BY ARMANDO MACHADO:
The Bernet sisters are identical twins who are celebrating 70 years of religious life. Now 89 years old, they were born in Brooklyn 15 minutes apart.
Sister Mary Clare Bernet, O.S.F., and Sister Mary Robert Bernet, O.S.F., are Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. They were raised at the Mount Loretto Orphanage on Staten Island, where they first encountered the Sisters of St. Francis.
Sister Mary Clare left high school to enter the religious congregation early in January 1949. Sister Mary Robert entered the following January, so her 70th anniversary will officially be in the new year.
On Aug. 3, a morning Mass with reception was celebrated for both sisters at Mount St. Francis in Peekskill. Auxiliary Bishop Peter Byrne was the principal celebrant.
The sisters now reside in a convent of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Sacred Heart in Peekskill.
The twins served in education from the early 1950s to 2011 teaching in the Archdiocese of New York, including schools on Staten Island, in the Bronx and New Rochelle, as well as in New Jersey and Connecticut.
Sister Mary Clare also served as novice director for the congregation in the 1970s into the 1980s, and as director of religious education at St. Teresa of Avila parish in Sleepy Hollow, 1993-2011.
In a joint statement released by the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities in Syracuse, the twin nuns said that as they looked back on their time since entering religious life, they agreed they “would not trade their vocation for anything.”
In a phone interview with CNY last week, Sister Mary Clare said, “We were happy that we were both called by God. We were able to live together at times.”
Speaking about their jubilee celebration, she said, “The Mass was wonderful, and we had lunch afterward. There were about 150 people. It was a very special day.”
She said sisters from their congregation and other religious communities joined to wish them well. The twin nuns were grateful for that, thankful to the bishop and all who were present. Sister Mary Robert was born 15 minutes after Sister Mary Clare; they were among five siblings—four girls and one boy, and are the surviving siblings.
Sister Mary Anne Maceda, O.S.F., who also resides at the convent in Peekskill, said the celebration in August was a joyful occasion.
“I rejoice with them—I share their joy,” Sister Mary Anne said. “It is quite a milestone. They love God, and they love Jesus, and they wanted to share that in their ministries.”
Bishop Byrne was assisted by nine concelebrants. The homilist was Father Daniel Lanahan, O.F.M. Both the bishop and Father Lanahan worked with Sister Mary Clare and Sister Mary Robert decades ago in service to the Church.
Sister Mary Anne said the twin nuns taught mostly general studies to elementary school students, and Sister Mary Robert also taught high school students, mostly religion, at St. Catherine Academy in the Bronx, and St. Joseph by-the-Sea High School on Staten Island.
Both sisters returned to Mount Loretto, the orphanage where they were raised, as teachers. Sister Mary Clare taught boys at St. Aloysius School, 1959-1975. Sister Mary Robert taught girls at St. Elizabeth School, 1961-1964. The twins turned 89 on June 6.
Here are some of the other schools, and parish catechism classes in Sister Mary Clare’s case, where they taught religion and other subjects:
Sister Mary Clare: St. John and St. Mary parish in Chappaqua; St. Teresa of Avila parish and school in Sleepy Hollow, St. Catherine School in Pelham; St. Joseph School in New Rochelle; and St. Clare Academy in Hastings-on-Hudson.
Sister Mary Robert: Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains; Christ the King School in Yonkers; Our Lady Star of the Sea School on Staten Island; Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Pelham Manor; Holy Name School in New Rochelle; and Immaculate Conception School in Tuckahoe.
Credit: Catholic New York.