By Evelyn Fugazzi SCN
It was February 8, 1923, Loretto, Tennessee; Frank and Elizabeth Bernauer Henkel were excited because they were expecting their seventh child. Baby Frieda Marie arrived right on time! Wilhemena (Little Sister of the Poor for 20 years), Sophie, Louis, Isabel, Little Brother (infant death), and Elise (Madeleine Sophie SCN) were her older siblings; Francis, Paul Vincent, Bernarda, (Sister Mary Zita SCN), and Joseph Justin were to come in later years. Theirs was a happy home. The parents were dedicated to Catholic Education. Fond memories include decorating the Christmas tree, singing hymns, going to midnight Mass and Holy Communion and receiving their simple gifts such as coloring books, crayons, and sparklers. The home was permeated with the aroma of her mother’s good cooking including home-made fruit cake; they would pray for cold weather so they could kill the hog and have fresh meat.
Frieda was a gifted child with varied talents and interests. Some of these included all kinds of art work, water color painting (including a beautiful rendition of Our Blessed Mother), and other craft-oriented projects. She was an ardent crocheter and embroidered scarves edged with crochet work. She made door hangings and other items for craft shows. She loved cooking and baking after observing her mother and older sisters. She taught herself to sew by following the directions on the pattern package. She well remembers the first apron she made on her first mission and then went on to make her own clothing.
From the time of her First Communion, Frieda had the desire to become a religious. She was taught by Mercy Sisters in first and second grades and then had lay teachers the rest of her grade school years. She was greatly edified by Sister Rose Mariam who arrived with two other SCNs four years later and it wasn’t long after their arrival that Frieda knew that their order would be hers. When the convent chapel was dedicated, several Mercy Sisters attended and Sister Rose Mariam introduced Frieda as a future SCN Postulant. The sisters were generous with their time and greeted them warmly when her Mother and Frieda visited them on a weekly basis. They called them “their Sunday visitors”. Bernadette stayed home an extra year to let her brother, Francis, go to the seminary and then, at age 20, she set out on September 24, 1943, to join her sister, Madeline Sophie, already an SCN at Nazareth. Frieda received the name, Sister Bernadette Maria; she made her profession on March 25, 1945. Thus her missionary life began.
Sister taught primary grades in Kentucky and Ohio for 41 years after which she ministered to the sick and elderly at St. Lawrence Parish in Louisville. Then she volunteered at Nazareth Home and St. Mary & Elizabeth Hospital until 2006, when she moved to Carrico Hall because of poor vision. But neither poor vision nor other infirmities have held her back. Although she can no longer do her reading, art work, and sewing, she has a green thumb and her plants thrive because of her excellent care.
For Sister Bernadette Maria being a professed Sister of Charity all these years has fulfilled her yearning ever since the first grade to dwell in a setting where she could attend daily Mass and receive Holy Communion and provide dedicated ministry.