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Sr. Henri-Dominique Berthier

Foundress of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany

Memorial Day in honor of Henri-Dominique Berthier

The countdown on the website of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany expired exactly today: on the Memorial Day of Mother Henri-Dominique Berthier. A coincidence? Certainly not! But why is this day so important for the nuns that people have been looking forward to it for such a long time?

Mother Henri-Dominique Berthier

The answer to this question is quite simple: Mother Henri-Dominique Berthier, together with Father Jean-Joseph Lataste, founded the Dominican Sisters of Bethany. She was a very special woman. She was born Anne-Victorine Berthier on July 17, 1822 in France.

Her faith in God was also strengthened by her very religious mother and by her attendance at the boarding school of the Sisters of the Holy Spirit. A few years after her mother's death, she finally asked her father for permission to enter the Carmelite Order. Her father refused this order and instead recommended that she enter the Congregation of the Sisters of the Sacrifice of Mary. In 1843 she finally began her postulancy in this religious community. On October 6, 1843, she celebrated her investiture and received the name Sister Bernhardine.

During her time in this order, she established an orphanage, a crèche, an asylum, a labor office, and founded an association of superior daughters. Even then she was committed to helping the socially disadvantaged.

Foundation of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany 

In 1865, she finally learned of the plans of the Dominican priest Jean-Joseph Lataste. He wanted to found a religious community for women who had committed crimes in the past. Returning to society or even joining a religious order was almost impossible for formerly convicted women.

"Bethany" should be the name of this community. Because Bethany is in the Bible the place where the two unequal sisters Mary and Martha live together. At the time of Father Lataste, theology identified this Mary with the "sinner known to the city" who appears in the Gospel and anoints Jesus' feet. In Bethany, then, women were to live together like sisters, whether they were of blameless reputation or had lost their good name.

Sister Bernhardine wanted to help Father Lataste in his undertaking. So after 23 years she left the Order of the Sacrifice of Mary and traveled to join him at Bethany. She was shocked to learn that the order did not even exist yet, but that she was to found it! Father Lataste gave her three days of reflection, during which she asked God for the right way. Then she agreed to become a co-founder of the new community and took the name Sister Henri-Dominique.

On November 22, 1866, Sister Henri-Dominique Berthier became prioress of the Dominican Sisters of Bethany. Together with Father Lataste she laid the foundation. But he was often away and died already in 1869. After that she built Bethany alone and guided the destiny of the community until her death. Mother Henri-Dominique died on February 27, 1907.

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