Sister Bernadette Leahy died at Saint Joseph Villa on July 1, 2020 and will be remembered at a Memorial Mass at the proper time. Bernadette was born to John and Josephine Leahy in 1937. She attended St. Hugh’s Elementary School and Little Flower High School. Entering the Congregation in 1954, S. Francis Bernard tells of her enjoyable and eventful Novitiate days when Mother Marie Estelle threatened to send her home for being “too social.” Only her fear of facing her Mother caused Bernadette to change her ways.
St. Francis in Germantown was her first mission, and the challenge of instructing long division to fourth graders proved to Bernadette that teaching was her first love. Since her mother was a bookkeeper and her father a store manager, math became one of Bernadette’s talents. Likewise, living with S. St. Ignatius assisted this young teacher with her mathematical acumen. In addition to her classroom duties, Bernadette assisted with the music program at St. Francis. When S. Marie Olwell’s father had a heart attack on May Procession Sunday, Bernadette was thrust into position of the choir boys’ leader. “I waved my arms and they sang, and we got through it together,” summed up her memory of this experience. Mother Rita Josephine’s kindness as both a superior and principal sustained this novice during her first year on the mission.
Moving from Germantown to Malvern and eventually to Bridgeton, New Jersey, Bernadette continued her classroom and music commitments. Following S. Miriam Cecilia in Immaculate Conception, Bridgeton proved a challenge for Bernadette but, as before, she met and mastered the task.
Back to Pennsylvania, Bernadette arrived at St. Michael’s Parish in Chester. Her honest assessment of the children was “they did not have much of this world’s gifts, but they certainly loved school and especially our three shows a year.” Her memories of Chester include a young man’s thank you that she received just this past Christmas and another of an altar boy who walked ten blocks in the rain for his half-hour of adoration. These recollections prove the authenticity of her assessment of the Chester children.
Remaining in Pennsylvania but moving on to suburbia, Bernadette arrived at Epiphany, Plymouth Meeting, again balancing the classroom with the music room. From one Epiphany to another, this busy teacher was transferred to South Philadelphia. In this new assignment, Bernadette added line dancing to her list of talents. After five years, Bernadette returned to New Jersey, Sacred Heart in Vineland, where she spent 22 years, 17 as a teacher and 5 as a principal. S. Trudy Helder, Bernadette’s cousin, aided this new administrator in assuming and executing her responsibilities.
When Bernadette asked to return to the classroom, she was “downsized,” and found this a difficult experience. However, as she puts it, “the good Lord provides.” With the use of a parish car, Bernadette became a Bayada Nun and visited the sick and house bound in St. Stephen’s, Pennsauken. This experience led Bernadette to her first and most memorable trip to France and Italy. From Lourdes and Mass at the Grotto to the Vatican Museum, this odyssey remained in Bernadette’s deepest and dearest recollections.
Clearly, Sister Bernadette Leahy will join the heavenly choir and continue to rejoice in her SSJ experiences.