Born at Agnin (Isère), August 2, 1827.
Taking of the habit in N.-D. de l’Osier, September 16, 1852.
Oblation in Marseilles, March 19, 1853 (no. 345).
Died in Roma, Basutoland, January 5, 1889.
Pierre Bernard was born at Agnin in the diocese of Grenoble on August 2, 1827. In a letter to Father Joseph Fabre dated November 9, 1862, he related the story of his vocation. At about 18 years of age, after reading some religious literature, in particular the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, he felt the desire to become a missionary. At the age of 20, he hoped by becoming a soldier to be able to leave his paternal home. When the lots for conion were drawn, he was one of those chosen, but his father had found a replacement for him. At 23, he announced that he was leaving for the gold mines of California. It caused an uproar in the family and his father refused to give him the money he would need for the journey. He then told his parents that if they opposed his leaving for California that they should at least allow him to go to a monastery. As a result, he joined the Brothers of the Christian Schools at the novitiate at Caluire near Lyons and, after eight months of novitiate, he went to teach catechism at Lyons. But he always nurtured the desire to go to the missions. In 1852, they allowed him to contact a few congregations. He chose the Oblates and began his novitiate at Notre-Dame de l’Osier on September 16, 1852. Father Richard, the master of novices, wrote in his notes on the novices at the end of September 1852: “Brother Pierre Bernard, born August 2, 1827, received [as a novice] September 16, 1852… Good character, good worker, good religious, very sensible.” The notes written during the following months were equally positive. In December, we read: “He is a model for the lay brothers, always very hard-working, very open to instruction, he understands the religious spirit, has an authentic prayer life…”
At the beginning of 1853, Bishop de Mazenod sent a few missionaries to Bishop Allard in Natal. Before the end of his novitiate, Brother Bernard was chosen along with Father Justin Barret and the scholastic brother, Joseph Gérard. Brother Bernard left Osier in March, made his vows in Marseilles on March 19, shipped out of Toulon on May 10 and arrived at Pietermaritzburg eight months later. He worked as cook, gardener, chore boy and Bishop Allard set him to work making bricks. In 1858-1859, he built the mission chapel of St. Michael among the Zulus.
In 1862, he left for Basutoland with Bishop Allard and Father Gerard. He worked at building up the mission of Mary, Mother of Jesus at Roma and oversaw supplying the mission, working the land and was also the first teacher in the school for boys. He died in Roma, Basutoland on January 5, 1889. In a March 8, 1892 letter to Father Soullier, the assistant general, Father Frédéric Porte wrote: “You often told us, Reverend Father, of your regret that you never got to meet the worthy Brother Bernard of whom everyone sang the praises. We have no problem understanding why. This brother had consummately been the man of dedication, the model for the lay brothers, an intelligent lay brother who focused only on the task he had been given and did well what he did, always requesting to be able to do more. Tears flood our eyes when we recall that on the eve of his death, exhausted by a three months illness, Brother Bernard asked to be carried, lying on the mission tip-cart to go and adjust a bolt on the mill wheel. Because, he said, what makes me suffer is to see that the priests have no more flour. Such dedication is heroic; it is something praiseworthy; something we must imitate.” (Missions O.M.I., 30 (1892), p.216-217)
Yvon Beaudoin, o.m.i.
Sources and Bibliography
G.A.: A few letters concerning business; notes of the masters of novices
Missions O.M.I., 1862-1905, passim.
“Frère Bernard”, in Notices nécrologiques, Vol. VII, Bar-le-Duc, 1899, p. 236-252, with several letters from Brother Bernard to Bishop de Mazenod. The originals of these letters have been lost.
Gaudreau Guy, o.m.i., “Pierre Bernard”, in Petite histoire des Missions oblates au Lesotho, Montreal, 2002, p. 9-10, with bibliography.