Contributed article from The Monastery of St. Gertrude
COTTONWOOD, IDAHO — Sister Bernadine (Bernie) Ternes died Oct. 3 surrounded by Benedictine sisters, including Sr. Carm Ternes, her biological sister. She leaves a profound and inspiring legacy of living for justice and for serving others.
She was born Angela Ternes on April 30, 1924 in Strasburg, North Dakota. At the age of 6 she visited her older sister, Sister Agnes, at an Ursuline Convent. Right then Sr. Bernie “knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a sister.” Another sister, Carm, had entered St. Gertrude’s and after visiting, Sr. Bernie decided she would also begin her religious life there. She made her First Profession in 1943. The next three decades found her teaching in schools across Idaho — both Catholic and public. In 1976 she took a field trip to the First Avenue Service Center in Seattle. After seeing firsthand the suffering of people on “Skid Row,” Sr. Bernie signed up as a Night Crisis Team volunteer. Eventually, the streets became her ministry.
“I discovered then that the deepest yearning of my heart is to be among God’s Anawim — the lost and forgotten ones,” she said. And so, at age 52, she began walking the streets at night, checking under bridges and in alleys and sitting on bar stools with those who had no hope. She also served as a prison chaplain. Engaged in what she called “the ministry of presence,” Sr. Bernie felt that “just being there for them,” helped these men and women recall the depths of God’s love.
She lived for justice by advocating for legislation that empowered the poor and promoted peace. She gave talks to community groups and attended marches. She even traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia to protest at the School of the Americas, where some of the perpetrators of South America’s most horrific violence and human rights violations have been trained.
Sr. Bernie also served the homeless in Spokane at Our Place Ministries, House of Charity, and St. Margaret’s Shelter for women and children. She came home to the Monastery in 2011 at the age of 87 to participate in the Monastery’s hospitality ministries that included tending the Grotto Garden, re-crafting greeting cards, and welcoming guests.
“I would encourage everyone to follow their dreams,” she once said. “My years on Skid Row, in prison [as chaplain] and at various shelters have been life-giving challenges for me. I am truly grateful to my community for their support, for only if I am grounded in prayer and realize my dependence on God, can I minister to others.”
Sr. Bernie is survived by her sister, Sister Carm Ternes, the Benedictine sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, and nieces and nephews. The Rosary Vigil will be held Thursday, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. and the Mass of the Resurrection will be held on Friday, Oct. 17 at 1:30 p.m. Memorial gifts in Sister Bernie’s honor can be made to the Monastery of St. Gertrude, 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, ID 83522 or to Our Place Ministries in Spokane at 1509 W. College Ave, Spokane, WA 99201.
Tracy Simmons is an award-winning journalist specializing in religion reporting and digital entrepreneurship. In her approximate 20 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti. Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas, Connecticut and Washington. She is the executive director of SpokaneFāVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Washington. She also writes for The Spokesman-Review and national publications. She is a Scholarly Assistant Professor of Journalism at Washington State University.