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Sister Mary Bernardine followed God's signs all her life

Sister Mary Bernardine followed God's signs all her life - (08-10-2017)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Mary Bernardine Weis, OSB, passed away Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Clyde, Missouri.

She was born Clara Elizabeth on Oct. 26, 1919, and raised on a farm near Dresden, Kansas. She was the sixth child in a family of 10 children of seven boys and three girls. She went to a one-room country school for the first three grades, and the rest of her schooling was in nearby Leoville where she was taught by the Sisters of St. Joseph from Concordia, Kansas. She graduated from the eighth grade in 1935 and then stayed at home to help on the farm.

She loved children, family life, farm life and household duties. At an early age she thought that married life was for her because the life of nuns seemed to be dull and odd. Clara and her sister Mary (who would become Sister Laurann Weis, OSB) made an altar in their bedroom where they had statues, a vigil light, holy pictures and flowers and they would pray there.

“I felt that if only I could find a husband who would love to go to Mass every day, or at least let me go, I’d be very happy,” she once said. “Yet in the background I could hear the Lord calling me. I knew about (the monastery in) Clyde because we had the magazine ‘Tabernacle & Purgatory’ in our home as far back as I remember.”

Also, an aunt (Sister Mary Teresa Ritter, OSB) and Clara’s older sister, Gertrude (Sister Mary Vincentia Weis, OSB ) had entered the convent at Clyde.

“I finally asked God for sign,” she said. That sign came in the form of a deal she had made with the Lord. It was a well-known fact in town that their parish pastor wanted to stay there and never leave. So Clara decided if their pastor was transferred before the end of the year, it would be the sign she was looking for and that God wanted her to be a nun. She prayed daily, but to no avail. It appeared that God was not calling her to religious life. But just three days before the end of 1937, on Dec. 29, she opened the newspaper to read the news that their pastor was indeed being transferred to another parish. “My heart overflowed with thanksgiving and joy,” she said.

However, at just 18, her parents felt she was too young to enter. Then World War II erupted, and her brothers left to join the Army. In 1940, her sister, Mary/Laurann, joined their older sister and entered the Benedictine Sisters. There were fewer children to help out back home on the farm, especially when two more brothers signed up for the war effort. Over the next four years, Clara waited impatiently. Desperately wanting to join the convent, her pastor continually advised that she wait until her brothers returned home. She argued that was wasting her time and no longer wanted to wait, but her pastor wouldn’t budge. “God was testing me,” she said.

In 1944, her brother, Raymond, returned home and got married. Clara could finally answer her own calling. “At last, I was free to go,” Clara said. “When the decision to enter was reached, it was very painful to leave my family and the farm, but God’s call could not be resisted.”

She entered the Benedictine Sisters in 1944 and immediately grew homesick. “No matter what I did, nothing seemed to help,” she said.

After three months and with a check in hand from her parents for the return trip home, her postulant director challenged her about her future.

“She quoted, ‘The one who loves father and mother more than Me is not worthy of Me,’” she said. “I immediately answered that I would stay. That ended my homesickness, and I finally felt at peace with my decision.” 

Clara made her first monastic profession on Sept. 7, 1946, and became Sister Mary Bernardine. During her early years in community, she worked in the printery, canning room, laundry and sewing room. After First Profession she helped in the dairy barn milking cows at 3 a.m. In 1947, she was assigned to the kitchen full time. Even though she liked to cook and enjoyed the work, she said to the Lord, “Please don’t ever let me be in charge.” In 1950, she was put in charge of kitchen where there were 225 to cook for (Sisters plus workmen) in addition to numerous guests. She began to feel at ease with that responsibility and said to the Lord, “It’s alright, but please don’t let them assign me to work in maintenance.” Her knowledge in that area was limited to hammers, screwdrivers and a few tools. A few months after making Perpetual Vows in September of 1951, she was asked to work in maintenance and be in charge of the farm, a job she would have for 35 years. She also served as subprioress from 1983-1986. 

As her retirement from the work on the grounds and maintenance approached, her next request of the Lord was, “Don’t let them ask me to be portress.” Of course, the pattern repeated itself and she was asked to be portress at Clyde in 1988, a post she would hold for almost 20 years. It was a job well suited to her as she had the wonderful gift of making everyone who came to the door feel at home and most welcome.

Other than one month spent at the Congregation’s monastery in Tucson, Arizona, Sister Mary Bernardine spent her entire religious life in Clyde. Her hobbies over the years were gardening, making homemade wine and spending recreation time playing the card game, Pitch. 

“My life in the convent has been a challenge and a joy,” she said. “There is never a dull moment. It is a life of love, prayer, community living, work, play and much joy. I thank God for having called me and for guiding me, even testing me along the way. It has all been his gift, and I praise him for the many graces and blessings he has given me and others through my vocation to our ministry of prayer with special dedication to the Eucharist.” 

Sister Mary Bernardine died just shy of her 98th birthday and had been a religious Sister for 71 years. She is survived by her brother, Ralph, numerous nieces and nephews and her monastic family. Her funeral liturgy and burial at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Clyde, MO will take place on Oct. 9, 2017.