Bernardine Ward Dies at 93

Ignatius Harding In the Headlines

Bernardine Ward, 93 years of age, a professed Franciscan Friar for 68 years and a priest for 63 years, died on Feb. 25 at Holy Name Friary, Ringwood, N.J.

Ignatius Harding sent in this memory of “Bernie” Ward:

Fr. Bernardine, ¨Bernie¨ (Joe) Ward spent his entire friar and priestly life in Latin America.

Immediately after his ordination in 1943, he volunteered for and was assigned to Mexico. He served there for 10 years.

He was one of the founders of the Province’s mission in Puerto Rico and served there during more than 16 years in a variety of roles: superior regular, pastor of Santa María de los Ángeles parish, guardian and treasurer.

In 1964, he joined Holy Name’s Bolivian mission, where he lived and worked in a wide range of apostolates until 2003 when, for health reasons, he returned to the U.S.

While in Bolivia, Bernie served as pastor in the Apolo parish, where he built a number of motorcycle roads and stone bridges (the first in the area) in order to reach rural communities; the Charazani, and Pelechuco parishes (in the mountains along the Peruvian border), as parochial vicar in the far-flung rural parish of Sorata, and in the Guanay, Caranavi and Mapiri parishes (mission stations) located in the tropical lowlands. Bern was able to adapt himself to both the extremes of highland cold and tropical heat.

As far back as 1966, he dreamed of founding a parochial radio station for evangelization. Taking his cue from the Maryknoll missioners who had just established a station in the La Paz area, Bern started tackling the mountains of red tape involved with government and ecclesial permissions, the buying of equipment and land and securing the technical assistance necessary for the launching of the proposed station. The first of his radios, “San Francisco,” transmitted out of Apolo, where it started broadcasting in 1970. In 1978, he inaugurated the more ambitious and powerful “Santa Clara” radio station with studios in Sorata.

Bern was proud of his language skills and treasured his assignments in Quechua-speaking areas. At the age of 63, he started learning Aymara. Bern worked in almost every one of the Mission’s parishes. He traveled to countless villages on foot, by mule, in jeep, boat and plane. He baptized, married, confessed, visited and buried literally thousands of people.

His latter years were characterized by a growing affability and gentleness. He was an avid reader of history,National Geographic and the NCR. He enjoyed stimulating conversation, to which he contributed freely. Despite, or perhaps because of his many offices and experiences, he learned true competence, generosity and humility. He was faithful to his prayers and other responsibilities without ever drawing attention to himself. He was fond of his Irish setter dogs, pinochle, hot sauce and, of course, the friars with whom he lived and worked – and for whom he invariably had ready any number of jokes, surprises and projects.

At the age of 78, he went to “lend a hand” at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Copacabana, on the shores of Lake Titicaca. He ended up staying there for over 15 years, dividing his time between chilly to frozen nights on the highlands and a yearly three-month pastoral visit to the sweltering jungles of Mapiri, where there is no priest. He was, and is, known all through the La Paz area as the happy priest, who, in baseball cap and habit, blessed thousands of cars and, much to the delight of the parents, sprinkled (doused) with holy water any number of little kids in the process.

He spent his final years in Bolivia as the elder friar at the shrine that also serves as house for the postulants. His stamina and independence were notorious. He refused help even when he had trouble walking. His enthusiasm (while contained) was unflagging.

Though growing forgetful in many things, he generally remembered the young guys’ names, his mission trips and his beloved Mexico. Bern was always ready with an eager smile for a movie, an ice cream cone or a blessing. The news of his death will undoubtedly affect the many people who knew him in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Bolivia.

¡Vaya con Dios, Socio!

From Sept. 2, 2003 until March 10, 2005, Bernadine lived at St. Anthony Friary in Butler, N.J. He then moved to Holy Name Friary in Ringwood, N.J., where his Wake was held on Feb. 27. The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at the Cortona Chapel of Holy Name Friary in Ringwood on Feb. 28 by John O’Connor, and Boniface Hanley was homilist. Interment followed at God’s Acre Cemetery, Ringwood.

Dominic Monti notes, ” At the time of his death, Bernardine was the oldest friar of the Province (93)– although not the senior. He had joined the Bolivian Missionary Province of St. Anthony when it became independent in 1984 (so he was an alumnus of the Province when the last several catalogs came out). He officially rejoined HNP in February 2004, several months after his return to the States.”