Bernice Rigney was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After high school graduation she worked for a year as an IBM operator before entering the Maryknoll Sisters Congregation in 1959. Sister Bernice received a B.A. in Community Service from Rogers College and was assigned to Tanzania, Africa in 1969. For 14 years in Tanzania her ministries were in rural community development; women’s groups; youth work; Basic Christian Communities, including participation in life and work in an Ujamaa (“familyhood”) Village.
In 1983, Sister Bernice enjoyed working in vocation ministry back at Maryknoll, accompanying young women interested in a mission vocation. Then she studied for her M.A. in Pastoral Ministry at Creighton University, completing her degree in 1988 when she was assigned to Kenya.
In Kenya, Sister Bernice worked in a Women’s Resource Center and for 15 years she worked for the Amani Center in Nairobi. Amani is a non-governmental organization that provides individual and group counseling, crisis intervention and debriefing with victims of violence, including Kenyan and U.S. survivors of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombing in Nairobi. She has also worked in parish-directed retreats.
The Ujamaa Village where Sister Bernice worked in a corner of Tanzania looked right into neighboring Rwanda. Twenty years later she was in Nairobi when the Rwandan refugees of the massacres poured in. She was still dealing with the neighbors whose land she could see from the Ujamaa Village. By 1996, more than 10,000 Rwandan refugees were in Nairobi. Sister Bernice designed a course for 30 Kenyans in basic counseling and dealing with trauma for the Rwandis. She also worked with individual Rwandans as well as groups.
Sister Bernice went to Rwanda after the genocide to do trauma healing with Irish missioners who were there and she debriefed and counseled Peace Corps and Catholic Relief Services personnel as they left Rwanda. Sister Bernice witnessed a group of widows, survivors of the genocide in Rwanda, come together with their memories of terror and loss to support and assist other widows like themselves regardless of ethnic identity. She commented: “These women seek to build on their similarities, their common loss and shared concern for their children.”
In recent years, she has been working “at large,” which adds to her ministry outreach both in Kenya and internationally. In 2000, Sister Bernice did specialized study in the United States on conflict management and reconciliation and offered the fruits of her study to the Maryknoll Sisters in Guatemala, East Timor as well as several countries on the continent of Africa.
In 2005, Sister Bernice facilitated the General Chapter of the Mill Hill Missionaries in Nairobi. In 2006, she co-facilitated the Congregational Chapter of the Sisters of Mercy in Ireland, and in 2007, she co-facilitated the provincial chapters of their four Irish provinces. Her ministry includes individual and group counseling sessions, facilitation for religious and other groups and availability for crisis intervention and response.
Of her decades of experience in Africa, Sister Bernice says, “A special gift the African people offer to the rest of our world is their ability to value relationships.”
Currently, Sister Bernice serves as Co-Director of the Congregational Personnel Office at Maryknoll, NY.