Raised in a family with five sisters, Bernice and her siblings all attended Sacred Heart School in Salinas. Her parents then enrolled her as a boarder in Moreland Notre Dame High School. 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 earlier. Sr. Bernice remembers one of her early days with a smile. Her sister, Sr. Joseph Julie, had heard her playing boogie-woogie music on the novitiate piano and told her perhaps that was not the best choice!
As Sr. Madeline Marie, she 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.
Maureen O’Hara, one of her former students at St. Philip Neri Elementary School in Alameda, said that as someone in the first graduating class from the school, Sr. Madeline Marie, her “beloved principal and eighth grade teacher . . . was really special to the entire class.” Maureen became an oncology nurse at Stanford, but stayed in touch with Sister throughout her life.
For 27 special years Sr. 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 Sr. Bernice.
Another great love for Sister was serving as a lector at Mass for 10 years. Reading and proclaiming God’s word gave her great joy.
Now living at Mercy Retirement and Care Center, Sister Bernice looks back on her early years and her life and ministries as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur, and reflects that “God has been holding my hand all my life.”
Sr. Bernice's Ministries
1948 Notre Dame Elementary, Chico, CA
1948-51 Dolores School, Santa Barbara, CA
1951-53 Notre Dame Elementary, Chico, CA
1953-55 St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, CA
1955-60 Holy Angels Elementary School, Yuba City, CA
1960-61 St. Mark Elementary School, Shoreline, WA
1961-62 Notre Dame Schools, Marysville, CA
1962-63 St. Mary Elementary School, San Jose, CA
1963-67 St. Philip Neri Elementary School, Alameda, CA
1967-74 Immaculate Heart of Mary School, Belmont, CA (Teacher, Principal, Planner)
1974 Sacred Heart School, Salinas, CA
1976-81 St. Isidore Parish, Yuba City, CA (Parish Secretary)
1981-81 Moreland Notre Dame School, Watsonville, CA
1982-84 St. Joseph Elementary School, Alameda, CA
1984-2009 Madonna del Sasso School, Salinas, CA