It might be hard to believe but I knew God called me to Religious Life when I was in the first grade. We had Dominican Sisters teaching at our school and I used to carry a book bag home for them after school was over. One of the Sisters, Sister Lillian, in a special way impressed me and I wanted to be like her. I liked the Dominicans because their apostolate was teaching. I loved to teach catechism and was dreaming of one day being a Dominican Sister. Years went by, I was very much involved in sports, especially baseball, but the feeling that God was calling me was still there.
When I was sixteen I decided that it was time and I went to the Dominican Sisters and asked to be admitted. To my disappointment and surprise, they told me that they could not admit me because I was too young. I could not believe it! I tried to persuade them but they said it was the Church's law. I didn't think it was right because I believed that if you feel you have a vocation, you should be able to enter the convent even at sixteen. And so I decided to picket and I was serious about it. Some of my friends joined me; there were about 20 of us. We made signs and picketed around the convent and the Church. The response was great. People kept calling me and encouraging me. We even made the local newspaper and news (that's how my parents found out and they were very upset). But it still did not change the Sisters' mind. When I look back at this episode, I think this was one of its kind in the history of Religious Life.
I had no choice so I continued my high school and then found a job. In the meantime I started dating a wonderful young man. We were serious about getting married and we got engaged. My family was very impressed with my fiancé and it seemed that it would be a perfect match. Although I loved him, there was still a doubt in my heart and I felt that this is not where God wanted me. I wasn't sure what to do and so I went to talk to the priest who knew me since I was born. I told him about my uncertainties and he said that he was convinced I had a vocation to Religious Life. I trusted his opinion and decided to tell my family, friends and fiancé that I was going to enter the convent.
Believe me, it was not easy. My fiancé was crushed and he kept asking endlessly why I would do this to him. My family did not think I was serious because I was never overly pious. If they thought that one of the fourteen children in our family would become a Sister, it would have to be my older sister who prayed the rosary every day. And my friends did not believe me. I was a tomboy; involved in baseball, even coached younger children for a while. After the last game of the season, I told my teammates that I was going to be a Sister. They laughed at me, but only until I took off my baseball cap and showed them my short hair. I used to have long black hair that was my pride. When I seriously decided to enter the convent I cut it short as a proof to everyone that I really meant it.
After this I decided to look for a community. In our church there were cards with information about different religious communities. I took home a few of them, filled them out and sent them to those communities requesting to get in touch with me. I told myself that the first community that would respond would be the one I will enter. A few days later a Sister from the Daughters of St. Francis of Assisi in Lacon, IL called me and I felt that the will of God was very clear to me.
Let me tell you, it was not easy for a tomboy to get used to Religious Life. But when God calls you, He gives you all the graces you need.
(Sr. Bernadette passed away on July 11, 2014)