Sister Lawrence Bergs

January 31, 1919 – July 21, 2011

A trailblazer in the 1980s for ministering to the homeless of Phoenix, Ariz. died on July 21 at the age of 92.  Sister Lawrence Bergs, SDS, was professed as a Sister of the Divine Savior (Salvatorian) for 72 years.

In 1984, having taught 43 years in Wisconsin, Maryland and South Dakota schools, Sr. Lawrence ventured into a new ministry to the homeless in Phoenix through the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She was considered the founder of this ministry in Phoenix, and her commitment grew the fledgling program into something much greater. Sr. Lawrence helped the homeless with job referrals and entitlement advocacy, and developed the Employee Assistance Program at St. Vincent de Paul.  The St. Vincent de Paul Society received sizeable donations after people witnessed the work of Sr. Lawrence.  An extension of her ministry was serving as the society spiritual advisor for her parish, St. Francis Xavier, including grief ministry to Vincentians who had lost their spouses.

St. Vincent’s executive director at the time paid tribute to Sr. Lawrence on her 60th jubilee: Your establishment of the Ministry to the Homeless at Ninth Avenue so long ago started the society providing a service which, along with our food operation and the medical/dental clinic, has become a major pillar of our mission.  In view of the expanding human need in the valley, it promises to grow still further as we plan to extend its services at all of our dining rooms in the near future.  Your “child” you see, has grown to full adulthood and is now making ever widening circles of impact on this community.

Sr. Lawrence retired from the St. Vincent de Paul Society after 17 years. Then she began volunteering as a “cuddler” for newborn babies at Good Samaritan Hospital, and delivering clothes, food and household items to families in need. In November 2001 Sr. Lawrence moved from Phoenix to Salvatorian Sisters Residence in Milwaukee.  She still had enough energy to crochet, make greeting cards, and minister as a compassionate vigil keeper to St. Anne’s Salvatorian Campus residents who were near death.

When her own health diminished in January 2007, Sr. Lawrence graciously accepted her transfer to St. Anne’s skilled care facility. Despite signs of weakness and difficulty expressing herself in her last weeks of life, Sr. Lawrence retained her sweet smile and joyous giggle. Her Salvatorian Sisters began prayerful vigil on July 20 and Sr. Lawrence died peacefully in early morning on July 21, joyful God’s presence.

Sr. Lawrence was born in 1919 in Edgar, Wis. and was given the name Ludmilla. She was one of 10 children born to Anton and Catherine (Schueller) Bergs. Her sister Marie also professed vows as a Salvatorian, taking the name Sister Kathleen. Sr. Lawrence’s family lived and worked a farm in Edgar, which included a poultry hatchery.  Every year her father, Anton took 100 baby chicks to the Salvatorian Sisters at St. Mary’s Hospital in nearby Wausau.  The younger Berg children sometimes went along for the ride, knowing the sisters would have cookies for them.

Ludmilla attended Holy Family School in Edgar where she was taught by Felician Sisters.  Encouraged by her teachers to join their congregation, she replied, “No! My heart is with the Salvatorians.”  She entered the SDS congregation in Milwaukee in September 1936, and received her name Lawrence as a novice the following year. She made her first vows on August 13, 1938 and final vows exactly six years later. After graduating from Divine Savior Convent High School, Sr. Lawrence earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Milwaukee’s Alverno College and a state certificate to teach mentally challenged children.

Sr. Lawrence is survived by her Salvatorian family; her sister Germaine Ritger; brothers Sylvester and Lawrence (Gladys); and many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. She was preceded in death by her parents Anton and Catherine; brothers Alexius (Hazel), Herbert (Mary Alice), Alois and Anthony; and sisters Dolores (Hubert) Fochs and Sr. Kathleen, SDS.