From the Desk of Sister Louise Bernier

From the desk of louise bernier desk graphic

Never Going to be Done and Dusted

Sister Ilia Delio’s book, The Not-Yet God, begins with a reference to Thomas Kuhn’s book, The Structure of the Scientific Revolution. Kuhn’s book was required reading during my master’s program at Illinois Institute of Technology. It was a difficult read: a tremendous idea, paradigm shift, buried within lots of references to ideas that I wasn’t able to connect with. I was young and inexperienced then! 

A paradigm shift is the slow emergence of a new and fundamentally different world view. It is usually signaled by new understandings of the world that people live in. Consider how earthshaking it must have been when the world view shifted away from the earth being the center of our universe toward the sun being the center. In that noisy, chaotic world, institutions and people who are creatures of habit resisted change. Their world of rules, roles, shared beliefs, assumptions about reality, and relationships were turned inside out. The old world view no longer contained explanations that fit, and not everyone realized that at the same time!

paper airplanes graphicSister Ilia briefly describes another paradigm shift that has been staring us in the face for the better part of 300 years. She focuses on the sense of connection and relationship and process that have been evolving into being: Absolutely everything is connected in an emergent way, and not in a “fix-it-or-replace-it” mechanical way.

This is a process: Change happens interactively within our universe, among ourselves and in our connection to the cosmos. There is a sense of the whole, that our universe is a whole, and cannot be understood in dualistic categories like matter/spirit, male/female, in/out, black/white, us/them, sacred/secular. The world of dualistic thinking is ending.

At some future time, factions that divide can be painted out of the picture. Familiar ideas like personal salvation, a God “out there up above,” and stewardship of the earth are moving to the background. New possibilities – like oneness with the Universe and the idea that everyone has something to bring to the table – are coming forward. This occurs in fits and starts. Much of I thought was “done and dusted” is not how things are now.

I see good value in the paradigm, and ask myself, “How can I make the paradigm shift work for me?” For me, Sister Ilia’s use of the idea of paradigm shift is a call to use it as a tool, a measuring stick that can help me to identify evidence of its existence. It also can enable me to evaluate my choices and move the paradigm forward in the world of my life. Her description of it is something I want to buy into and base decisions on.

There is plenty of evidence for changes in the infrastructure of relationality. Laudato Si’ calls for changes in our relationship to the universe from one of stewardship to one of union. Since Vatican Two, the ritual language has changed from Latin to the vernacular, and the Church is understood to be the people of God. Can we get more relational? Yes, the whole idea of synodality is relational.

Extremes of individualism are being questioned in other areas. The business model of YouTube enables persons and groups to offer much to the TV viewing community with minimal or self-sustaining infrastructure. YouTube is challenging the corporate influence of major TV networks.

For example, I’m following Professor Shawn Willsey’s videos on the volcanic action in Iceland, in which he sets an example of carefully basing interpretation on fact and describing how natural events impact people at all levels. Since last November, he has used social media to provide YouTube videos in which 70,000 to 100,000 viewers from all over the world have come together in community to share information, learn geology together (teacher included]) raise questions, respond to concerns, and support one another. He teaches viewers how to get information, think about it, and look for gaps in information.

For years, Diarmuid O’Murchu has described and bemoaned the consequences of dualism, and that has been bearing fruit! Just the fact that people, including the media, are noticing and bringing up the topics that show division begins to put an end to dualism by calling, sometimes stridently, for political change. For many people, his writings have put into words how dualism creates victims and causes us to be unable to see differently.

Responding to what we notice also helps us to relate differently. By sharing horrific lived experiences in discussions of racism, civil rights, sexual orientation, and social roles, writers, Church-based discussion groups, and even the news media have activated paradigm changes.  For example, not so long ago, there were not many people of color in TV commercials or serving as TV news anchors.

How can I apply this understanding of paradigm shift? Does the paradigm shift enhance my reading of the New Testament? The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are nice terms that fit the relationality and non-dualism of the paradigm shift, but does the way these values are implemented in a workplace really work toward community?

Other questions: How does my local county budget move relationality, unity, and process forward? How can artificial intelligence (AI) function so that it unites rather than polarizes?  Can social peace, First Amendment rights, and censorship co-exist?

I find that this shift in the world view affects the choice of news articles that I read, and how I respond to them, e.g., submitting comments to articles I read in the New York Times. Another example: In the recent primary election for state’s attorney in Cook County, Illinois, Clayton Harris trailed by just 1,600 votes. That was close enough for him to demand a recount, which would inflame existing divisions. I admire his decision not contest the election, and I will continue to keep track of news about him.


