"You called. I answered a joyful yes as I moved to help transition elders to a life blossoming into eternity, and walked with those whom the world scorns, as well as others who are locked behind the bars of their own heart."
~Sister Regina Marie Bernet
What do you hope for this Christmas? What is pulling on your heart strings? Sister Regina Marie Bernet has been a sign of living hope for hundreds of people for more than 65 years. Read more here.
Sister Regina Marie took on another important task by assisting her Dominican Sisters with transition from active ministry to retirement. After she completed a degree in gerontology, she and Sister Ann Regina Baker worked to support sisters who, very much like themselves, had ministered selflessly for so many years that transitioning to retirement was a challenge.
By leading classes, recommending reading, and accompanying sisters as they moved from the life of ministry they knew so well to a different phase of life at Sacred Heart Convent, Sister Regina Marie guided many sisters on the path toward a fruitful, prayerful, and meaningful life in their senior years.
In her 70s and early 80s, she continued her work with our elder sisters, teaching weekly classes at Sacred Heart Convent to enrich the lives of the sisters and associates who participated, including Sal Figueras, whose story we share below.
“The guys loved her”
For nearly 25 years, Sister Regina Marie traveled prairie highways from one prison to the next, providing art therapy classes at the women’s prison in Lincoln and participating in much-valued retreat and spiritual companioning programs at prisons in Jacksonville and Decatur.
During those years, if you passed through the lobby at Sacred Heart Convent at the right moment, you might see Sister Regina Marie visiting with a former inmate who wanted to express his gratitude for the peace and self-worth he learned from her kindness and care.
Hours in the Lock-up
Tom and Judy Cisne, Springfield Dominican associates, shared many hours in prison with Sister Regina Marie.
“She has given her love and time to the inmates at Jacksonville Correctional Center for possibly 25 years or more,” Tom said. “We miss her.”
Another minister recalled the respect shown for Sister Regina Marie and her sister companions, Sister M. Rose and Sister Helen Wolf, both now deceased.
“The guys loved her like they loved all of the sisters,” associate Sue Brosmith recalls. “They were so impressed that the sisters would spend 3 long, full days with them” for the semiannual Residents Encounter Christ Retreats. “Each of us gave a talk and Sister Regina Marie always knocked it out of the park” Sue said.
“Would you be my grandma?”
One story Sister Regina Marie loved to tell herself involved a prisoner named Fernando, who asked for time with her one-on-one during a retreat weekend. Fernando shared many stories about the offenses he committed, many much worse than the one that sent him to prison.
“Fernando told me he didn’t have a grandmother growing up,” Sister Regina Marie said. “He asked me ‘Would you be my grandma?’ I told him I’d be happy to be his foster grandmother. I don’t see him anymore, but I remember to pray for him every day.”
A legacy of loving care.
Now, during her own senior years, Sister Regina Marie’s pace of work has changed, though the positive impact of her ministry lives on forever in the lives of hundreds of former students, families touched by her care, children healed of the wounds of grief, and prisoners assured of their value and dignity. All of that remains, blossoming into relationships of care in ways too mysterious to number.
Only recently, in her 8th decade of life, has Sister Regina Marie become one of the elder sisters like those she so tenderly cared for, leaving a life of active service to others as she now bears witness as a contemplative attuned to the presence of the God who first called her to the Order of Preachers 65 years ago.
Thank you for sharing in the unfolding story of Sister Regina Marie Bernet’s life. You can offer support and encouragement to her and to all the Dominican Sisters by making a gift of Living Hope today!
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The Dominican Sisters continue to serve people left behind and forgotten by society. From the immigrants who learn English and become citizens at our literacy centers, to the young people and families on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, our sisters continue to labor among people others ignore.