Life of Mother Bernarda Morin Rouleau

Here is a summary of Mother Bernarda’s life. For any questions or further information, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Childhood Learnings

On December 29, 1832, a girl was born in Saint-Henri-de-Lévis, Province of Quebec, Canada. The next day, she was baptized Vénérance Morin Rouleau. Born in a deeply Catholic family, she learned important lessons that would guide her life.  When writing her memoirs, she highlighted three lessons she had learned during childhood.  The first was about her being able to overcome her outbursts of pride; the second was about her overcoming her tendency to dismiss others; the final lesson she learned was that of solidarity with the poor and infinite dedication to the needy.

A Seed in Fertile Soil

She lived her youth with the usual amusements of her age.  However, at the age of fourteen, she started to feel an intense inner struggle.  Maintaining a constant dialogue with the Lord, she ended up choosing religious life. When selecting a congregation, she decided to move away from the temptations of the world; she preferred a community devoted to the poorest.  On May 11, 1850, Vénérance traveled to Montreal with her father.  She was 17 years old when she entered the Sisters of Providence.  On November 21 of the same year, she took the habit and the name of Sister Bernard.  She pronounced vows on August 22, 1852, in Saint-Pierre de Sorel church.  At the time, the young Congregation of Mother Gamelin was 9 years old and there were 60 professed religious.

A Call to Mission

In October 1852, the young sister was part of a group of missionaries leaving for the Oregon Territory.  From New York, they took the maritime route that led to San Francisco, and then to the Oregon Territory, passing through Central America. Once they reached their destination, they found that the population had left the territory because of the California gold rush and there were not enough resources on which to live.  After some time in Oregon City, the sisters considered that the conditions were not favorable for the practice of the Community works and they returned to San Francisco, California, to get tickets on any boat to begin their return to Montreal. Their situation was very precarious and on March 30, 1853, they boarded the Chilean sailing ship “Elena”, which could take them to Chile, where they were to find a boat to return to North America around Cape Horn. The difficult journey to Chile lasted 83 days, nearly three months passed among sea storms and threats from the captain.

A Providential Arrival in Chile

The “Elena” arrived in the port of Valparaíso on the morning of June 17, 1853.  The same day, the sisters were generously accommodated in the convent of the Sisters of the Sacred Hearts (French sisters).  They returned to their dear religious life.  The local bishop welcomed them with open arms. The same week of their arrival to Chile, he offered them the care of orphaned children. The sisters embraced this work in Santiago while awaiting approval from their Canadian superiors.  The Providence community grew in Chile. In 1856, they obtained permission to open a congregational novitiate and to elect a council.  Sister Bernarda was elected Treasurer and at the following chapter of elections, she was appointed Mistress of Novices.

From Disagreements was Born a Congregation

When disagreements arose such as: the Congregation General Council asked the Superior to return to Montreal, Sister Bernarda was appointed interim Superior by the Chilean Bishop, Monsignor Rafael Valentín Valdivieso. This went against the will of the majority of the sisters in Chile and accentuated tensions within the Community.  Sixteen of the religious left Chile in March 1863, leaving nine sisters to maintain the works.  On March 17, 1880, an Apostolic Decree of the Holy See erected the Sisters of Providence of Chile as a new congregation apart from the Sisters of Providence in Montreal.  On December 7, 1905, the Constitutions of the Sisters of the Providence of Chile, very similar to the original Constitutions of Montreal, were approved by Pope Pius X. This was a victory for Mother Bernarda, who had protected the charism of the Congregation, always preserving its unity and independence.

Helping the Poor

Mother Bernarda worked to offer dignity to thousands of children entrusted to the Sisters of Providence over the years.  The sisters also cared for the war wounded in hospitals, victims of typhus and other epidemics. Mother Bernarda founded nurseries for children to protect orphans across the country: from Antofagasta in the north to Temuco in the south, providing them with an education that would allow them to defend themselves in life and to integrate into Chilean society. A unanimous feeling of recognition of the Sisters of Providence was present in Chile, among both Catholics and Liberals, who were seeking the separation of Church and State. Mother Bernarda received the First Class Medal of Merit by the Government of Chile in June 1925.

She died on October 4, 1929, at 96 years of age. Her funeral was magnificent; it was celebrated by the Church, the Government and Chilean society, who all recognized in her a great Woman Religious of Providence.

She was declared Servant of God on December 7, 2012, in the first stage for her canonization.