Born to Life
August 12, 1931
June 13, 1948
Born to Eternal Life
April 26, 2020
Our Lady of the Angels
Mt. Olivet Cemetery
Bernadette Clara was born on August 12, 1931, in Middleton, Wisconsin, and baptized there at the parish church of St. Bernard. Her parents were Michael Kelter and Gertrude Esser Kelter. She was the oldest of five children.
The family moved to Waunakee, Wisconsin, shortly after her birth and after that to Pine Bluff, Wisconsin. She had two sisters, Catherine and Mary, and two brothers, Bernard and Robert. She told the story that when she was an aspirant, Mother Corona called her to her office. Her first thought was “What did I do wrong!?” But Mother had good news: She told her that she had a new baby sister! The family had called the convent and wanted Mother Corona to personally tell Bernadette that there was one more girl in the family.
In grade school the Agnesian sisters were Bernadette’s first teachers in Waunakee. She completed grade school with the School Sisters of St. Francis in Pine Bluff. After eighth grade she chose to follow her aunt, Sister Desponsata, into religious life and entered St. Joseph Convent in 1945. Her sister Catherine also entered later. The family had a history of religious vocations — seven more distantly related.
Bernadette attended high school at St. Joseph Convent and some college semesters at Alverno before being sent out to teach at her first mission in Fort Atkinson, Iowa. Very soon she returned to Alverno to complete her education. After that, she taught in Highland, Wisconsin, and Wheaton, Illinois. In Wheaton she earned her master’s degree in education from the National College of Education. In 1960, she returned to Fort Atkinson, Iowa, and later taught primary grades in Nenno, Hartford, and Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. Her teaching ministry spanned the years 1951 through 1980.
Sister Bernadette had many stories about her teaching career. At her last school, St. James in Menomonee Falls, she had a second grader who was hard to manage and did things for attention. One day he was sitting at his desk breaking all his crayons and then throwing them around the room. Sister Bernadette called the principal. When she came, the boy sat at his desk looking innocent, but that did not stop the principal from taking the boy to her office for a talk. He was then put in another classroom. Years later, he came to visit Sister Bernadette in her retirement at St. Joseph Convent in Campbellsport. They reminisced about this event. Sister Bernadette became aware that we have more impact on our students than we think!
In 1980, Sister Bernadette decided to change her ministry. It was when the Tau Home Health Care Agency started collaborating with the Wheaton Franciscans. Sister Bernadette inquired about this type of work since she had experience taking care of her sick mother for two summers and felt that this type of ministry was something she would like to do. She took the Nurse's Aide course and began work as a Certified Nurse’s Aide (CNA), commuting from her apartment in Milwaukee. She made four to five trips daily visiting patients in their homes. She worked for Tau Home Health Care, Seton Health Center, Franciscan Home Health Care, and Covenant Home Health Care.
Her own health problems ended this phase of her life. She contacted a staph infection on her hands and was sent to Campbellsport to recuperate. She decided to retire there and loved it.
Sister Bernadette felt she would live a long time. One aunt lived to be 102 and another was in her high 90s. Sister Bernadette often wondered where she would be at that age. Well, she found out: at Our Lady of the Angels, where she continued her love of puzzles, art, and music, and proudly led the daily rosary until early March of this year. May you rest now, Bernadette, and enjoy your heavenly reward for all eternity.