Sister Bernice Kita
Current Ministry Location: Guatemala
Sister Bernice was born on March 28th, 1940 in Philadelphia, PA to Helen Skitek and John Kita; she has three sisters. In 1958, she graduated from St. Hubert’s High School in Philadelphia.
Sister Bernice entered the Congregation from Assumption parish in Philadelphia on September 2nd, 1959. While in the novitiate she earned an Associate of Arts Degree from Mary Rogers College in 1963. She pronounced First Vows June 24th, 1962 at the novitiate in Topsfield, MA and Final Vows at the Maryknoll Sisters Center, Maryknoll, NY on June 24th, 1968.
She then gave Congregational Service from 1963-1964, doing vocational promotion.
Sister Bernice responded to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s call to religious and clergy to go to Selma, Alabama in 1965. She spent five days standing with hundreds of others in front of Brown’s Chapel facing police barriers awaiting permission to march to the county courthouse. In December, 1980 she attended the funeral of two Maryknoll Sisters and two other U.S. churchwomen who were martyred in El Salvador on December 2nd. In 1984, she was one of two Maryknoll Sisters who represented the Maryknoll Sisters at the trial of the Salvadoran national guardsmen who were convicted of the murders of the American churchwomen.
At the Second General Conference of the History of the Church in Latin America and the Caribbean in Sao Paulo, Brazil, in 1995, Sister Bernice delivered a paper, Maryknoll Sisters in Latin America, 1943-1993, Fifty Years of Commitment to the Marginated. In 1998, it was published in Missiology: An International Review.
In 1970, Sister Bernice was assigned to Guatemala. There, she studied Spanish before beginning her mission work in the Villa de Guadalupe Parish in Guatemala City. She served as Director of the Parish Social Service Center and joined the parish Priests and Sisters in evening classes called The Family of God in the poor sectors of the parish.
In 1977, the bishop of Sololá gave Sister Bernice and Sister Lorraine Beinkafner responsibility for the pastoral care of indigenous Kakchikel people in the towns of San Antonio Palopó and Santa Catarina Palopó on the shores of beautiful Lake Atitlán. The Sisters responded to the requests of the parishioners in the towns and outlying villages. They helped form a weaving cooperative; gave bible study and leadership formation to catechists and community leaders; and taught courses in nutrition, child care and family relations to many groups of women in both towns and many outlying communities. She was eager to share life and faith with this community, a people who seemed strikingly similar to the rural folk whom Jesus himself pastored. She wrote about the town, its happenings and her neighbors to her family and friends. Her mother and a friend saved her letters which became the basis of the book, What Prize Awaits Us: Letters from Guatemala. She said it was the story of a people in a time of persecution. “And because I shared with them for many years their food, their homes, their joys and sorrows, their hopes and fears and pain, it is also my story.” The Catholic Press Association awarded the book Third Place in the “Best Book in 1988” spirituality category.
In addition, she served for eight years as Maryknoll Sisters Liaison to the Maryknoll Magazine while writing many articles in both English and Spanish. During this time, she won three Catholic Press Association awards: two for articles and one for a photo story.
In 2006, she joined three other Maryknoll Sisters on Guatemala’s southern coast who worked in the San Marcos Diocesan Women’s Pastoral Ministry. That year the Sisters in Guatemala accepeted an invitation to work in the parish of San Gaspar, Chajul in Quiché diocese. Chajul is at the end of the road in a mountainous area that received the brunt of the army’s military campaign against the guerrillas and the Mayan Indian population in the 1980’s.
Sister Bernice returned to the Sisters Center in 1998 to join the Maryknoll Magazine staff again until 2005.
In early 2008 Father Santos Perez, the pastor, began renovating the convent which had been abandoned for many years. In January of that year, Sister Bernice moved north to be closer to Chajul. She lived for a year with the Maryknoll Sisters Contemplative Community in Lemoa, Quiché. From there she spent a few days a week in Chajul, a three-hour drive from Lemoa, supervising the renovation and getting to know the people. In December she moved into the parish convent and began this new pastoral ministry, joining Father Santos, her former pastor ten years earlier in San Andrés Sajcabajá, Quiché.
In 2015, Sister Bernice left her mission in Chajul to join Sister Barbara Noland in San Andres Sajcabajá, the parish she had left in 1998 to join the staff of Maryknoll Magazine. She was delighted to find many people recognized her and welcomed her back.
For over 30 years she has lived among and served Mayan people and refugees of Guatemala in various regions of the country!
In her hometown of Philadelphia, on the 60th anniversary of her alma mater, St. Hubert Catholic High School for Girls, she was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame, “reflecting 60 years of excellence as exhibited by outstanding alumnae like Sister Bernice.”