House of Prayer, Carmel, CA (Staff)
1998-2005 Notre Dame Education Center, Lawrence, MA
2005 Provincial Service, Saratoga, CA
2006 Cristo Rey High School, Sacramento, CA

Sister Bernie Barnes (second from left) with Sisters Marie Veronica Wagner, Loretta Olsen, and Ruth Ella at the Carmel House of Prayer in 1994.


  1. I did not know Sister Bernie in the flesh, but reading about her here, I almost felt I did; I know her now in her spirit -indeed, in the Spirit. So I thank the Great FatherMother for Sr Bernie and for all SNDs, especially those I did know through all eight years at Mission Dolores Boys' School: and then I thank each of them, I call their faces to me as i sing their names: Sr Marie Josefa, Sr Theresa Carmel, Sr Helen Claire, Sr Mary Letitia, Sr Jeanne Marie, Sr Adrian, Sr Veronica, Sr Marie Barbara; and then my very own sister-in-the-flesh Mary Eleanor Gaffney/Sr Eleanor Marie. Sr. Bernie, what a great household you are part of!
    Blessed be God, in His angels and in Her saints!

  2. One of the many memories of Sr Ann Bernadette as she was known in 1958 was seeing her daily in the Soda Fountain on the lower level of NDB. We loved to visit with her there since she was in charge of it. She was a wonderful model of religious life.

  3. Remember Sr Bernie fondly. As a student at ND San Francisco , class of ‘70, Sr. Bernie was always available to students for whatever reason.
    Her warm smile is what I remember the most.
    After so many years she might never have known the impact she made on the young girls of ND San Francisco. God bless her.

  4. Ever grateful for Sister Bernie's encouragement, support and inspiration while serving with her at EHC. Truly an instrument of peace.

  5. I also have such fond memories of Sister Ann Bernadette, and strangely enough had been thinking of her sister, Bonnie, just days before I read this sad news. Funny how past events rise to the surface, especially the ones with such warm memories. Love to you, Bonnie, and I am so sorry for your loss.

  6. Back in 1964 I attended NDB in Belmont.
    I believe Sr. Ann Bernadette taught us religion.
    My peer Jessie was in my class.
    Sister And Bernadette asked us how many of our mothers or families subscribed to the Catholic newspaper The Monitor.
    A couple of girls raised their hands and Sr. A.B. asked if her aprents enjoyed the paper. Jesse replied, “I don’t really know. My mother lines the birdcage with it.”
    Sr. Ann Bernadette looked at Jessie and told her to “get out!” She never came back to school.
    Thing have really changed since 1964.

    1. Yes, things certainly have changed since then, Donna! It's quite a coincidence that Jesse left on that day, though it's unlikely that her comment resulted in her departure. And for all Sister knew, her parents could have read The Monitor cover-to-cover before using it in the bird cage 🙂

      (for the Sisters)

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