Benedictine Father Bernardine Ness died Aug. 26 in the retirement center at St. John’s Abbey. The monks, family and friends will receive the body on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at 7 p.m. and celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 1, in the St. John’s Abbey and University Church, with interment in the abbey cemetery. The service will be live-streamed at www.saintjohnsabbey.org/live.
Father Bernardine (Alvin John) Ness was born to Alvin and Marian (Diegel) Ness in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Feb. 16, 1938, the oldest of two children. He attended Groveland Elementary School and then enrolled in St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville in 1952, graduating in 1956. Following graduation, he completed one year at St. John’s University as a pre-divinity student. In 1958, he entered the novitiate at Blue Cloud Abbey in Marvin, South Dakota, taking the name Bernardine, and professed vows as a monk on Aug. 15, 1959. Continuing his priesthood studies at Blue Cloud Abbey, Father Bernardine was ordained May 24, 1964.
In 1967, Father Bernardine began working at the Indian Mission in Belcourt and Michael, North Dakota, where he learned how to construct a TV translator and had a 300-foot tower built so that people on the reservation could have television. In 1971, he was assigned to the Blue Cloud Abbey priory in Guatemala (Resurrection Priory in Cobán, Alta Verapaz). He did not know Spanish or the native Q’eqchi’ language. He built a shortwave radio station that broadcast news and music in the native language. The radio became the way to prepare people for the Sunday celebration in their own language in the dozens of little villages that had no Sunday Eucharist.
Father Bernardine helped establish a human development program at Resurrection Priory as part of a diocesan evangelization project. After serving for 20 years in Guatemala, Father Bernardine returned to South Dakota in 1991 and worked for two years in the American Indian Culture Research Center at Blue Cloud Abbey. He returned to Guatemala where he spent the next 20 years expanding his efforts on community-building through technology for people who had never watched television.
In 2008, he was awarded the Lumen Gentium Award from St. John’s Preparatory School, an award for alumni who reach across diverse global cultures by significantly increasing the spread of knowledge, harmony and hope in the world.
Father Bernardine transferred his Benedictine vow of stability to St. John’s Abbey after the monks of Blue Cloud Abbey voted to close their monastery, and arrived in Collegeville on Feb. 18, 2013. He served the in ministry for Latino congregations locally, as well as in Minneapolis and also worked with the Messenger Program based in St. Cloud to send medical assistance and other humanitarian aid to the missions in Guatemala.
He is survived by his brother, Joseph (Sue), Brandenton, Florida, and the community at St. John’s Abbey.