Back in 1956, there was a book making the rounds, particularly in Catholic circles. It was called “Bernie Becomes a Nun,” and chronicled a young woman’s early days in religious life. The “Bernie” in the spotlight was Maryknoll’s own Sister Bernadette Lynch.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Sister Bernadette has come a long way since that book was written, and the adventures she has lived, and the lives she has impacted, could write a book that, perhaps, would be even more inspirational.
Born in Brooklyn, NY, Sister Bernadette entered Maryknoll Sisters on September 6, 1949, and following completion of formation, earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Mary Rogers College at Maryknoll. Soon thereafter she was on her way to Latin America.
Her first assignment, following language studies in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was to Lima, Peru, where she taught general subjects in primary school and catechetics to high school students in poor areas. She continued this type of work in various cities in Peru until 1971.
She then began ministering to the sick and prisoners in Huancana, Peru, a work that would continue through 1974. During that same time she would serve as Secretary/Treasurer of the Conference of Religious in the Puno Diocese.
Then, after completing two years as an administrative assistant to her congregation’s Secretariat Office at Maryknoll, she returned to Peru, where she served at a House of Prayer Ministry in Juli from 1977-1982, then worked with mothers clubs in Lima, and in family catechetics in Villa El Salvador, in 1983.
Sister Bernie then became involved in pastoral work in Lima, while also serving as administrator of her congregation’s regional house, also in Lima from 1983-1991.
A turn came in 1991, when she was called to El Salvador. At first, she did pastoral work, a ministry that consumed her until 1993. While doing pastoral ministry, Sister Bernadette had begun to also visit AIDS patients in Rosales, the city hospital in San Salvador. In May 1993, several Maryknoll Sisters felt called to address the problem of AIDS. Sister Mary annel, a doctor, and Sister Lorraine Beinkaffner, a pastoral work, and Sister Bernadette decided to form a team, and began looking into what they could best do to address the problem in a positive manner and in relation to the work of the church.
Sister Mary had done some research at Maryknoll into the experiences and vision of Maryknoll missioners working with AIDS patients around the world, especially that of African missioners. They chose El Salvador for AIDS prevention work because AIDS was just beginning there and effective prevention could greatly diminish the extend of any later epidemic; the prevailing “macho” culture with multiple sex partners would be fertile ground for the rapid spread of the disease; and there was very little work being done in AIDS prevention there or with people already living with HIV/AIDS and their families in El Salvador.
Sister Bernie worked with Sisters Mary and Lorraine in this ministry for the next eight years, then carried her work with AIDS patients and their family to Guatemala, where she specialized in hospice care for children, from 1998-2001.
Sister Bernie then returned to the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining, NY, where she was involved in pastoral care of elderly and infirm Sisters from 2001-2002, then promotion of the congregation and its works from 2002-2009.
Today, Sister Bernie, who continues to live at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, is content to minister in prayer for the many people she has met over the years, knowing that a ride which began in such a big public spotlight has been worth every ounce of passion and hard work she has given it.