Sister Bernadette Engelhaupt

Sister Bernadette EngelhauptSister Bernadette Engelhaupt began her ministry as a teacher and soon found herself drawn to pastoral ministry. Through all of her life, she has felt a strong sense of belonging to the School Sisters of St. Francis community wherever ministry took her: from elementary school, high school, or pastoral ministry at the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in Montana; the Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota; a bedroom community in Des Moines, Iowa; a small college town in Iowa; in Mississippi at the only Catholic Church in the county; or in Nebraska. Each place has had a culture of its own.

Sister Bernadette has found all of these settings life-giving for two reasons. “First is the spirituality –being united in a very solid way with all the sisters, living and deceased, in prayer and praise of God and God’s works. Second is the community itself: the sisters, especially the ones I have known and have met, from our country as well as from Central and South America, India, and Europe.  Again, there is a sense of belonging, of community, of support and friendship and of something bigger than each of us individually or simply as a collective of persons.”

This sense of belonging was, and is, fostered through relationships and friendships. Throughout all her ministry, wherever she was, she made the effort to connect with community members and especially when she lived alone.

“I always made time to spend at least an overnight a month with other sisters, to be refreshed and renewed even if that meant driving over 100 miles each way,” Sister shared. The phone was always a way to keep in touch. In her younger years she was part of a larger community committee, such as the Provincial Assembly Steering Committee and the Pastoral Ministry Network. She continues to be a voting member of the Provincial Assembly “…so as to be in regular contact with the larger group of sisters.”

Relationships were and are also important to her ministry because “I believe that people learn best when they find they are valued by the person who is teaching. Most real pastoral ministry is about truly listening to the people we serve and, in the process, being an occasion for them to find God and their relationship with God and the Church in new ways.”

By truly listening to the people, Sister Bernadette believes she made a difference in people’s lives.  Those times include

  • offering a home as a “safe place for children (and sometimes mothers with children) to come when I was on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation.”
  • watching people grow in their faith through RCIA.
  • being with families as a loved one died.
  • walking with people as they prepared to die, and with families as they let go of their loved ones.
  • training others in the ministry of pastoral care as BeFriender Ministers.
  • training and handing over to parishioners the ministry leadership that was in the hands of the staff for many years.
  • preparing a very small parish to be able to continue when they no longer had a resident pastoral minister.

After Sister Bernadette left that small parish in Iuka, Mississippi, she received two compliments. A pastoral minister who joined them one day a week told her that they often talked about how she had prepared them for the day when they would not have a resident pastoral minister. When the sacramental minister was asked by the diocese’s bishop if he should close that small parish, the sacramental minister said, “No, that is the most alive of the three churches I serve.”

In regard to pastoral ministry, Sister Bernadette is most appreciative of the many experiences in the various places she served, but also the variety in personnel configurations: one priest and one parish; a priest serving as many as six parishes; working with a team of two sisters and a priest, a priest and two sisters, two priests and a sister; and a priest, a sister, and other staff members.

In all of these experiences, Sister Bernadette brought herself with her talents and gifts that were nurtured with her family in rural, agricultural Nebraska. She attended a one-room school along with her brothers and sisters.  Both at home and at school, she experienced life that depended on nature and unforeseen circumstances.  This prepared Sister Bernadette well for the variety of experiences she encountered in her School Sister of St. Francis ministry: If something does not work, try something else.

She knows that God is always alongside her, and she is never afraid to ask for help. So, she prays to God, “Get me in the right place at the right time to do what you want me to do.”  Or at another time, “God, you know that I talk too much, so let them remember only what they should have heard in the first place.”

Thank you, Sister Bernadette, for sharing your gifts among God’s people wherever you found yourself.

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