Br. Bernardo: Apostle and Martyr among the children of miners

Br. Bernardo dedicated his life to children and youth and gave witness to his Christian faith at a time of social, political and religious upheaval. His qualities shine with their own light.

His five great loves:

• The Sacred Heart of Jesus, who guided his catechesis
• Jesus in the Eucharist, his daily nourishment
• Mary, present in his life and in school
• St. Joseph, his helper in face of the gravest difficulties
• Fr. Champagnat, to whom he was a living witness

An apostle attentive to the signs of the times

His basic apostolic thrust was primary education. He was also sensitive to the needs of youth. In the mining region, boys, when they completed primary school, still were not old enough (16) to start working in the mines. As a result, they spent their time roaming the streets, with the expected undesirable results. To keep them out of harm’s way, Br. Bernardo began three projects which were ahead of his time: a) The Circle of Studies, in which he taught night classes in religion, sociology, mathematics, accounting, French and music in an attempt to form the youth morally and culturally; b) The Association of Youth for Catholic Action, which involved Christian formation; and c) the establishment of an extra grade, free of charge, in which those who had finished primary school could stay until they reached their 16th birthday.

His love for the poor

When he was sent to Vallejo de Orbó, someone mentioned to him: “You’re not going to be happy with the children of the miners; they’ll undoubtedly be a bit crude and uncouth…” His response: “Perhaps they’ll have dirty faces, but they also are children of God”. The needier the children, the more did he show himself to be their brother. He would help everyone, whatever their religious or political background might be.

The apostolate of vocations to religious life

Br. Bernardo had the rare gift of being able to help boys see more clearly what God had in mind for them regarding their future and to see the signs of His call to religious life. The secret of his success was fourfold: prayer joined with sacrifice, the witness of a consecrated apostle, working with the families, and staying close to the boys as they discerned God’s will.

To sum up, the life of Br. Bernardo was one of true witness:

  • His effectiveness as a teacher proves the validity, even today, of Marist apostolic spirituality.
  • His commitment to the Marist mission put the poor first, as did his solidarity with them, strengthened by personal sacrifice and going the extra yard.
  • His life proves that a Brother with a deep spiritual life and spurred by apostolic zeal is a fit instrument in the hands of God to bring to maturity the seeds of good vocations to the religious life.

Br. Gabriele Andreucci
Marist Message 30, June 2001