Sister Bernadette (Caroline M.) Saia was born in Buffalo, New York on February 12, 1916 to join what became the large family of Alphonso and Pietra (Campanella) Saia. Her five brothers and two sisters and their extended families remained close throughout her life.
In 1934, she entered the Missionary Sisters of the Divine Child in Buffalo at the age of 17, making Final Profession in 1940. It is perhaps during these years as a home visiting sister that she became a kind and compassionate listener, a quality for which she is remembered by many in her Cistercian community. She was received into the Cistercian Order as a transfer sister at the Abbey of Notre Dame du Bon Conseil, Canada, in September 1949 and was sent from there to join the new foundation at Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey in December 1949. Clothed in the Cistercian habit on June 11, 1950, she made Perpetual Profession on January 3, 1952. When Solemn Vows were restored to the s of our Order, she was among the first of a group of 18 at Wrentham to profess her Solemn Vows on June 28, 1957.
Sister’s artistic talents were recognized early and she headed the Vestment Department for over twelve years and the Art Department for many more. She had a fine eye for color and design and perfected these skills in silk screening, copper enamel work, and painting. Her enameled chalices and patens are used at not only Wrentham and other monasteries, but have been commissioned by many priests. The cards she crafted in many media were creative gems.
Sister Bernadette served the community as Choir Novice Mistress, Lay Novice Mistress, and Lay Professed Mother Mistress. She was Sub-prioress for many years under two Abbesses. Many found her a welcome refuge in time of trial. As the community moved to greater dialogue, she felt it an obligation to participate and share her perspective, one that was rooted in deep faith and trust in God’s will. The courage and humor with which she lived her intensifying diminishments were such a privilege to witness. She was always expressing her compassion for other people’s pain.
Her last surrender was to remain in the hospital the final days of her life since it was physically impossible to bring her home. With a New England snow storm slowing travel to a crawl, five sisters journeyed to join three sisters keeping vigil and were with her for her final passing on February 7, 2003.