Part I of II
Mary Bernardina McNantz was the birth sister to two others in the community, Isidora and Mary Leonard McNantz. Bernardina was the oldest of the three and only nine when she entered our school. She had a cheerful disposition and was inclined to be fond of the world, but the good example of her sister Isidora helped her turn away from vanity and apply herself earnestly to the practice of virtue. She was bright and took delight in her studies. She did have a rather quick temper, but she endeavored to subdue and overcome it.
Leonard Neale received Bernardina to the habit on August 15, 1817, the feast of the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Virgin, and the same day as her classmate, Susan Angela Boarman (see previous biography); she was fifteen years old. Bernardina was a fervent and exact Novice, to the point where at first she was a bit scrupulous, a problematic characteristic that can sometimes accompany a purity of conscience as great as hers. She improved through prudent care and attention to the instruction of her Director, Mother Harriet Agnes Brent, for whom she had great affection and to whom she opened her heart with simplicity and candor. She punctually took Mother’s advice, and although she sometimes warred within herself to overcome a tendency to judge others, she performed faithfully and became an example of docility and submission to all the Novices.
She made her holy profession the next year on August 21, 1818, the Feast of our holy foundress and Mother, along with Sister Susan Angela Boarman, whom she survived by only one month. Because of weak health she could not finish the second year of her Novitiate, and she sometimes lamented this, for she had an excellent mind and many abilities, and she would have rendered considerable service to religion if her health had not intervened. God, however, took care to purify her with many interior trials, which he used to supplement any deficiency in the exterior trials of the Novitiate which would have been too much for her. She also had a natural sensibility to practice interior self-denial. Bernardina was quite pretty; our physician Dr. Beaty, when called in to consult about her health, saw the floridness of her complexion and said “It was a pity such a beauty should be hidden in a monastery.”
Because of her active, bright mind, she had a great desire to read and know all the books of our order, and to imbibe the true Spirit of the Visitation. These books, however, were nearly all in French, so Father Clorivière agreed to teach the language to some of the sisters, including her. She applied herself, and in a short time she translated our small books of customs and part of the responses of our holy Mother to them, but unfortunately for us she was forced to stop. Not only did she have a talent for languages, but also for drawing, painting, writing, and embroidery. She left us a memorial of her industry in her embroidery of a fine vestment, which she finished on the eve of her last illness, October 30, 1821. This vestment eventually served in the dedication of our church, which took place on the first day of November, the Feast of All Saints that same year, but unfortunately this poor sister could not attend. It seemed a great pity since she had worked so hard on it, but God had other views unknown to the community.
She had long prayed to be preserved until the age when she would be able to inherit her estate for the benefit of the community, but now that seemed impossible, although the sisters were only concerned about her health. She had been threatened with consumption (tuberculosis) all of her life, and two years prior to this she had a persistent cough that Dr. Beaty first attributed to a “bilious fever,” meaning a fever accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Her behavior became erratic: “Some thought her crazy! Others that she was possessed of a devil! Some were even for having her exorcised!” Instead of any of this, however, the community joined in prayer for her.