“For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” Matthew 25:35
Sister Bernadine (Bernie) Ternes was born into eternal life on Friday, October 3 at 12:02 p.m. She was surrounded by many Benedictine sisters, including Sister 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 six Angela visited her older sister, Sister Agnes, at an Ursuline Convent. Right then Angela “knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a sister.” Another sister, Carm, had entered St. Gertrude’s and after visiting, Angela decided she would also begin her religious life there. She made her First Profession on August 4, 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, Washington. After seeing firsthand the suffering of people on “Skid Row”, Sister 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,” said Sister Bernie. 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 calls “the ministry of presence,” Sister Bernie felt that “just being there for them,” helped these men and women recall the depths of God’s love.
Sister Bernie 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.
Sister 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 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.”
Sister 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, October 16 at 7:00 p.m. and the Mass of the Resurrection will be held on Friday, October 17 at 1:30 p.m in the Monastery chapel. Memorial gifts in Sister Bernie’s honor can be made to the Monastery or to Our Place Ministries in Spokane at 1509 W. College Ave, Spokane, WA 99201.