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Sister Mary Bertilla remembered for engaging personality, love of nature

Sister Mary Bertilla remembered for engaging personality, love of nature - (04-01-2016)

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Benedictine Sister of Perpetual Adoration Mary Bertilla Seiffert passed away Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016, at Our Lady of Rickenbach healthcare facility in Clyde, Missouri.

Sister Mary Bertilla was born Irene Emma on Oct. 23, 1918, in Carlyle, Illinois, to Bernard Seiffert and Frances (Lake) Seiffert. She was the oldest girl of five and had three brothers. Another brother and sister died in infancy.  She was born on the family farm and taken by horse and buggy three days later to be baptized at her parish. Schooling was limited at their small country schoolhouse.

When she made First Communion and confirmation she attended a Catholic school, which was farther away, one day a week for instruction. The children helped on the farm, but Irene disliked some outdoor work, especially collecting eggs from the chickens. She preferred helping in the house with cooking and canning garden vegetables.  The Seiffert farm was close to that of their cousins. Irene recalls that the families shared food and fun times. The Depression was not too hard since they grew or raised most of their food.  The family did not travel far away from home.

Irene knew of the Benedictine Sisters in Clyde because two cousins, Sister Mary Anselma Meyer and Sister Elizabeth Mary Meyer, were sisters there, and she had visited Clyde with family at least twice. Although attracted to the prayer in common and to adoration, she resisted the inner call because going home to visit family was not permitted at that time. Family was very important to Irene. She began working outside the home in her late teens, working in family homes in her area and for a year at a hospital and nursing home operated by a religious community in Carlyle. A job farther away came along, but she was not able to visit family very often.

This is how God helped me to decide,” she once said. “One day I was looking into a mirror and talking to myself and to God and said, ‘If I can be here where I don't want to be, why can I not be in Clyde where I want to be?’ For me that was a grace. From then on I could begin preparing to make the break from home and family, hard as it was to think I could never come home.” 

Irene entered the Benedictine Sisters on May 30, 1941, at the age of 22. She made first vows on Feb. 10, 1943, and final vows on Feb. 10, 1948.  Her family came for her first and final professions, and she remembered how joyful those reunions were.  

During Sister Mary Bertilla’s early years in community, she was assigned a variety of works. The one she least appreciated was helping to take care of the chickens for two years. Then, after learning the difficult intricacies of laundering, refolding and ironing the white neck coif called collariums, she became an expert. When she got transferred to other houses, she often was asked to do collariums. There were, thanks be to God, no chickens in those monasteries.  

Sister Mary Bertilla was assigned to the Mundelein, Illinois, community three times and was there when it closed. She also lived at the Clyde monastery three times (sometimes preparing breakfasts, starting at 3:30 a.m. and cooking daily for 200 people), Kansas City, Missouri, twice and once each to Tucson, Arizona, San Diego and St. Louis. 

Of San Diego she once said, “One lives in sort of a dream world (there) because of the mild climate most of the year. One joy was trips to the mountains and, if time permitted, to bake an apple pie and take it along to share with the group.”  

She always had a love for the beauties of nature, which made her “think of the wonders of God.”  A favorite time was her 16 years at the Benedictine Sisters’ St. Louis monastery, partly because the Sisters were, by then, permitted to visit family. Since her brother, Albert, lived in St. Louis and often traveled to Carlyle for weddings or illnesses of family members, he would sometimes take Sister Mary Bertilla along with him. She celebrated her 50th Jubilee of monastic profession in St. Louis in 1993, a grand celebration with Sisters and family.

When the St. Louis monastery closed in 2001, Sister Mary Bertilla transferred back to Clyde. At age 83, she began working in the altar bread department where she became endeared to and loved by the lay staff. She was a steady and pleasant hard worker, calmly seeing what needed to be done and encouraging herself and others. When she turned 90 years old, the staff threw her a party; soon after that she retired.  

She was friendly, engaging, very personable and interested in others. She enjoyed games, cards, and challenges. After advanced age prevented visits among her and her remaining brother and sister, her nephew, Bob, and other relatives would visit .

She had this to say in 2009 a few months before she went to live at Our Lady of Rickenbach, “What is next? Perhaps our Health Care Center at OLR or suddenly to the cemetery? That is up to my loving God. Yes, I do count my blessings and thank my Sisters for their love and patience with me in so many ways as I age. Oh, thank you God for these many years of your goodness to me!”  

Sister Mary Bertilla’s health was very good for most of her life. In the last few years she suffered the normal decline of age, and she died peacefully at age 97 on Jan. 3 while the Clyde community was praying Lauds of the Solemnity of the Epiphany. Sisters were keeping vigil and praying with her.

She is survived by one brother, Albert, her dear nieces, nephews, cousins and her monastic family. Her funeral liturgy will be held Tuesday, Jan. 5, followed by burial at the monastery’s Mt. Calvary Cemetery.