Sister M. Rose Bernard, CSC
(Catharine Loretta Tarleton)
Birth: November 28, 1926
Profession: February 2, 1946
Death: July 7, 2017
I would like to begin this tribute to Sister Rose Bernard with a short poem from Rabindranath Tagore, the poet laureate of India. Rose was an avid reader and loved the works of Tagore. This poem is about love.
Let your love play upon my voice,
And rest on my silence.
Let it pass through my heart
Into all my movements.
Let your love, like stars
Shine in the darkness of my sleep
And dawn in my awakening.
Let it burn in the flame of my desires,
And flow in all currents of my own love.
Let me carry your love in my life,
As a harp does its music,
And give it back to you at last
With my life. (and she did!)
Rose Bernard asked Sister Margaret Ann Nowacki to write her memorial when she became ill two years ago. I would like to share some of it with you now.
“Sister Rose Bernard was brilliant and had an encyclopedic mind. She was what you might call a life-long student, always in search of more information. Studying for her Ph.D. from the Catholic University of America surely honed her already natural thirst for knowledge. She was never satisfied to have just the bare facts about anything. It was important for her to know the origin, the people involved, and any ramification that might develop — and she did research to find the answers.
“The computer was her good friend because it made many of the answers she sought available at her fingertips. It gave her great joy to follow the links that led to further investigation.
“Though she was trained as a nurse, Rose Bernard was never missioned in the field of health care. However, her knowledge came in handy in her years in Bangladesh where health care was not readily available. Sister Barbara Jean told of the time a villager rushed to ask for help when a child fell out of a tree and broke his arm. Sister Rose Bernard relied on her training and set the boy’s arm with no problem, such was her depth of applied knowledge. It was not just surface information.
“Community and community life were very important to her. She loved the opportunity to pray The Office together in local community. Rose was a very private person except when it came to community prayer where she willingly took the lead. As part of her retirement ministry, and unbeknown to most in the Congregation, each morning she went to the convent’s New Life community where she led The Office with the sisters. She also prayed the Chaplet of the Seven Dolors with the sisters each Saturday morning.
“Another favorite aspect of Rose’s retirement ministry was helping the novices in the International Novitiate improve their English comprehension and reading skills. The success of these young sisters was very important to her and she rejoiced in their efforts. Teaching them one-on-one was just right for her because she could focus on the needs of each one and set goals for their individual mastery.
“When Rose Bernard was in Bangladesh she was the social science professor at the National Major Seminary and an advisor to the Holy Cross College Alumnae Association. Her position at the seminary included giving occasional conferences and directing the monthly retreats for the seminarians. She was a valued member of the staff and worked hard to contribute in a positive way to any project given priority. She was a font of knowledge and was no procrastinator.
“All during Rose’s community life she found her strength and motivation in prayer—both community prayer and her private time before the Blessed Sacrament. It was never a surprise to find Rose sitting quietly in one of the chapels having a private conversation with her God. This conversation continues now as she enters into eternal life.”
In addition to Margaret Ann’s tribute I want to add something about Rose’s life in Bangladesh where she ministered for 40 years—13 years at the college and 27 years at the National Major Seminary.
Rose Bernard felt called to the missions where the first Sister Rose Bernard had ministered and founded the community of Bangladeshi sisters called Associates of Mary, Queen of the Apostles, in 1933. She died in 1938 in Toomiliah at the motherhouse of the sisters she had founded. They now have over 200 members.
When our Rose Bernard was called to the missions she was joined by Sisters Patricia Burke and Julia, all three of whom were nurses and midwives. Sister Augustine Marie, the superior in what was then East Pakistan, had been asked by the bishop there to begin a college for women in Dhaka.
She asked the superior general for three teachers for the college. To her surprise, three nurses arrived, a shock to her to say the least! However, since she was halfway around the world, there wasn’t much she could do, but make do! All three worked in Toomiliah village with the people. And after two years of nursing, Rose volunteered to go to Dhaka with Sister Augustine Marie to start the college for women where she spent many years.
The students were very fond of Rose Bernard and many kept in touch with her. One who heard of her death wrote the following: “Sister Rose was a dear professor who devoted her life to teaching. She was extremely good to me, especially when I was homesick since it was my first time away from home.”
There is much more that could be said about Rose Bernard, but I will close with a prayer from Tagore that I feel would be a prayer that Rose would also offer.
This is my prayer to thee, my Lord Strike,
strike at the root of penury in my heart.
Give me the strength lightly to bear my joys and sorrows.
Give me the strength to make my love fruitful in service.
Give me the strength never to disown the poor or
Bend my knees before insolent might.
Give me the strength to raise my mind high above daily trifles.
And give me the strength to surrender my strength
To thy will with love.
Rest in peace, Rose.
Written by Frances B. O’Connor, CSC