Sister Bernadette Stang
Discerning life’s call might feel difficult, and the process of discernment may require the support of a spiritual director. This happens to be where Sister Bernadette is fulfilling her call: helping others discern how God is leading them forward. Answering God’s call is something in which Sister Bernadette has experience.
“Back in the days of the Latin Mass I had a little black prayerbook, and, not understanding the Latin in the Mass, I would pray through that little prayerbook four times during Mass, excluding the examination of conscience for Confession and the prayers before and after Communion. One section of the prayerbook consisted of scripture quotes, and the one that caused the most reflection was that of Matthew 16:26, ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul? Or what exchange will he make for his soul?’ Of course now I prefer today’s translation. It uses nonsexist language and changed ‘soul’ to ‘life.’ Regardless of the translation, it was the beginning of God’s call. What am I to do with my life?”
The response to that question happened when the 21 year-old Bernadette came to visit her aunts at the Monastery. “I could tell right away that the whole focus here was on prayer. I was really touched by that.” A few days after returning home to Minnesota, she knew she had to go back to St. Gertrude’s. After saying goodbye to family and friends, Sister Bernadette returned to the Monastery. She entered the novitiate with Sister Ida Mae and Sister Clarissa and the three made First Profession in 1958.
Her first ministry was teaching at Sacred Heart in Boise, concurrently completing her bachelor’s degree over six summers’ study at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, WI. After ten years of teaching, she was called to be part of a team directing the training of catechists throughout the state of Idaho, literally building the foundations of the very first programs in the state. It was right after the second Vatican council and she, along with Sister Corinne Forsman, traveled the state helping to implement the Church’s new vision. She describes a great joy in being “the recipients of Vatican II and being an integral part in the rebirthing of that new church in Idaho.”
Another great change occurred while she was studying in Louisiana. One day with a local priest friend, their car was hit by an 18-wheeler. Her friend was killed, and Sister Bernadette lay in the hospital bed reflecting on what having life meant. She knew “I didn’t die because there was some work that God wanted me to do.” Soon thereafter she had a dream “that I had to work with the oppressed,” and found fulfillment of that calling in establishing an afterschool outreach program for children and women at a migrant workers’ camp in Caldwell. Sister Bernadette was called home in 2006 to work with the Monastery’s growing retreat ministry.
Now she divides her time between her role as assistant prioress in the Monastery and as a team member at the Spirit Center. Both roles call for journeying with people in their quest for a more profound relationship with God. “Community is about accepting both the strengths and the weaknesses of each other,” she says. “We give to God both our wholeness and our brokenness. It’s our responsibility to welcome others this way: whether you are strong or broken, doesn’t matter. You are a part of us.”
“The biggest spiritual hunger today is a relationship with God,” she says. “People come to the Monastery and to Spirit Center to be enriched spiritually and to be in the presence of the sacred. The importance of who we are as a community is to share ‘this sacred space’ with the world. The best moments are when people are touched by God’s grace.”
She feels joy is a gift from God; she knows the gift is the response of a grateful heart. “If I can be in the stance of gratitude for all of life, the good and the bad, and for life itself, then I can’t help but be filled with joy.” She also takes the Monastery’s mission very seriously. “We have a powerful responsibility to the world,” she says. “And that responsibility is prayer both with and for others. Prayer drew me here in the first place.”
Then what is the call for the future? What is her hope for herself and for the community? Her deepest hope for herself is that she live each day fully and joyfully and that she shares with others, especially those in the margins of society. Her hope for the community is that its legacy of prayer and struggle for justice and peace will deeply affect and change society for the better.