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May 23, 2016 | Volume 91 Number 15


photo: Sr. Bernard Marie renews her vows.
Sr. Bernard Marie renews her vows.

Sr. Bernard Marie Magill, OSF celebrates 50 years of profession

When Sister Bernard Marie Magill, OSF, was in the first grade, she was so impressed with the School Sisters of Notre Dame who taught at her school that she told her parents she wanted to be a sister. Her parents said that was a good idea but, smiling, suggested she finish school first. Eleven years later she became a postulant in the Bernardine Franciscan Sisters just after graduating from high school in 1965 and entered the community as a novice in 1966.

In celebration of her golden jubilee this spring, she renewed her vows of poverty, obedience and chastity at a special Mass in the Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital conference center in Newport News. At the reception, she reaffirmed to those in attendance that being a sister is still her calling.

“Renewing my vows in front of all my friends is saying ‘this is what I want,’” she told the approximately 140 people at her celebration.

Sister Bernard chose the Bernardine Franciscans because she was impressed with their friendliness and compassion when they taught her in high school. The Bernardine Franciscan Sisters, who minister in the United States, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil, Liberia and Mozambique, are involved in a number of ministries including education, health care, prison ministry and spiritual direction.

Sister Bernard’s joy as a Bernardine Franciscan has been so profound that she inspired her twin sisters Maureen and Colleen to enter the same community. Maureen remained for 16 years but Sister Colleen Marie Magill, OSF, a preschool teacher in Newport News, has been a religious sister for 39 years.

Sister Bernard is the director of mission at Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital and at Bon Secours St. Francis Nursing Center, and she is director of the Bon Secours Hampton Roads Bereavement Center which she helped found in 2013.

Sister Bernard, formerly named Karen Anne Magill, is the oldest of eight children. She grew up in Maryland where she attended Catholic schools. She said her parents were “very good examples” of how to live their Catholic faith. Her parents were active in the parish, and the family prayed together, went to Sunday Masses, and had an altar for the Blessed Mary in the home each May.

In her early years as a Bernardine Franciscan, Sister Bernard alternated teaching during the school year with college classes in the summer. She majored in French and secondary education at Alvernia University in Pennsylvania and taught grade school in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Massachusetts. She earned a master’s degree in French Literature from Millersville University in Pennsylvania in 1984 and was chairperson of the foreign language department at La Reine High School in Suitland, Md., from 1976 to 1988.

Because of an injured back that made it difficult to stand long hours to teach, she decided to change careers. Bringing Communion to the sick in hospitals during nine summers had shown her that she enjoyed working with patients and with the medical staff serving them, so she decided to study pastoral counseling at Loyola University in Maryland, Columbia campus. She completed a pastoral counseling internship at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., from Aug. to Dec. 1988 and at Prince Georges House Shelter, which is associated with Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., January to June 1989. She received her master’s in pastoral counselling in 1989 from Loyola University and moved to Newport News to work as a chaplain at Mary Immaculate Hospital.

Sister Bernard was the director of the Spiritual Care Department at Mary Immaculate Hospital and at St. Francis Nursing Center from 1991 to 2011. She was administrative director of Bon Secours Hampton Roads Spiritual Care Services from 2011 to 2013.

During her 27 years at Mary Immaculate Hospital she has comforted patients and their families in all phases of their lives: she has helped parents deal with perinatal death, worked with Rachel’s Vineyard Retreats, participated in palliative care for people with chronic illness and been part of the hospice process.

“What is most important is that we show compassionate care from the beginning of life to the end of life,” Sister Bernard said. “It doesn’t matter if you are a tiny baby dying in a mom’s arms or a 90-year-old dying in the arms of your adult children. At Bon Secours Mary Immaculate we show respect for the person who is ill as well as for the family that is grieving.”

Some of the ways she has ministered to individuals over the years are through facilitating the Peninsula Cancer Support Group at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, the Mary Immaculate Hospital perinatal loss support group and the Bon Secours Caregiver Support Group in Newport News.

She has held the hands of the dying hundreds of times and has comforted their family members. She said she has felt privileged to touch lives in this way.

“I am able to listen to people’s stories and enter into that sacred time when they are transitioning from life to death,” she said.

Darlene Stephenson, chief executive officer of Bon Secours Mary Immaculate Hospital, praised Sister Bernard as being compassionate to everyone she meets.

“She is probably the kindest and most genuine person that I have ever met,” Ms. Stephenson said. “She’s someone who touches you. Even at your saddest and most vulnerable times, she gives you comfort.”

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