Eleanor Bernstein, CSJ
1939 - 2012
Sister Eleanor Bernstein, the former director of the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy (now called the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy), died on Monday, March 12, 2012, in Cleveland, OH, after a two-year illness. She was born in New Orleans in 1939 and baptized Eleanor Marie Bernstein, the older of two daughters of Philip Simon and Theresa Monjure Bernstein.
Eleanor entered the Sisters of St. Joseph in New Orleans in 1957, professing final vows in 1965. She held a B.A. in English from Saint Mary's Dominican College in New Orleans; a M.A. in English from Louisiana State University; a M.A. in Theology and a M.A. in Liturgical Studies from the University of Notre Dame.
Friends and former colleagues of Eleanor remember her as a gracious leader who emanated Southern hospitality and loved liturgy, the Scriptures, and the Church.
“She was passionate about the liturgical life of the Church, believing that the liturgy provides a clear image of life in accord with the reign of God,” said Father Tim Fitzgerald, who worked as her associate for six of the 17 years that she was the director of the Notre Dame Center for Pastoral Liturgy (NDPCL).
As the director, Bernstein planned workshops and the annual liturgy conference and banquet at Notre Dame, as well as liturgical workshops around the United States, in Dublin, Ireland, and Sydney and Melbourne, Australia, and edited articles and books produced through the Center.
“She was a great mystagogue and wanted people to think deliberately and deeply about their liturgical experience,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s why she was so keen about the liturgy being done well, so that people would have something rich upon which to reflect.”
Bernstein also wanted to be sure that all were made comfortable. “She had such a good sense of hospitality, a very welcoming spirit,” Fitzgerald said. “She was very clear that guest speakers and presenters, registrants for the annual liturgy conferences, and visitors at the Center, all were to be made welcome and their needs attended to. But more than that, she was legendary for gathering people for dinners that she would prepare, drawing together diverse people for wonderful conversations. She was a gracious host and gentle spirit, loyal to her friends, faithful about sending thank-you notes.”
Fitzgerald recalled Bernstein’s careful attention to detail, no matter the number of participants at a liturgy. “Eleanor insisted that prayer services and liturgies, whether with groups large or small, be carefully prepared, so that people could leave a conference, workshop, or gathering at Notre Dame with a suitable and rich liturgical experience upon which to reflect.”
Associate professor of liturgical and sacramental theology at Notre Dame and former NDPCL board member Rev. Michael S. Driscoll described Bernstein as “the quintessence of graciousness.” He noted that her attention to detail and Southern hospitality were rooted in a desire “to make people feel at home.”
Driscoll said Bernstein was a “quiet but sure force.” He noted, she was “always shepherding people to come to consensus.” Such a manner was welcomed. “The liturgical field was very much male-dominated, so to have a conciliatory presence like Eleanor was helpful.”
Vicky Tufano, a pastoral associate at Ascension Church, Oak Park, Illinois, and former NDPCL board member, recalled Bernstein as “a Southern lady with a spine of steel. Eleanor was always gracious, polite, and soft-spoken, and you never had any doubt about where she stood.”
Tufano noted that Bernstein was a “warm presence” who worked to forward the conversation of liturgy and catechesis and an awareness of the role of children in the work of the Church.
Within her order, Bernstein showed her leadership skills early, and at age 28, was elected the delegate from the New Orleans Province for the general meeting in Bourg, France, though Canon Law required that delegates be 30 years old. “Even then the Sisters recognized her leadership qualities, her intelligence, and the depth of her spirituality,” Kathleen Babin, CSJ, said during the funeral eulogy March 20 at St. Aloysius Church, Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Decades after that election as delegate, Bernstein served the order as its vice president during the process of reconfiguration when the sisters joined six other Sisters of Saint Joseph throughout the Midwest to form one Congregation of Saint Joseph.
Perhaps, many of the sisters will remember her best for influencing their prayer life. She edited Daily Prayer, Daily Bread, the office that many of the sisters use, supervised the plans for the order’s chapel, and prepared the liturgies for jubilee celebrations, funerals, and other group prayer.
“Her greatest leadership was in calling us to the prayer of the Church, prayer in general, and rituals that were meaningful in our lives,” said her friend of 67 years Anne Meridier, CSJ.
“She really loved prayer and wanted it to have real quality to it. The Scriptures were very, very important in her life, and that’s where her prayer began,” Meridier noted.
Bernstein’s book Praying Our Lives: A Woman’s Treasury of Catholic Prayer was published in January 2012 by Ave Maria Press.
“The book title Praying Our Lives would be descriptive of what she was about,” Merdier said.
She added, “Her life and her conversations touched me in a way that also called me to prayer.”
It was Praying Our Lives that Helen Prejean, CSJ, Bernstein’s friend since the two entered the convent, read shortly after Bernstein’s death. “It’s a great loss not to have her,” Prejean said, adding that she would remember her “as steeped in tradition and a lover of words and good liturgy.”
A memorial service for Bernstein will be held at 6 p.m. March 27 at Malloy Hall Chapel at the University of Notre Dame.
Tribute prepared by Mary G. Fox, Coordinating Editor of Pastoral Liturgy published by Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago IL.