Nevertheless her childhood was a happy one because she was surrounded by the love and care of her mother’s family with whom she lived. On leaving school Bernadette Mary worked for the State Advances Corporation and became an accomplished typist. Her skills of accuracy and speed were so well noted that when she entered the Sisters of Compassion in 1944 she was greatly missed by her employer.
After her Religious Profession, Sister Bernadette Mary commenced her Teacher’s Training and on graduating she taught and held positions of responsibility in the schools at Jerusalem and Ranana, on the Whanganui River. Sister Bernadette Mary had a great love of music and was a talented pianist. She was overly generous with this talent and was known to be readily available to play for school concerts. Sometimes it meant Bernadette Mary would ride her bike from Ranana to Jerusalem, a distance of 6 km along rough gravel road, to practise for the events, repeating the journey home the same evening. Sister Bernadette Mary had a wonderful memory; she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the people and history of the Wanganui River, and was able to recall the names and details of the many children she cared for over the years.
During the late 1950s the Sisters of Compassion were invited by Bishop Foley to administer and teach at the new St Agnes School to be opened in 1960 in Suva, Fiji. Sisters Bernadette Mary and Josephine Caulton were chosen and became the first teachers, both retaining a life-long interest in the school.
In September, 1964, Sister Bernadette Mary and Sister Therese Couderc attended Regina Mundi College in Rome where they studied Theology and Spirituality for three years. During 1970-72 Sister Bernadette Mary worked on the Wellington Maori Mission. In 1972 she accepted the position of Novice Mistress, and following the 1981 General Chapter of the Congregation she was elected Secretary General for the Sisters of Compassion. This was a dual role of Secretary and Archivist. Sister Bernadette Mary retained the position of Archivist for the Sisters of Compassion until the time of her death.
The Sisters are grateful to Sisters Bernadette Mary, Thomas, Angela, and Therese Couderc for faithfully and meticulously preserving the writings of Suzanne Aubert and the reminiscences of the pioneer Sisters. These Sisters faithfully recorded all the important events of the Congregation and ensured the histories of the Homes of Compassion in Australasia and the Pacific were kept up-to-date. The valuable writings and research work done by Bernadette Mary has been included in the Positio for the Beatification of Suzanne Aubert, and she was one of the witnesses at the Diocesan Enquiry held at Island Bay in 2004.
One of the highlights of her time in the Archives was assisting Jessie Munro in the writing of the ‘Story of Suzanne Aubert’ and the editing of ‘Letters on the Go’. A warm and loving friendship between Sister and Jessie developed from this close association. Another friendship which grew over the years was with Patricia Hutchison, the Island Bay Parish Archivist.
In her times of relaxation Sister was an avid reader of detective novels and enjoyed comedy films. Her quickness of mind could solve puzzles well before the solution was officially presented. This mental exercise, combined with her long hours of research in the Archives, no doubt kept her mind lively and fully engaged with a variety of events until her unexpected death on the evening of 30 September, 2011. Sister Bernadette Mary died peacefully in the presence of the Sisters, some of whom she had trained when she was Novice Mistress many years before. The Sole Archivist Group, of which Sister was a foundation member, was well represented at her funeral Mass held on 5 October in the Chapel at the Island Bay Home of Compassion.
Sister Bernadette was a quiet, gracious lady with a great interest in people and events, always prepared to interrupt her busy schedule to greet an unexpected visitor or share a story from the past. She was a diligent and conscientious worker who was faithful to her role as Archivist. We, the Sisters of Compassion, will be ever grateful for the years of arduous research work which Bernadette Mary has left for us to read and cherish.
Born Entered Professed Died Place of Death Place of Burial
10.12.21 17.03.1942 15.09.1944 30.09.2011 Island Bay Karori
Sister Bernadette Mary’s story on video.