One of the most powerful articles I have read this month described “adversarial collaboration.” The columnist, Daniel Kahneman, described a process that enabled scientists who disagreed to work together to test a hypothesis. The results were efficiently accomplished, and surpassed the work that would have been possible if any one of the scientists had acted alone. What a relational concept.

All that we do affects the “wholes” of which we are a part. These, in turn, affect the universe. What is moving to the background? What is moving to the foreground? “Done and dusted” is gone forever, and I hope to see the development of relationality, process, and the end of dualism before the next paradigm shift…which is already coming into existence.


Paradigm Shift: Haiku Response


Paradigm shift is

The elephant in the room.

Find it in your heart!


Attachment to process

By myself and all of us

Achievement can sleep.


Want speed? Go alone.

Want distance, go together.

Process can converge.


Where are You? Outside?

I looked. You are within me.

Let US entangle!




Lateral Thinking

February 9, 2024

I do so love puzzles, puns, and the short Judge Dee detective stories! They call forth the ability to see things differently, and also the necessity of thinking differently about facts.

Sometimes, logical linear thinking will not lead to a solution. Let’s try a few brain-teasers:

  1. A boat has a ladder that’s ten feet long, and hangs off the side of the boat, with its last three feet submerged in water. If the ocean tide rises five feet, how much of the ladder will be underwater?
  2. You are driving a bus. The bus is empty when you begin your route. At the first stop, three people get on. At the second stop, nine people get on and two get off. At the third stop, four people get off and two get on. What color are the bus driver’s eyes?
  3. Which of the following countries have the fourth of July: United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, Canada?
  4. I have cities, but no houses. I have mountains but no trees. I have water, but no fish. What am I?
  5. What disappears as soon as you say its name?
  6. What is it that belongs to you, but everyone else uses it?   Thinking outside the box graphic

Did you give them a try? Here are the answers:

  1. It is still three feet because as the tide rises, the boat rises, so there is no change. The context of an issue may change, but that does not necessarily mean that the analysis of the facts changes.
  2. The color of the viewer’s eyes. Did you forget who was driving the bus? As one focuses on the facts seemingly at issue, it is possible to lose sight of the essence of the question.
  3. Every country has a fourth of July. Sometimes we have a “mote” in our eye. As soon as an American hears “fourth of July,” we think of Independence Day, which is not the same day as the other countries named.
  4. A map. Sometimes when we concentrate on what is missing, we make an assumption – in this case, that the answer is animate, and not inanimate, as in a paper or digital map.
  5. Silence disappears. Often the “taken-for-granted” gets lost in the exploration.
  6. What did you come up with for this puzzler?

Is lateral thinking a gift, something that we either have or do not have? Or is it an ability, a style of thinking that we can develop? From my experience, I’m positive that it is an ability we can nurture.

Lateral thinking can help us get through closed doors and past apparent dead ends. I Googled “lateral thinking” and found the following insights helpful:

  • Focus on overlooked aspects of an issue or challenge and reframe the question or issue. Am I working with a challenge or an opportunity?
  • Challenge assumptions. What are we taking for granted? Lateral thinking encourages us to explore new ideas, and to look at old ideas and situations from multiple perspectives. Identify and understand perceived limits, and why we see them as limits. Take out the “thought-garbage” by identifying and getting rid of unquestioned preconceptions.
  • Look for alternatives. Is there more than one way of attending to an issue? Are there any ideas that are out of bounds? Make unexpected connections. Discard the obvious. Ask why something is done, and why a proposed action is to be taken. Drop the subject when saturation occurs so that things can fall into place over time.
  • Explore the wrong answer. Knowing what we don’t want to see in a solution or process can direct our attention to notions to discard, as well as new solutions.

Is this too much work? In the abstract, it is work to think laterally, especially if we focus on the thinking about it without applying it to an issue. However, it can be loads of fun to develop lateral thinking. In fact, we do it every day.

Do you play crossword puzzles? Often we cannot find an answer because we have not realized that the word clue can be understood in several ways. The Wordle puzzle game requires phonics and lateral thinking.

The New York Times also publishes a puzzle called Connections. Players are given 16 words and challenged to group those words into four groups of four based on what they have in common. Can you complete the puzzle below?

Create 4 groups of 4 challenge Create 4 groups of 4


If you enjoy this kind of puzzle, Google “lateral thinking” yourself and look for puzzles and tests.

Physician and author Edward de Bono popularized lateral thinking, and he has many followers. You can listen to him discuss lateral thinking in this YouTube video. YouTube also has awesome demonstrations of lateral thinking.

