Sister Anne Beringer (Formerly Anne Elizabeth)

Sister Anne Beringer (Formerly Anne Elizabeth)

Sister Anne Beringer

September 11, 1926 - September 5, 2018

Reflecting on her 70 years with the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, Anne Beringer quoted a Chinese-American architect admired for his way of integrating the beauty of a building’s natural surroundings into its architectural design.  “Ah, yes, when you work with God,” he said, “you can hardly go wrong.”   Anne saw her life as “working with God” – and surely, it did not “go wrong”!

Her growing-up years had prepared her well for the journey that lay ahead —a lifetime characterized, above all, by openness to all that was new and different.  Her mother was of Irish-Catholic background; her father’s roots were German-Lutheran.  Anne started her education at Norwood Public School, then transferred to St. Gabriel.  Memories shared in an oral-history interview (October, 2015), suggest a clear preference for Norwood.  She reveled in having been a “publicker”!  Each day at Norwood, she remembered, began with students reading a text from the Bible.  “And those of us who liked to read aloud would pick long passages”!   Next came the pledge of allegiance to the flag.  At a very young age, Anne was being prepared for living and sharing faith in the “public square.”  

So I learned a lot in public school.  I learned a lot about art, even.  The emphasis was much more on individualism, I do believe, than what I hear our Sisters talking about [from] their [Catholic] grade school experience.  For instance, we, the students, did all the tack board materials.  And when they were finished, the men who worked in the school came and put up scaffolding along the wall and we put them up.  I can [also] remember doing big posters for our school plays and assemblies.

From St. Gabriel parochial school, Anne went to Moylan High – her first encounter with SNDs.  Not until senior year did she even think about religious life, she said.  When  one of her favorite SND teachers raised the question.  “I was shocked, “she remarked in the interview.  “I said, ‘Oh, no, Sister!”  But “then a Sister that I worked with more often asked me the same question.  And I thought, ‘What is going on?’  And so, little by little, I thought that God was asking me to become a Sister.  So that’s how it all started.”

As an SND, she loved teaching, especially at high-school and college levels.  “I liked the give and take of matching wits with others.”  Art became a particular love.  Given her grade-school experience as a “publicker,” her preference for teaching in non-Catholic schools is not surprising.  For her, “always teaching Catholic girls – and sometimes boys” -- felt “kind of insular.”  On the other hand, she remembered how “. . . I got a slice of life when I taught in [Delaware County] Community College . . . just outside of Philadelphia.  . . .  They had never been taught by a Sister, and I hadn’t taught many rowdy, questioning people.”  But  “it all turned out well.”

Anne also treasured her years teaching at Williamson in Delaware County-- “an all-boys, residential trade school” founded in 1888 by a Quaker, Isaiah Williamson, who “realized that [poor] young men standing on the street corners doing nothing could be gainfully employed if they only had an education.”  Here are some of her memories:

These young men had excellent opportunities because all the big businesses in the area . . . used to come . . . and interview . . . .  And I was appalled that they had no idea how to write a resumé or to interview.  So for the Senior year of English, I made that the main concentration – teaching them how to put together a resumé, how to update it, how to take an interview – and the Dean gave me great leeway.  He purchased tapes for each Senior so that I could [record] the mock interviews.  . . So I gave them the tape when they finished their interview, and I told them they had to listen to it themselves . . . .   If they wanted to do it over I would be more than willing to allow them to interview again.  I stressed that they had to dress properly, and in some cases, told them exactly what to wear.  . . .  Some of the suit jackets I saw over and over and over again.  They were sharing.   I found it a very enriching experience for me because it was totally different from anything I had done before, for one thing.  And, as rough and ready as some of these students were, it was very interesting teaching all male students . . .  And I must say that I am still in contact with some of the young men.  I [even] got to do readings at their weddings.

At Neumann College, Anne worked with non-traditional students of a different kind: women who had interrupted their college education in favor of marriage and family and were now resuming course work to earn their degrees.  At Trinity in Washington (DC), it was her co-ed evening classes with  “sharp, sophisticated” M.A.T. students that she found particularly challenging and exhilarating.  At Notre Dame Seishin University in Okayama, Japan, Anne’s love of “the give and take of matching wits with others” faced a formidable challenge:  “Japanese students,’ she learned, “do not question the teacher.  That is unheard of!  And they never . . .  initiate any answers themselves.”  What to do?   As an ice-breaker, she took to “very casual” walks down the aisle, stopping at each desk to ask: “Tell me one thing you did over the weekend.”  This novel approach seems to have made her “something of a pop star at that college there.”  Back home in Pennsylvania, she wrote in her diamond jubilee memoir, “How I enjoyed living in that age-old culture!”

