“See! I will not forget you…I have carved you on the palm of my hand”

-Isaiah 49:15

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.

Presentation of National Chaplain Award: L-R Deacon Thomas McGowan, Diocese of Oakland; Sister Kathleen; Marsha Luster, Director of Social Services, Children’s Hospital Oakland; Lorraine Gotelli, sister of Bernice; Sister Kathleen Sickley, PBVM, Coordinator

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.

Sr. Bernice Gotelli with members of discussion group, School of Applied Theology Sabbatical program, March 2016

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 celebrates her Golden Jubilee with her sister Lorraine.

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”
(Nano Nagle)

Ministries

1958 – 1959  Teacher, St. Agnes School, San Francisco
1959 – 1962  Teacher, Holy Trinity School, San Pedro
1962 – 1964  Teacher, St. Columba School, Oakland
1964 – 1967  Teacher, Cathedral Presentation School, San Francisco
1967 – 1968  Teacher, St. Anne School and St. Elizabeth School, San Francisco
1968 – 1977  Teacher, St. Teresa School; Parish Sister, St. Teresa, San Francisco
1978 – 1981  Master of Religious Education, St. Patrick, San Jose
1981 – 1984  Master of Religious Education, Most Holy Trinity, San Jose
1984 – 1985  Chaplain Intern, National Association of Catholic Chaplains Certification Program, St. Mary’s Hospital
1985 – 1986  Pastoral Care, Motherhouse Infirmary, San Francisco
1986 – 1987  Chaplain, Mercy Retirement & Care Center, Oakland
1987 – 1988  Chaplain, Mercy Manor, Oakland
1988 – 2015  Chaplain, Children’s Hospital, Oakland
2015 – 2016  Sabbatical, School of Applied Theology, Oakland
2016 – 2017  Director of Community Life, Presentation Sisters, San Francisco
2017 – Present  Caregiver for family member, San Francisco
2018 – Present  Sacristan, Motherhouse, San Francisco