Bernice was born in Danville, Illinois, on May 26, 1937, to Steve and Genevieve Chantos. Due to her mother’s early death, Bernice is part of a beautiful, blended family. She was always proud of her Slovak heritage.
Bernice attended grade school at St. Mary’s in Westville, Illinois, taught by the School Sisters of St. Francis. After eighth grade, she entered St. Joseph Convent as an aspirant and attended St. Joseph High School. After graduation, she was received into the School Sisters of St. Francis on June 13, 1954, receiving the name Sister Elian.
Early in her religious life, one of the pictures in the Motherhouse corridor was very meaningful to her. It was of St. Peter in the stormy sea as the Lord appeared walking on the water. The Gospel tells us Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you walking on the water.” Jesus said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and the wind took over. Sinking, Peter cried: “Lord, save me.” Jesus stretched out his hand and caught Peter.
Bernice often reflected on this scene and saw in it a foreshadowing of her spiritual life and ministry and that has stayed with her for 66 years.
Desiring to be a teacher, she began her studies in education at Alverno College. Soon her teaching days began in Wisconsin, Illinois, and New York, serving as teacher or principal. During these years, she furthered her education with a degree in school administration and later a degree in social change in education.
After 30 years of teaching and administration, she had a sabbatical, taking the International Mission Program to prepare for ministry in Guatemala. Sister Bernice spent the next seven years as coordinator of programs and administrator of Guadalupe Homes in Santa Apolonia, Guatemala. These years were rich and rewarding ministry for Sister Bernice. Later, she ministered in the diocesan office in San Jose, Costa Rica.
In 1998, returning to the Chicago area, Sister Bernice did a variety of ministries including substitute teaching and working in the English as a Second Language program.
In 2014, Sister Bernice’s health began to decline and in 2016 she retired and moved to St. Joseph Convent, Milwaukee. After hospitalization in 2018, she moved to Sacred Heart. During this time Sister Bernice discovered a new talent when she took art therapy from Sister Maria Vinton. She was very happy with her success, especially her sketches. Her physical condition deteriorated quickly in August 2019. After weeks in the hospital, Sister Bernice was faced with kidney failure and the decision of undergoing dialysis.
Sister Bernice, you have responded to Christ’s many and varied calls, whether to ministry or to personal and health challenges, always trusting that Jesus would stretch out his hand and help you. Now on July 1, 2020, Jesus whispered his final call to you, “Come.” He stretched out his hand, bringing you to safety and joy forever in heaven.
You said your final “fiat.” Your classmates pray that Mary, Queen of the Seraphic Order, welcomed you. Remember all of us, for “we are always one in spirit.”