Bernice Kay Smith, daughter of Leo and Helen (Nauman) Smith, was born December 31, 1949 in Saginaw, Mich. She was the fourth of six children, two boys and four girls. After graduating from high school in 1968, Bernice continued taking business related courses. She completed training for certification as a key punch operator and later, as a word processing specialist. For more than 25 years, Bernice remained in the Saginaw area, working as a keypunch operator, data input operator and office manager. She bought a home there and became active in her parish, but the thought that there was “something more” was always on her mind. Over time, many questions and prayers, she found something more.
On September 10, 1995, Bernice entered the Sisters of the Divine Savior. A year later she became a novice. Sister Bernice made first vows on August 1, 1998 in Milwaukee and perpetual vows on July 27, 2003 at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish in Elm Grove, Wis. She described her life as a Salvatorian Sister as a special gift, and the love and support of her women religious community as a special blessing.
Sister Bernice did coursework at Marquette University, and eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Cardinal Stritch University in June 2001. From 2001 to 2003 she served at St. Mary’s Visitation Parish ministering to homebound sick and elderly. She spoke of the blessings of her ministry, particularly to persons who were terminally ill, saying, “The visits are precious to me. The people I visit are my teachers. They have such wisdom.” A vital piece of her ministry was caring for the caregivers whom Sister Bernice witnessed on their own sacred journey in caring for their loved ones. During this time she was also privileged to accompany a group of St. Mary’s parishioners on a mission trip to Quito, Ecuador. She described it as a face of Christ experience.
Still at St. Mary’s Visitation from 2003 to 2007, Sister Bernice served as director of child ministry. She found her new role at the parish to be an opportunity for “encouraging and helping others see Christ within themselves, and them helping me see Christ within me.” In 2007, her direct ministry to the Sisters of the Divine Savior Province began. She served as administrative assistant at the provincial headquarters until 2012, when was elected to leadership. She served as Provincial Councilor and Provincial Secretary until 2015.
Sister Bernice was known for her ready smile, her love of laughter, her gentle presence and warm heart. She approached each new change in her life with a positive attitude with the words, “I’m still learning!”
Sister Bernice was diagnosed with renal failure in 2009 and started dialysis in 2013. After her term in leadership ended, she engaged in volunteer ministry for the province even as she struggled with health issues. For a brief time in 2017, she joined the community of Sisters living in Tucson, Ariz., where she volunteered at Southwest Medical Aid. When her health continued to decline, she returned to Milwaukee for more intensive medical care.
After a lengthy hospitalization at Columbia St. Mary’s in Milwaukee, Sister Bernice entered eternal life on Sunday, October 15, 2017. Her sister Christine and Salvatorian Sisters Jeanette Clarke, Betty Vetter and Beverly Heitke were at her side. She was 67 years old and professed for 19 years. Sister Bernice was preceded in death by her parents Leo and Helen. She is survived by her brothers Elmer (Juanita) and Leo (Kim); sisters Theresa Haefner, Rosalie (Don) Johnson and Christine (Richard) Thompson; nieces, nephews, grandnephews, a grand niece and the Salvatorian Family.