“See! I will not forget you…I have carved you on the palm of my hand”
Sister Bernice Gotelli claims that her desire to become a Presentation Sister began in the first grade at St. Anne School in San Francisco, taught by Sister Kieran O’Connor, PBVM. Sister Kieran’s love for God and for each student was so evident that Bernice began an openness to listen to God’s desires.
Family life with loving parents and her sister, Lorraine, provided all that she needed to live a life working to do all for her God. High school at Presentation confirmed that her life was to be one of attempting to let God direct all people for their coming to know and love God through leading them in unobtrusive ways. Rather than playing a leading role, Bernice strove to lead others to the Lord who calls them.
Shortly after high school, in 1955 Bernice entered the Sisters of the Presentation. While teaching was not uppermost in her mind, becoming a Sister was. So for the first sixteen years of ministry she was an elementary school teacher at St. Agnes, San Francisco; Holy Trinity, San Pedro; St. Columba, Oakland; Cathedral, St. Elizabeth, and St. Teresa in San Francisco again. Teaching ministry flowed into parish ministry at St. Teresa, San Francisco; and St. Patrick and Most Holy Trinity, San Jose.
Once again, the call continued naturally into pastoral care of the sick in San Francisco and Oakland, and then to twenty-seven years as a chaplain in a large pediatric hospital and trauma center, Children’s Hospital (UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital) in Oakland. It was there as the sole chaplain that Sister Bernice ministered mostly to families of critically ill and dying children. Although she didn’t keep records of this since it was a work for the Lord, she baptized over a thousand dying infants and assisted in about twice that number of the deaths during those years. These were the most grace-filled and challenging years of her life.
Along with that, during her years at Children’s Hospital every semester she also supervised students of the Jesuit School of Theology, Berkeley (JSTB) in their pastoral care assignments. At her retirement from Children’s Hospital, JSTB (now known as JSTSC, Jesuit School of Theology Santa Clara) awarded her an honorary Doctorate in Theology for her ministry.
Although all of Sister Bernice’s ministry took place in California, she visited Presentation Missions in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala – places that continue to be close to her heart.
Presently as a retired Sister living in San Francisco, Sister Bernice is active in the Motherhouse community and, hopefully, in each action for justice and love she encounters.Sister Bernice’s two personal mottos and prayer with families are summed in “See! I will not forget you…I have carved you on the palm of my hand” (Isaiah 49:15) and “Not words but deeds” (Nano Nagle). God’s actions and using hands and hearts to accomplish them are appropriate symbols for ministry and for a life directed by God.
All are different in how they wish to be remembered. Sister Bernice worked for the Lord and saw no reason to publish what her life was about; there are few photos and documents of her ministry. God knows, and so do the children and families whose lives she touched and who so fully touched her life. It is with gratitude to God and to them that these words are written.
“Not words but deeds”