Sister Margaret Louise Bernard
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name. His mercy is for those who fear Him from generation to generation.”
The lovely scripture story of Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan for her life is mirrored in Sister Margaret Louise’s life.
Throughout her 72 years as a Sister of Providence, Maggie was sustained by her faith in God’s providential plan for her life, said Sister Ann Paula Pohlman in her commentary for Sister Margaret Louise Bernard, who died Sunday, Aug. 2. She was 91 years old and had been a Sister of Providence for 72 years.
Maggie was born Dec. 31, 1923, in Evanston, Illinois, the youngest of three children. As a young mother, her sister, Ann Louise Schefferman, developed ALS disease and suffered an early death. Her brother, John Bernard, also preceded her in death.
Her father, Emil Bernard, was a proud Swede and a Lutheran. He loved the sisters and would come down to the Woods in the summer, staying at the Woodland Inn. Sometimes, he would just come unannounced. I guess he knew the sisters would find a place for him. Much to Maggie’s joy, he was baptized Catholic on his deathbed.
Maggie entered the Congregation in 1943. Given her easy disposition and her ability to enter any situation with grace and competency, she was changed from one mission to another every two years or so. She taught in California, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Maryland and Florida.
When Maggie was missioned at St. Anthony’s in Indianapolis, the doctor diagnosed blindness in one eye. Maggie never told anyone lest she be taken out of a classroom. When she recounted the event years later, she said with a chuckle, “I could teach just as well with one eye.” She could and she did
Following her father’s death and her mother’s frail health, Maggie asked to be missioned in Miami so that she could help with her mother’s care. She was told that she could, but could not live with her mother. She would live at the convent of the IHM Sisters. For the rest of her life, Maggie treasured the friendship of these sisters. Maggie lived with them, taught in their school and rode her bike to the grocery store and to her mother’s after school to care for her.
Following her mother’s death, she thanked her superiors and offered to go wherever she was needed despite the fact that she dearly loved the sisters with whom she lived in Miami. I became the recipient of this offer when Maggie was sent to Lafayette where she became a loving support to me during a difficult time. Two of the IHM sisters are with us today.
In the scripture story, when the angel departed, Mary went off to visit and care for Elizabeth. In Maggie’s years of retirement, she reached out to neighbors and parishioners. Nothing was too difficult, nothing was impossible; nothing was beneath her gentle elegance. She listened to the stories of the staff at the apartment complex, walked a pet while a neighbor went away, adopted the little dog when the woman in the next apartment died, cared for the upstairs cat, listened to the sad story of a woman in need, prayed for one and another, called and sent notes to those in need of God’s providential care. I don’t think she knew a stranger. Everyone in the complex knew her. They referred to her as “Our Sister Margaret.”
As you know, Maggie was severely injured four years ago in an automobile accident. The side of the car had to be cut away to release her from the wreckage. When EMT Andrew Powers arrived at the scene, he knew that Maggie was severely injured. While he was doing his initial assessment, he and Sister Margaret Louise reconnected as teacher and pupil. She had taught Andy in fourth-grade.
There are several hospital in Bradenton – one not far from the site of the accident – but Andrew had her taken to one further away that specialized in trauma. Later, as she spoke of the accident, she said “It took me a couple of weeks to realize the seriousness of my condition. As I looked around in my trauma center room, I saw Sisters of Providence at the foot of my bed. That gave me great courage to improve each day.”
All through those long months, Maggie’s head and neck were encased in a heavy metal brace. She had a broken neck, broken bones, a shattered pelvis, a stomach tube, and long months of therapy. Never once did we hear a complaint. I was told that she was the most loved patient on the floor. She was grateful for the least service rendered her. Her sense of gratitude was very moving for the people who cared for her. Even after her death, when I stopped in to see her cardiologist, the nurses wept as they told me how dear she was to them; how she remembered anything they told her about their families and would ask about them upon her return visit.
The same thing happened when I stopped into the rental office. The staff there was like dear family to her. I believe that this quality sprang from her own sense of gratitude to God. In the Magnificat, like Mary, she could proclaim, “The One who is mighty has done great things for me; holy is God’s name.”
Maggie was an optimist and a realist to the end. On the morning of her death, the doctor explained to her that with surgery, she might have a 50-50 chance of surviving. Without surgery, she would not live.
She said, “I’ll have to think about that.”
Later, a different doctor came in and Maggie said to him, “I’ll take the 50-50.”
However, within hours, it became evident that she could not survive. I assured her our love for her and told her that it was OK. She had struggled long enough. She could go home to God. And she did!
Today, we celebrate her life of simple, elegant holiness. Truly, the One who is might had done great things for her and, through her, for us.
Funeral arrangements for Sister Margaret Louise took place Friday and Saturday, Aug. 7-8, in the Church of the Immaculate Conception.
A wake took place from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m., on Friday, Aug. 7, with a Vesper Service taking place at 4:30 p.m.
Mass of Christian Burial was at 11 a.m., on Saturday, Aug. 8.
We welcome you to share your memories of Sister Margaret Louise in the comment section below.
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