“A life in God is a life of adventure and discovery.”
Sister Bernice Wessels, 81, was born into eternal life on Wednesday, April 8, 2015, at her home, the Monastery of St. Gertrude. She leaves an inspiring, spiritual, and intrepid legacy as a teacher, parish administrator, missionary, canon lawyer and community member.
She was born in Greencreek, Idaho, on April 14, 1933, and knew by the time she was in first grade that she wanted to be a sister. She made her First Profession at the age of 18 on Aug. 20, 1951. “This seemed to be the place God wanted me to be and I’ve been very happy,” she said.
She graduated from St. Martin’s in Lacey, Wash., in 1965 with a B.A. in education and a minor in Spanish. She spent two decades teaching elementary school and then was sent to Cali, Colombia, to work in a parish founded by the Diocese of Boise. She spent three years as head of the religion program, conducting her ministry in Spanish.
She returned to Idaho and was appointed by Bishop Sylvester Treinan as administrator of St. Anne’s in Arco and St. Barbara’s in Mackay. She was the first woman to serve in this capacity in the United States. She also served at St. Catherine’s in Hagerman and St. Anthony’s in Wendell as administrator. Then, at the age of 60, Sister Bernice was sent to St. Thomas Aquinas University (otherwise known as the Angelicum) in Rome to study canon law, completing her studies in Italian. Then after achieving her Licentiate in Canon Law (J.C.L.), she served in the diocesan tribunal in Boise for four years as a canon lawyer processing annulment requests. She eventually returned to pastoral work in Caldwell, her favorite, which included visiting homes, teaching children, and teaching literacy classes for Mexican women.
She left pastoral work in 1999 and after a respite, worked for 10 years at the Historical Museum of St. Gertrude as a museum technician. In 2011, she became the Monastery librarian.
Sister Bernice held that a life in God is a life of adventure and discovery, as her journey through religious life attests. She had a very strong sense of justice and passion for people being treated fairly. She was a courageous woman who ventured into new endeavors that stretched her immensely and she did so with great faith and a sense of mission.
Sister Bernice was preceded in death by her mother, Helena Toenis Wessels; her father, Albert Wessels; and stepmother, Lena; a brother, Harold; and two sisters, Marcella Wessels Uhlenkott and Sister Mary Edward (Viola) Wessels, OSB. She is survived by three brothers, John, Donald and Elmer Wessels; and two sisters, Rita Wessels Wassmuth and Dorothy Wessels Keuter. She is also survived by her sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude and many loving nieces and nephews.
The Rosary Vigil was held Monday, April 13, and the Mass of Christian Burial was on Tuesday, April 14, both in the Monastery chapel. Memorial gifts in Sister Bernice’s honor can be made to the Monastery of St. Gertrude, 465 Keuterville Road, Cottonwood, ID 83522.
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