Remembrance of the Life of Sister Bernice (formerly Sister Mary Alacoque) Hys SL
Jan. 29, 1930 – Jan. 10, 2019
Sister Bernice Hys was born in St. Louis in 1930. Her parents, Andrew John Hys and Sophia Diminszyk Hys, were Polish émigrés who had settled on St. Louis’ near Northside not far from the Mississippi River. Bernice was baptized at St. Casimir Church, one of several parishes created to serve the expanding Polish settlement.
By the late 1930s, the Hys family had moved a mile or so west. Bernice and her three siblings were enrolled at Sacred Heart School, where the Loretto Sisters taught and Sister Januarius Lysaght was the principal. Sacred Heart was in those days the home parish of many future Loretto members. In 1944 Bernice enrolled at the new Northside Catholic High School, traveling an hour or more to the northern reaches of St. Louis for classes in a school building in which boys and girls were taught separately. In Bernice’s graduation year, 1947-48, the boys moved to a new facility, DeAndreis, and the Daughters of Charity renamed the girls’ school St. Catherine Laboure High School.
The summer after Bernice’s graduation, she clipped a form from the back page of the “Loretto Vocation Digest,” checked the line reading “I have decided to enter the Sisters of Loretto,” filled in the date “Oct. 25, 1948,” and sent the completed form to Loretto. Within a very few days she received a reply and over the summer exchanged several letters with Superior General Mother Edwarda.
Along with these letters, Bernice’s personnel file contains letters of recommendation from Sister Januarius and Sacred Heart pastor Msgr. Edward Rogers. Januarius wrote that in grade school “Bernice Hys … was rather mature in her thinking, beyond her years in her ability to ‘size up’ people and situations. She was at the Sacraments frequently and … dropped in occasionally for little visits [with the Sisters]. She was always most faithful and helpful to Sister Ann Lucille … I might add that she enjoys all the things that an average girl her age enjoys.” Bernice’s pastor wrote, “Miss Hys … is well known to me and I am very happy to recommend her very highly. Bernice is another Sister Jean Michael of your Order: … She is high spirited and full of life, has a world of natural ability, and in my humble opinion will make a splendid nun … I place her in your loving care and I know another excellent daughter of Loretto will be in the making.”
Bernice arrived at Loretto in late October 1948 and on the 25th of April, 1949, she received the habit of the Sisters of Loretto and the name Sister Mary Alacoque; she resumed her baptismal name sometime in the late 1960s. Bernice made her first vows Aug. 15, 1951. By the time she made her final vows on that same date in 1954, Sister Mary Alacoque had been three years teaching at St. Mary’s in Sterling, Ill. In a brief autobiography in 1976 Bernice summarized her first 16 years of classroom work: “I taught in the primary for three years in Sterling; two years primary in Los Angeles, Nativity; one year primary in Bisbee, Ariz.; one and a half years primary in Montgomery, Ala.; two or three in Springfield, Mo.; two or three in Flagstaff; and two years at Sacred Heart in El Paso. I have a BA in history from Loretto Heights College.”
Having taught in seven locations in six states in her first 16 years, Bernice chose to stay in El Paso, teaching at Loretto Academy, for the next 37 years. She qualified to conduct the program in English as a Second Language for the Academy by earning a master’s degree in linguistics from the University of Texas; even today she is praised for her ESL guidance. She was a compassionate Director of Loretto Boarders. At various times she also taught CCD and scripture classes, and served as a substitute teacher.
Bernice was one of a “small living group” at the Academy called “the high school community” because they had living space on the top floor of the high school building. The group included Adrian Corley, Vicki Schwartz, Teresa Thomas, Anndavid Naeger, Jane Clark and Eileen Custy. When Bernice, Jane and Eileen all announced retirements in 2004, an article in the Academy newsletter reported the following: “Our prayers and well wishes go with our three beloved Sisters who quietly reside on the third floor. … We will miss them so much; they are … a presence that inspires today and is well remembered by those of us who came to Loretto in years past.”
While Jane and Eileen moved to Loretto Motherhouse, Bernice elected to retire to the St. Louis Loretto Center, no doubt in large part because her sisters, and nieces and nephews were residing in the St. Louis area. Bernice had a great affection for and devotion to her family. Anndavid, who took Bernice to a family visit, reported that Bernice and her sister began laughing together at the first greeting and were still laughing with each other into the next day. A similar account of Bernice’s joyous laugh is given by those who played cards with her. And yet again, at the St. Louis Center, Bernice was a warm and teasing friend to the priests whom she faithfully recruited to preside at the Community Masses.
Bernice moved to Loretto Motherhouse Infirmary in the fall of 2013, visited periodically by family and priest-friends. She died quietly on Jan. 10, just a few days short of her 89th birthday.
Elaine Prevallet gave the homily at the Golden Jubilee celebration for Bernice’s novitiate class in 1999, and Bernice took notes on the back of her program. Paraphrasing Bernice and Elaine, we pray: “All our dyings – in a multitude of unexpected, mostly unheroic forms – lead to compassion. We pray with gratitude for the life of this wonderful woman as she enters trustingly through the final gate of self-giving love into the rich pastures of abundant life.”
– By Eleanor Craig SL