In the context of lateral thinking, I wonder: What would our conversations about new membership, the living out of community, and nominating delegates be like if we approached them through lateral thinking?  Out of the Box + Action = Transformation!

Mattering Matters

December 8, 2023

When I was growing up, Maryknoll Seminary was built just down the highway. No one locked their doors. Several of the teachers would walk down the road, throw their clothes in the washing machine, correct papers on the front lawn, and sometimes even stay for dinner. 

Dinner conversation was special, even avant garde: new ideas, seeing differently. One of these men, Father John Sullivan from Massachusetts, stayed on in our family’s life. He came to my Reception. For years in the 1960s, I remember him talking about his search for community.

Fast forward to my preparation to become a Covenant Member of the Wheaton Franciscans. Jeanne Connolly was talking about early religious life as simply being “a common life.” What fell into place for me in that moment was the question, “How has the lived ‘common life’ been enhanced by observable experiences of ‘community life’?”

And then I read an article in the New York Times about “mattering.” Mattering has a pattern: There is a call and an intentional response. The connection is not necessarily immediate; sometimes it happens when we remember some event.

We have plenty of calls to which we can respond: the prayer list, ordinary conversation, reflecting on the movements of individuals – retirement, birthdays, new homes. We can respond to what we read, either directly or by sharing it with others. For example, my recent online response to an article about Pope Francis and Cardinal Burke was “recommended” by 16 people, and these recommendations matter:

'Eviction from Vatican home', 'de facto anti pope', 'stripped', 'throw the Cardinal out', 'atrocity': inflammatory words stifle meaning, and create polarity based on emotion. Careerism is not the mission for anyone in the Catholic institutional church--or any religious institution for that matter.

With more reflection on mattering, we would notice how it comes about and experience more of it!

For years, the notion of “hand holding” has had negative connotations: enabling infantile behaviors, blunting the challenge that persons experience in becoming authentic human social beings. But in my imagination, I have an image of former President Jimmy Carter holding hands with his wife Rosalynn. I heard about him wanting his bed turned so that he could see her, even as she died. These are touching, sacred, and “mattering” actions! 

Holding hands is an awesome meme for “mattering.” So I looked up “hand holding”: “The provision of careful support or guidance to someone during a learning process or a period of change.” Aren’t we all in a learning process and period of change?  As Sister Jane Marie Bradish suggested in her Global Sisters Report column in the week of November 27, it may be time to see differently.

Mattering matters because it is an experiential shift in a person, an institution, or a country away from an over-emphasis on the individual and toward an emphasis on community. Our School Sisters of St. Francis religious community, as we model community coming into being, has much to offer the world.

Exploring Artificial Intelligence

November 9, 2023

Information about artificial intelligence – AI for short – has been very evident in national and local media. The media bAI graphicrings AI to our attention every day. iPhones use our past texts to develop predictive messages when we text later on. Learning a language with apps like DuoLingo and Babbel feeds information into generative language bots. DULY medical systems use ChatGPT to provide answers to patients’ medical questions. Yes, AI is already with us.

Depending upon the company creating it, generative AI has various names. Google describes its Bard tool as “a conversational generative artificial intelligence chatbot developed by Google.” Microsoft’s Sydney described itself, when prompted, as “the codename for the generative AI chatbot that powers Bing chat.” And ChatGPT –which stands for Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer – is described as “an AI-powered language model developed by OpenAI, capable of generating human-like text based on context and past conversations.”

Essentially, each of these programs has a bot, which is a powerful computer program that searches the internet and gathers information based on a question or direction that a user submits to it. The bot searches related databases, such as that of the New York Times, Wikipedia, digital books, Facebook. According to the rules programed into it, it returns information to the user in less time than it takes to clear one’s throat.

The truthfulness and completeness of the information returned is reliant upon the databases that the bot uses or does not use, as well as the rules in the algorithm directing it as to what information should be returned (or not returned) to the user. Both of these aspects are controlled by the programmer.

We need to understand this technology because it can be easily used to create “fake news,” which looks real and can manipulate us. For example, this technology could be used to create realistic looking news broadcasts in which people are speaking ideas that they do not advocate.

AI can also gather valid and useful data for making decisions and drawing conclusions. As new information is accessible in databases, and as the rules for selecting it change, the information returned changes when a question or direction is re-submitted.

