Meet Sister Bernadette McGowen

Meet Sister Bernadette McGowen. When asked if she knew if Sacred Heart Monastery was the right choice, S. Bernadette McGowen replied, “I never thought about it really, I just knew I should go, so I did. Now, I know firmly that this is where God wants me.”

Originally from Hartington, NE, the Yankton Benedictines taught at S. Bernadette’s high school and was influenced by their life and mission. “I was interested in teaching,” shared Sister Bernadette McGowen.

“In high school we could take a course and we student taught in the country schools; I taught one year at Bunker Hill, NE, before attending Mount Marty College, in order to have enough savings.” An interesting fact is that during that time Sister Bernadette lived with S. Marielle Frigge’s family about a mile and half from the school.

“My sister Jane McGowen entered before I did; however I did get to visit on occasion while taking classes at Mount Marty. I believe though that once one leaves the family to pursue an identity as a religious sister, one leaves one’s family. It was easier for me as I am very independent.

During my college years I remember well a walk with a close girlfriend, and I said ‘well you know Jennifer, I’m going to join the convent next year’ and she was overwhelmed and surprised. She hadn’t thought of religious life yet at that time and went on to say, ‘I never knew a Sister before they became a Sister as a lay person.’ To my surprise that summer she wrote and told me she had made a decision to join a convent also, and we joined at the same time.”

Reflecting on one of the blessings of living a Benedictine life, sister shares, “The older I get, I know good and well that my health is going to be taken care of; I know that others are not as fortunate.”

“I think obedience is a tough one, I don’t always agree, but if you say that you are going to do something, a promise is a promise. Luckily I can do most anything if I put my mind to it, so I haven’t been asked to do something I can’t do. Therefore I think there is something to be said about fortitude and doing something regardless of wanting to do it, then the task doesn’t become such a hardships,” shares S. Bernadette about the challenge of living out the Rule of Benedict.

Reflecting upon the question, how does living in community enrich your life? Sister voices, “It has given me a lot more patience than I would have had otherwise. I have had lots of opportunities; I haven’t traveled much but I’ve had all kinds of jobs in parish ministry. Luckily I’ve taught many different places. I’ve taught in the big prison out in Florence, CO. It has certainly broadened my horizons. Being in community has helped empower me to achieve various goals and skills.”

In stating where she is at in her religious vocation, sister contributes, “I think more and more I realize God has wanted me here. The same thing was true as I look back on the 1970’s when people were leaving right and left. I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know about this “leaving,” ‘I am grateful there was nothing that was drawing me away.”

“There are workshops and talks available that share research and data about the future and it makes me hopeful. The thing that excites me is the way religious have the capability of fighting the good fight for the poor. I think we have to go out there and do it, and that is exciting and tough. They can be associated with works of mercy, the 24–7 work.”

“My advice for any women looking at religious life, is one should have a thought in one’s head about what one really wants in life. If I had married, I would have had to step back a lot, things are as they should be.”



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