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From a Loving Home…to Prison?

How Did Springfield Dominican Sister Regina Marie Bernet go from being a sheltered child growing up in a loving home on Springfield’s North End to a sign of Living Hope for hundreds of students and families—then wind up in prison?

That’s what we’ll explore as we unfold young Marilyn Bernet’s story, from her baptism at St. Joseph Parish to her courageous prison ministry in central Illinois.

Once, while reflecting on her response to God’s call, Sister Regina Marie wrote a series of refrains, each addressed to God with the opening words: “You called.” We use her words here to frame the remarkable story of her gift of living hope over decades of faithful ministry.

Come along for the journey as we fill out the refrain of her life.

“You called. My father and mother answered and embraced the gift you sent.”

“My childhood was very normal,” Sister Regina Marie claims. She was the second of four children born to Albert and Jennie Bernet, her dad from Chicago, her mother from Springfield. She was the Bernet’s only girl, though she had a doting older brother and two younger ones.

st joseph's interiorThe Bernets were active parishioners at St. Joseph Church on Springfield’s North End. That’s where baby Marilyn was baptized and later attended school. Her formative high school years were spent at Ursuline Academy, just up the block from the parish—so, one might wonder, why did she not become an Ursuline Sister? Stay tuned!

Image Courtesy of Wright Photographs

“My parents built and owned the house in which we lived,” she says with a bit of pride. In those days, it was possible for a man with an 8th grade education, like her father, to find meaningful work and provide for a family. He was an accountant for the Federal Government. Before they married her mom worked, too, as a secretary in one of the state offices.

You called. With reluctance and having seen the emptiness of all the unexciting things around me, I finally said yes.

Sister Regina Marie sensed early in life God’s call to religious life, but she resisted a bit. Instead of entering the novitiate right out of high school as many would have done, she worked for a couple of years. Gradually she sought her place among the Dominicans on the west end of Springfield, rather than with the Ursulines she had so loved growing up.

“I had admired the Dominicans at a distance for many years,” she said, attributing that to her mother’s love for the community that taught her at Sacred Heart Academy. Marilyn was witness to the “Dominican Spirit” even as a child.

She also said she was attracted by a vocation booklet the Bernets “just happened to have” that visualized the phases of a Dominican sister’s life and the many places the Dominicans served throughout the U.S. That seemed to cinch the deal. She joined the Dominicans in 1954 at the age of twenty.

Click on the photos below to see exactly what enticed young Marilyn to become Sister Regina Marie.

Every Catholic Sister will tell you, faithful service to God and God’s people requires the encouragement of others along the way. To share your gift of encouragement with Sister Regina Marie and all the Dominicans, click here.

Your gift of any amount is a source of hope and encouragement for our senior sisters, protection during this pandemic, and God’s love and acceptance for those we serve. Thank you for your generosity!

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