Anne’s active years were further diversified by travel.  Her maiden voyage was accompanying a group of Trinity sophomores on a six-week panoramic tour of monuments of Western Civilization, especially in Greece and Rome.  “This was such a wonderful experience,” she wrote, “that in 1972, I spent my six-month sabbatical in Florence, Italy, engaged in wood carving and walking the cobblestones those Renaissance artists walked.  Later, I was fortunate to return to European art centers several times.”  She also spent two years at the SND generalate in Rome, and had the joy of a pilgrimage to France and Belgium “in the footsteps of St. Julie.”  Her memorabilia even include a photo of Anne riding a camel in Egypt!  Wherever she went, one friend observed, she managed to speak the language – even if she didn’t know it!!

Citizen of the world though she was, she carried her family in her heart all her life long, especially her parents.  “I thank God who placed me in a loving family, with three younger sisters and a brother—and dozens of nieces and nephews,” she wrote.  “My mother . . . was our constant mainstay until her death at 94.  My father . . . supported our faith and cared for us until his death at 37.”   In 1991, she moved to Rochester (NY) “to help my brother care for our 89-year-old mother.  . . .  I was blessed to be with my mother when God called her to eternal life in November 1995.”

As for her Notre Dame family, she said in her interview, “I think almost everyone I’ve ever lived with has rubbed off on me in some way so that I understood a little more with each, what it was to be a Sister of Notre Dame.”  In community, Anne had a way of making the house truly a home – pleasing in appearance and comfortable.  Feast days always benefitted from her gift for arranging flowers and decorating tables.  Her skill in calligraphy and design reinforced the theme of many a province assembly or jubilee.  Her love for her Sisters is particularly evident in her years of service to retired SNDs living with the Daughters of Charity in Emmitsburg, MD, and at Villa Julie. 

Perhaps it was her 70th jubilee that led her to the realization that she herself was a candidate for retirement.  “As I continue in this rather mysterious aging process,” she wrote at that time, “I trust in God’s goodness for more wonderful experiences as a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur.”  One such experience was a glorious celebration of her 90th birthday at Villa Julie, including a surprise visit from her niece Reedy.   The battle with cancer was soon to begin, however, a time of testing, deepening and ultimately, surrender.

As a high-school senior, surprised that not one but two SNDs asked if she had ever considered joining Notre Dame, Anne had “scratched her head,” as it were:  “What is going on?” But then, “little by little” she had come to believe that it was God who was inviting her to a new way of life.  Now in her nineties and a patient at Mount Notre Dame, as medical treatment was becoming less and less effective, she had the courage to ask once again:  “What is going on?” Her acceptance of hospice care reflected her peaceful recognition that God was inviting her once again to a newer, fuller way of life; and “when you work with God, you can hardly go wrong.”

BIODATA

Born September 11, 1926, Ridley Park, PA

Parents: Howard and Anne Friel Beringer

Three sisters (now deceased):  Claire, Marie Bratun, and Kathryn McGinley.  One brother: Harry J. Gysling

 

Education

Norwood Public School & St. Gabriel School

Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA

B.A., Trinity College, Washington, DC (English & Art)

M.F.A., The Catholic University of America

 

Notre Dame Life and Ministry

Entered Notre Dame August 13, 1944 (Ilchester, MD)

First Vows: February 8, 1947

Final Profession: July 30, 1952

 

Teaching Ministries include:

 

Elementary/Middle-School

St. Eleanor, Collegeville, PA (Grades 5 & 6)

 

Secondary Level (mainly Art)

Academy of Notre Dame, Villanova, PA

Notre Dame High School, Moylan, PA (twice)

Little Flower High School, Philadelphia, PA

St. Maria Goretti high School, Philadelphia, PA

 

Post-Secondary Level

Villa Julie College, Stevenson, MD (Art, Design, English)

Trinity College, Washington, DC (Art)

Williamson Free School of Mechanical Trades, Delaware County, PA (Design, Drafting, History of Art, Communications)

Neumann College, Aston, PA (History of Art)

Delaware County Community College, Media, PA (Business Communication)

Bryant & Stratton College, Rochester, NY

Notre Dame Seishin University, Okayama, Japan (English)

 

Other

Logo Co. Philadelphia, PA (Free-lance designer)

Notre Dame Generalate, Rome, Italy (Support Staff)

Notre Dame Provincial Office, Tokyo, Japan (Support Staff)

Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Divine Providence Village (Volunteer work with mentally challenged women)

Villa St. Michael, Emmitsburg, MD (Ministry to retired SNDs)

Villa Julie Residence, Stevenson, MD (Community Service)

 

Retirement

Villa Julie Residence (2015)

Maria Health Care Center (2017}

Mount Notre Dame Health Center (2017)

 

Written by Mary Ann Cook, SND, drawing on an oral history interview conducted by Stephanie Thompson, SND, together with Anne’s jubilee reflections in two issues of the Tri-Province publication Endeavor (2004; 2014)