Born at Marcilloles (Isère), October 7, 1823.
Taking of the habit at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, August 14, 1848.
Oblation at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, August 15, 1849. (no. 259)
Ordination to the priesthood at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, August 19, 1849.
Provincial of Midi (1871-1876).
Died at Notre-Dame de l’Osier, March 13, 1879.
Jean-Baptiste Berne was born on October 7, 1823 at Marcilloles in the diocese of Grenoble. He began his studying Latin under the guidance of one of his uncles, parish priest at Mottier. He successfully completed his last year of classical studies and philosophy at the minor seminary of Rondeau and studied theology at the major seminary of Grenoble. After having been ordained to the diaconate, he entered the novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on August 14, 1848 and it was there he made his oblation before the Founder on August 15, 1849. During this visit to Osier, Bishop de Mazenod ordained him to the priesthood on August 19 of 1849.
Professor and Educator
His first obedience was an appointment as professor of dogmatic theology at the major seminary of Ajaccio. Bishop Casanelli d’Istria found him to be very young and very shy. The young priest communicated the bishop’s reservations to the Founder. In his November 25, 1849 reply, the Founder wrote: “There must be a beginning to everything, and when one has the solid basis of instruction that you do, the wisdom, modesty and reserve that no one will deny you, plus kindness and the other qualities that I know you have, we need not be uneasy about decisions we take, nor about assuming responsibility.” (Oblate Writings I, vol. 10, no. 1027, p. 276)
Stricken with rheumatism in his limbs in the spring of 1851, he was recalled to Marseilles to work with Father Vincens who was in charge of “advanced studies” launched at Le Calvaire in view of giving better training to the young priests for the ministry of preaching. During the summer of 1851, he did preach a few times in the chapel at Le Calvaire and gave a few retreats. Because of his weak voice, he was not able to take part in parish missions.
Father Berne taught dogma at the major seminary in Fréjus from 1851 to 1854; then, he taught moral theology at the major seminary of Romans from 1855 to 1857. In 1855, he was also appointed ordinary consultant of the second French province. In October of 1857, Father Guinet, master of novices at Nancy, fell ill and the Founder replaced him with Father Berne. Gustave Marie Simonin, a priest-novice at the time, wrote of him: “Rev. Father Berne had a manner which was congenial; the cast of his features was frank and smiling, his voice was gentle and weak with nothing that could frighten even the most timorous. Of medium height with a frail constitution, upon his arrival, Father Berne in his attitude and bearing gave us the impression of a humble religious shaped to fit the mould of humble regular observance. One could read upon his lofty brow the habit of serious thought and on the entire cast of his features reflected an unmindfulness of is own qualities, the strictness of his attractive virtue and especially a great gentleness...”
In 1858, Father Berne was sent to work as professor of moral theology at Fréjus where he remained until 1867. From 1867 until his death, he lived at Notre-Dame de l’Osier as novice master from 1867 to 1871 and as provincial of Midi from 1871 to 1876.
Provincial of Midi (1871-1876)
In 1871, when Father Bermond finished his term of office as provincial of the Midi, the General Administration gave the province Father Berne as his successor. “This appointment was greeted with unanimous approval,” wrote Father Fabre,” and to his great astonishment, we could say to his profound dismay, Father Berne saw himself launched into an administrative career for which, if we are to believe him, he was absolutely unsuited and incompetent. What followed shortly thereafter most happily did not fail to give the lie to the objections raised by his humility. He was a model provincial, punctilious in visiting the houses under his jurisdiction and in communicating with his men, very vigilant in seeing to the observance of the rule and in maintaining everywhere in their integrity our living it out in a holy manner. Impartial and good toward everyone, no one could accuse him of being prejudiced or of favouring certain individuals. His great goodness did not, however, degenerate into weakness and he never lacked firmness in carrying out the duties of his state. Fervour in good religious delighted him. The laxness of a few of them were a cruel source of concern...”
As provincial, at Autun, Father Berne participated in the retreat for superiors in the month of August 1872 and in the General Chapter of July-August 1873. In 1874, he published his work: Esquisse sur le pèlerinage de Notre-Dame de l’Osier [Sketches Surrounding the Pilgrimage of Notre-Dame de l’Osier] (Grenoble, 160 p.)
Illness and Death
In 1876, while he was visiting one of the houses in the Midi, Father Berne was struck by a paralysis of the left side of his face. “It was the unfortunate patient’s impression,” wrote Father Lavillardière “that his cheeks were being furrowed with claws of iron so tormented were the nerves in their terrible spasms.” After undergoing an operation in Lyon, he recovered. Having obtained a release from his responsibilities as provincial, he was appointed superior of Notre-Dame de l’Osier in 1877, then superior of the scholasticate at Autun at the beginning of 1878. During the summer, his neuralgia set in again. Once again he was operated on in Lyon in July; he returned to Notre-Dame de l’Osier where he died on March 13, 1879. The next day, the master of novices communicated his death to Father Fabre, telling him among other things: “Until his last breath, he remained the man I told you he was in my previous letters, a man not only submitted to the will of God, but still filled with joy at the thought of death...” His body was laid to rest in the cemetery of the community of Notre-Dame de l’Osier.
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
Oblate General Archives in Rome: About fifteen letters to a few of the priests (1858-1878).
LAVILLARDIÈRE, Auguste, o.m.i., “Notice du père Berne,” circular letter no. 94 of Father Fabre in Notices nécrologiques, vol. IV, Paris, 1883-1887, p. 129-185.