By Sister Bernadette McNamara, S.H.Sp.
I’m a Sister of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate. Our Motherhouse is located in San Antonio, Texas, the cradle of our foundation.
I grew up in a loving and faith filled family on Achill Island, County Mayo, Ireland. I was the third oldest of 12 children. I had a wonderful childhood though because of health issues, aggravated by the dampness on the island, my father had to work in England and we only got to see him, for a week, every few months.
As a young girl, Missionary Sisters often visited our elementary school, many of whom worked in Africa – they told us stories and showed us pictures of their missionary work among African children who were very poor. They asked us to sell tickets and fill “mite boxes” with our pennies to support their work. I began to dream of one day working with those children – my vocation was born.
I didn’t know how my dream would become a reality, but the Holy Spirit has a way of guiding each one of us exactly where God wants us to be. I went to live with my aunt, in County Galway; she lived close to the convent and high school where the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate lived and taught. I was 12 years old at that time.
When I was 15, I told my parents that I had decided to join the sisters. On January 6, 1950, I bid farewell to my beloved family and with two others, I entered the Congregation of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit and Mary Immaculate. A few months later, on July 4, we left on the Mauretania – a passenger ship bound for New York. We made the trip to San Antonio by train. There I received my formation as a Sister of the Holy Spirit, and continued my education, first at St. Mary’s University and later at the University of Incarnate Word.
I pronounced my first vows as a religious sister in 1952. During the next 64 years I lived a full and rich life, which had its challenges but also an abundance of joys and blessings. In the earlier years I taught in schools in Texas, and in New Orleans, Louisiana, where I taught for a year and then became the school principal.
I had the privilege of ministering with and for the people of Mississippi for 21 great years – 12 as principal of St. Peter the Apostle Elementary School in Pascagoula and nine at Holy Family in Natchez. St. Peter the Apostle School in Pascagoula was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina and the pastor decided it was not feasible to rebuild. And so ended my ministry there.
I volunteered to go to Natchez to teach. Two years after I arrived, the elementary school closed because of financial challenges. In the fall of 2007 an Early Childhood Learning Center opened at Holy Family and I was asked to serve as the Catholic identity and financial director of the Program. Talk about life after death. The following eight years were a mixture of so many joys and blessings, but also some serious challenges.
In March 2015 I had a serious fall. I broke my second cervical vertebra. After time in the hospital and physical therapy I was able to travel. I moved to our Motherhouse in San Antonio where I now reside. Although I had to leave Natchez, I left my heart there with the beautiful people who were such a blessing in my life. I continue to support the program from a distance, through my daily prayers and in any other way I can offer my support.
(Sister McNamara lives in retirement in San Antonio. See the ad on this page for an address.)