Sister Bernadette was born Josephine (Josie) McConville in Portadown, Co. Armagh in 1929. After working for a year as a secretary, she joined the Medical Missionaries of Mary in November 1948. After profession she was editor of ‘Peg’s Corner’ in the MMM magazine. This was the section devoted to ‘children big and small’. She addressed her young readers as ‘Mary’s little missionaries’ and encouraged them to write to her, sending photos and other personal data. Through stories from MMMs, friends and volunteers she told people about our work and encouraged them to contribute to helping others.
Bernadette’s first overseas assignment was to Nigeria in 1954. Over the next sixteen years she served in Abakaliki, Afikpo, Ogoja, and Ibadan as a secretary and bursar.
From the start she showed exceptional talents in administration and organisation. She had a great eye for beauty, both interior and exterior, and was wonderful at decorating. Bernadette was quiet spoken and had a facility for getting things done. She had the capacity to ‘find’ materials when supervising the various buildings for which she was responsible. She was a compassionate community leader with great understanding of human frailties. She was nickname ‘the Red One’, a tribute to her beautiful red hair.
From 1971 to 1973 she was at Plater College Oxford, and completed a diploma in social studies. Also from 1971 to 1975 she did West African Studies at the University of Birmingham.
Sister Bernadette returned was again in Nigeria from 1976 to 1981, where she was first the administrator at Ogoja and then director of development for Ogoja Diocese.
After completing a Master’s in Pastoral Studies in the USA in 1982, she spent a further two years in Nigeria as hospital administrator in Ibadan.
Bernadette loved Nigeria, its people and way of life. She left a large portion of her heart behind when she left there for good in 1985.
She next spent two years doing mission awareness work in West Cork in the south of Ireland. This was followed by ten months in 1988 looking after the needs of MMMs returning for their home leave. There were far greater numbers at that time, involving many trips to the airport and numerous other activities.
At the end of 1988 she was assigned to the USA, where she served for seventeen years in City Island, New York as co-ordinating regional and then inter-Area bursar. She kept in close contact with various missionary fund-raising bodies in the New York area.
Sister Bernadette returned to Ireland in 2006 and initially became involved in activities in the Motherhouse. She did local driving, looked after guests, was involved in secretarial duties and participated in community liturgical events. Her health was relatively good until mid-2015 and her illness came as a huge shock. In August she moved to the nursing facility in Áras Mhuire for additional care.
Sister Bernadette died peacefully on 17 August in Áras Mhuire in the presence of some of her close MMM friends and Áras Mhuire staff. She had been ill for about six weeks.
Bernadette had a great sense of humour. She loved playing bridge and encouraged newcomers to the community to get involved. She was thoughtful and got great pleasure out of preparing little gifts, especially for her MMM friends in Nigeria. She loved style and went to great lengths to keep her wardrobe up-to-date within her budgetary limitations. She had a gracious and queen-like air about her and was actually confused with the reigning queen of England on one occasion!
Her funeral was truly a celebration of her life. Thirteen Priests concelebrated with Canon Patsy McDonnell, a good friend and neighbour, as the main celebrant. Sister Trinitas McMullan gave a moving account of their lives together as young Sisters in their early days in Ogoja and Abakaliki. Stories were exchanged; tears were shed; and all combined to honour an extraordinary MMM.