Sister of Charity of Cincinnati Bernadette Kambeitz Celebrates 100th Birthday
Delhi Township – This week friends and family of Sister of Charity Bernadette Kambeitz celebrated a century of blessings. A Sister of Charity of Cincinnati for 82 years, Sister Bernadette turned 100 years old on Dec. 13, 2019.
A couple of days before her 100th birthday, Sisters and friends of Sister Bernadette reflected on their relationships with her. Born and raised in Springfield, Ohio, Sister Bernadette was the oldest child of Albert and Elizabeth Kambeitz. She and her sister, Martha, attended elementary school at St. Joseph’s and high school at Catholic Central where they were taught by the Sisters of Charity for all 12 years. Sister Bernadette fondly remembers riding her bike past the convent as a little girl and witnessing their joy. What they had, she wanted, and following her high school graduation in 1937, Sister Bernadette entered the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati at the age of 17.
Sister Bernadette earned her degree in education from The Athenaeum of Ohio in Cincinnati, graduating in 1942; thus began her 30-year education ministry teaching chemistry, physics and math in schools throughout the Midwest and West. Sister acknowledged the opportunities the Community provided her in those years, teaching at schools in Michigan, New Mexico and Ohio, including eight years at Seton High School in Cincinnati (1953-’61). She credits those ministries as life-giving as each afforded her a broader perspective of the world and opportunities to create deep relationships with those she met.
Sister once said that her life has been characterized by a never-ending series of changes, changes that steered her into three different careers. While she certainly met a lot of challenges along the way, the changes, she felt, encouraged her to grow and reach her potential. In September 1974, after 30 years in the field of education, Sister Bernadette began 15 years of service in the Radial Immunoassay Lab at St. Joseph Hospital in Mount Clemens, Michigan. It was there that she met Denise Donahue. The pair quickly became close friends, and as Donahue explained Sister Bernadette was close with all of the med-techs in the lab, the matriarch of the group.
“She was a friend to everyone,” Donahue said. “If you were down at the cafeteria, she would sit down and start talking … She was involved in everybody’s life – in a good way. She treated us like family, and we did the same to her.”
Donahue called Sister Bernadette the eternal optimist, having a positive attitude and always finding the good in any situation. That part of her personality is one of the reasons she was lured to the hospital’s foundation in 1989. It was in this role that she used her optimism, compassion and relatability to cultivate relationships. The late Tony Viviano, who served on the hospital’s Board of Trustees for many years, once called Sister Bernadette his secret weapon. “If I had a big contributor I would pick up the phone and have her go visit them,” Viviano said. “She didn’t mind going; taking care of people, that was her No. 1 priority. She always knew how to comfort and relate to people and how to get them to be charitable.” It also led to Sister Bernadette being honored with the hospital’s Mission Achievement Award in 1996 for her commitment to care that knows no bounds.
Those who know Sister Bernadette can speak on her ability to make a person feel as though they are the most important person in her world. She attributes that character trait to her father, whom she frequently mentions and remembers for his joyful, good-natured spirit. As a Sister of Charity, she lives the mission and charism with her compassionate heart and commitment to others.
Sister Karen Hawver, who knows Sister Bernadette from her years growing up in Springfield, had the privilege of living and ministering near Sister in Michigan for more than 30 years. She says that she has never seen such devotion and love as the employees showed to Sister Bernadette. In fact Bernie (as she affectionately calls her) would babysit for the children of the hospital doctors. One particular family, the Hauranis, entrusted her with their four children. Following their unexpected death, “Bernie stayed with the children through the funerals and many weeks afterwards. She occupied the parent place of honor at every wedding for all of the children in later years. To this day she is very special to the Haurani children and their families. I was always so impressed by her dedication to them and their love for her.”
Compassionate, kind, selfless – the secret to living a long life from Sister Bernadette’s perspective is simply living life. She gives herself to others and those who have the honor and privilege of knowing her quickly learn that she values the person they are.
The Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati, an apostolic Catholic women’s religious community, exist to carry out the Gospel of Jesus Christ through prayer and service in the world. Sisters live and minister in 18 U.S. dioceses and in Guatemala, Mexico and the West Indies. They also sponsor institutions to address education, health care and social service needs, with particular concern for direct service to the poor. Approximately 250 Sisters are joined in mission by 209 Associates (lay men and women). Visit the Sisters of Charity of Cincinnati website at www.srcharitycinti.org.