One nun's departure from her convent after 53 years of devotion.
By Julie Grace Immink
Sister Mary Bernard’s dedication and austerity are still discernible in her new space. No longer permitted to wear her religious habit, her attire is still modest. She is wearing a button-up blouse and a floor-length skirt when she teaches me how to pray with her rosary beads. A twin bed, dresser, and a miniature refrigerator tucked into her 7-by-10 room. Two boxes lie on the floor. One has childhood photographs and letters from her family during the fifty years she spent living in a convent. The other bin is full of lesson plans from her time teaching in a Catholic school. On top of her bureau is a homemade shrine. The altar contains a rosary, bible, holy water, and several images of Him.
Fifty-three years ago, Bernard took her first vows of commitment to the Catholic Church. Since then, she has lived with her Sisters at Sacred Heart Convent in Southern California. Until last year, her journey with faith transformed. She decided to take a leave of absence from the nunnery. Due to anxiety and other stress-related troubles, she resides in an assisted living facility in San Gabriel, CA.
“God drew me,” Bernard says. “He knew me before I was born.”
She points to a photograph on her dresser of a transfiguration of Christ that she witnessed at the San Gabriel Mission. One evening after Mass, Jesus appeared in a divine vision to her. A priest snapped a photo of this celestial manifestation and framed it for her. The dark image is blurry and shows a side of the church building and treetops. Amidst the palm leaves, He presents himself in the same form and familiarity depicted in famous paintings: crucified with long hair and wearing a loincloth. She smiles proudly at the picture as it is her most prized earthly possession.
“I treasure it,” Bernard says. “God can make miracles.”