Sister Bernadette (Bernie) Higa was born in Maui, Hawaii, of Okinawan Buddhist parents and grew up in a family of ten children. When she was in eighth grade, a priest came to the school once a week to teach the Catholic students. The rest of the students were sent out to do yardwork during that hour. “A group of us decided that we would rather be in that class than do yardwork, and the principal allowed us to join the Catholic children,” Sister Bernie said.
“Three years later, while I was a junior in high school, I decided to become a Catholic and went to see the priest and showed him the Baltimore Catechism to make sure it was the same Church.” After Baptism, she transferred from public school to Maryknoll High School. “My parents were very disturbed about my conversion to Catholicism but since I lived on another island, working my way through high school, I was able to do it.”
After graduation from St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing and working for a year, she joined Maryknoll in 1951. Sister Bernie worked five years in Queen of the World Hospital, Kansas City to operate an integrated hospital where African American doctors and white doctors could work together. She met her first African Americans and many met “nuns” for the first time. Together they integrated the hospital.
In 1959 she was assigned to Taiwan, studied Taiwanese and worked with aboriginal people, using her Japanese with the older folks who spoke Japanese. She worked in a pre-natal and post natal clinic,well baby clinic and had nutrition classes.
In the Muslim country of Bangladesh, she studied Bengali and worked in a natural family planning program. She was impressed with the call to prayer five times a day.
Thirty-three years after leaving home, Sister Bernie was assigned to her native Hawaii in 1984; counseled patients in a mental hospital, provided religious services and did parish ministry on two islands. She currently resides at the Maryknoll Sisters Center where she is a member of its Chi Rho Community.