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New Every Morning Sister Mary Bertha Berling

"God's love and compassion are new every morning!" (Lamentations 3:22, 23).

When Sister Mary Bertha Berling reflected on her life in community for her 50th Jubilee (25 years ago), she invoked the image of a sunflower. "It became our family symbol," she said. "This tradition began when my Mother used a 6'6" sunflower growing in the yard to describe to all my family how she felt when she attended our Cathedral Liturgy for our Province's 75th Jubilee Celebration. The large, rich, centered seed area accented for her the faith that carried parents, five girls, and four boys (in that order) through our growing up years."

On July 7, 1940, Sister Bertha left that warm, nurturing home to begin her new life.

She completed high school in three years, followed by a year of canonical novitiate. Taking vows in 1944 sparked an even bigger change. "That "yes" drew me into a larger CDP community, through one year of college and a whole vista of ministry experiences. Early mission life meant teaching, adjusting to prayer styles, community size and giftedness, and completing college and university study on Tuesdays, Friday nights, Saturdays, and the summertimes."

Like many of the Sisters, she began with teaching. "During that time I taught all grades," she recalls, "sometimes four at once!" She served in large, small, urban, rural and mountain areas. But "That era ended when I was called to serve as consultant in the Diocese of Covington. Then with three Sisters from other congregations we visited all the schools and traveled from coast to coast seeking better teaching/learning methods and educational resources."

The only thing that didn't change over her years of service was change itself, and a big one was coming.

She remembers, "1968 was a "banner" year for the Church and for the Congregation. Vatican II called forth renewal, so we CDP's formed new structures of provinces and regions in which we elected our first Provincial Superior and delegates for our General and Provincial Chapters. In this "newness" I served as novice directress, vocation coordinator, corporate reflection team member, pastoral staff at a nearby hospital, administrator of our Holy Family Nursing Home and Residence for our retired sisters, and coordinator of Moye Spiritual Life Center."

"Something I will never forget was the privilege to live in community with three of our Sisters and care for my mother during her six-month terminal illness. My family supported me financially so as not to burden the congregation and our Sisters in turn helped my mother to feel welcome, so much so that mother told everyone that her life at House of Providence was like a little bit of heaven. The climax was reached when my whole family came "home" as my mother's condition worsened. We prayed together our long prayer poems and sang the songs we often sang together while my mother played the piano."

Of course, a life of service also has its obstacles. Sister Bertha was later to serve as provincial vicar and that role, along with her work as a diocesan consultant were her "most challenging positions, the most unexpected, and the most unpredictable. They entered a more corporate realm and carried an awesome responsibility. They literally forced me to depend on Providence and keep my petaled sunflower open to God's love and compassion each day."

Sister Bertha also worked part-time as pastoral associate in two rural parishes in eastern Ohio. She says, "Providence has shaped me into a multivaried, somewhat blemished sunflower! Like so many of our Sisters I have lived through many major changes in church and society.

In a later role as administrator of Holy Family, Sister Bertha hit her stride, despite the many and varied responsibilities of that role. "The building of the nursing home was in progress at the same time the retirement home was renovated. We were trying to do everything according to Kentucky State Code so we could be licensed. Needless to say our staff ran from morning to night keeping everyone informed, helping the sisters switch rooms in order to keep pace with the workmen and doing whatever would create a positive happy atmosphere. They were stress-filled days but we were happy; we respected and loved one another. Even today we have fun relaying stories about that hectic time."

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, "The Holy Spirit hovers over the world with ah, bright wings!" Believing in this Presence and reinforced with our dynamic charism and rich tradition, I continue to stretch toward the Sun allowing the Spirit's stirring to inspire, challenge and support me. The happier and more difficult times in my life were many. I loved teaching and had many experiences where Providence called me to depend on grace and to believe that there were always two other "footprints" along the path of life.

Sister Bertha wouldn't change a thing, though. She shares, "Providence has blessed me many times over! I love community living and praying. I'm willing to take the time to stay with personal prayer. Daily Eucharist is great gift and special liturgies are often like a foretaste of heaven. CDP and family sickness and deaths touch me deeply and force me to face eternal truths. Three brain injuries in my immediate and extended family made me question life's priorities and lean more on Providence."

Reflecting on her 75 years of religious life, Sister Bertha reflects, "This sunflower is growing older now and is beginning to experience the changes that go with the aging process. The stalk is becoming a little rigid, the leaves hang a little limp! Truly I know nothing of tomorrow but rooted in Providence, I believe "the love of God will rise before the sun!"

Credits:

Created with images by Domenico Gentile - "untitled image" • Matthias Oberholzer - "untitled image" • Behzad Ghaffarian - "untitled image" • Autumn Mott Rodeheaver - "untitled image"