As a community, we are in an important discussion about racism, so I was curious about the information I would receive if I asked an AI chatbot submitted the questions in the Justice & Peace Committee letter of March 6, 2023. I created an OpenAI account and submitted each question. Here’s the answer I received in response to the question, “When you find that you have been racist, what do or can you do to change your attitude or behavior?”

As an artificial intelligence language model, I do not have attitudes or behaviors, nor do I possess the capacity for prejudice or discrimination based on race or any other characteristic. However, for humans who recognize that they have exhibited racist attitudes or behaviors, there are several steps that can be taken to address and change those attitudes:

1. Acknowledge the problem: Recognize and admit that you have exhibited racist attitudes or behaviors.

2. Educate yourself: Learn about the experiences and perspectives of people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, and seek out information on the history and impact of racism.

3. Listen to others: Listen to and engage with people from different racial or ethnic backgrounds, and be open to hearing their perspectives and experiences.

4. Reflect on your own biases: Examine your own beliefs and attitudes about race, and challenge any assumptions or stereotypes you may hold.

5. Take action: Take concrete steps to combat racism in your personal and professional life, such as advocating for diversity and inclusion, supporting anti-racist policies and initiatives, and speaking out against racism when you encounter it.

6. Hold yourself accountable: Monitor your own behavior and attitudes, and be willing to admit when you make mistakes or fall short in your efforts to combat racism.

It is important to remember that changing deeply ingrained attitudes and behaviors is a process that requires ongoing effort and commitment. By taking these steps, individuals can begin to address and overcome their own racist attitudes and behaviors, and contribute to a more just and equitable society for all.


How can we work with this AI response? It is repetitive and offers no thought, creation, or metaphors to serve as a comparison to our own experience. The feedback is not personalized, but we can compare it to our own personal response. Does it add new thoughts to our ideas?

With AI, there is no possibility for personal experience, and there is no way to engage in two-way dialogue with the text, since the bot can answer but cannot ask questions! But can we use AI data as a jumping off point?

The information that AI provided does not include references that can be checked out for more information. Currently, we have created our own dataset on racism when we returned our responses to each of the questions to the Justice & Peace Committee. Our database will be as good as our contributions to it are.

The committee members will collate our responses and present them to us. Like the bot, they will search our responses – grouping like ideas together, relating them to our values, and holding them up to us in much the way we hold a mirror to our face. We will have a starting point for our discussion.

What might be a connection we could make between racism and artificial intelligence?  Racism preceded us; we were born into it. It is part and parcel of our language and customs: habit. We need to intentionally mind and mend our ways.

We were not “born into” artificial intelligence; we preceded it. In fact. In the 1960s, Sister Diane Drufenbrock (Madeline Sophie) studied and worked in the area of artificial intelligence in federal grant programs!

We need to recognize the fruits of AI when we see them and monitor the control of its development. AI will not go away; it is already a powerful tool in the hands of people using it. We have at least three options regarding AI:

  • We can bury our head in the sand because it’s too overwhelming or say, “I’m not interested in computer stuff.”
  • We can believe everything that the media tells us about AI and do nothing more.
  • We can engage with it. Interestingly enough, these are the same choices we have with regard to racism!

How can we engage with AI?  I am a voracious reader, so I’ve been reading anything I could, whether or not I understood it completely. I began putting concepts and issues together. The New York Times has had a wonderful series of articles on AI. Geoffrey Hinton worked with AI at Google before quitting and becoming an independent observer—you can follow his writing.  A.I. Timnit Gegru, an Eritrean computer scientist and activist, also writes well on the ethics of AI.

Finally, try it out for yourself! You can use your internet-connected computer to easily set up an OpenAI account. Complete the form and write down your password. Follow the directions to submit your first question. I suggest making it about something you are familiar with so that you can evaluate the response you receive.

After you’ve received a response to your question, you can use a button to ‘regenerate’ or submit your question again. Sometimes you will receive new information in a different format; sometimes it will be the same information in a different format.

AI will continue to evolve, and like any new technology, it could have terrible unforeseen or unintended consequences. Experts and government agencies are now considering what kind of regulations and ethics – national and international – we need to put in place to manage the development of AI so that it does not become a tool to further undermine truth and trust in our society. We need to be vigilant so social and communal interests take precedence over financial gain and manipulative uses of AI.  Our reflections on racism, for example, reveal aspects of lived experience that we want to make sure are not repeated within the infrastructure of AI.

If you are interested in exploring this topic with me, please contact me by email at:

This blog is a forum for Sister Louise to share her personal insights and reflections. The perspectives and opinions shared are her own and are not meant to represent the public statements or direction of the School Sisters of St. Francis congregation.