Bernadette embraces her mission, guided by God’s love

27 Aug 2021

By Amanda Murthy

Missionary of God’s Love’s Sr Bernadette Toohey this year 6 March took her perpetual vows in Canberra. In an exclusive interview with The Record journalist Amanda Murthy, she candidly shares her experiences that led to her calling to religious life.

MGL Sr Bernadette Toohey with her parents.
MGL Sr Bernadette Toohey with her parents. Photo: Supplied.

“It’s nerve-wrecking to open up to the Lord and say yes I’m open to religious life,” Sr Bernadette explained.

“But if it’s where you’re meant to be, it’s honestly the best thing you can do!” she said.

Beginning of a life-long journey…

I grew up in a loving Catholic family who were pretty connected to the Church. 

We went to Catholic schools, attended Sunday Mass, said grace before meals and regularly had priests over for dinner. 

When I was 16, I was really excited to be able to attend our parish Antioch youth group, and I felt that this was where my faith began to become my own and not just a family thing.

In 2002, some of the older Antioch members attended World Youth Day in Canada and  came back refreshed in a way that made me commit to being at the next WYD to see what it was all about. 

In 2005, when I was 21, I headed off to WYD in Germany, saving many pennies and overloading university subjects to make the trip possible.  At the time I went, I was living the typical 21-year-old life; I had great friends, was pleased to have completed my university studies and had a boyfriend.

After a series of events at WYD, including the opportunity to sit down and ask a priest many questions about the faith, and experiencing the love of God through a hymn “Open my eyes, Lord”, I truly felt loved by God, but, at the same time, I felt really challenged because I also felt He was calling me to change parts of my life, and I didn’t like it. 

Over the next three months of my travels in Europe, I was gradually able to respond to this call to be open, and upon coming home, I made some changes that altered the direction of my life.

I began studying theology, joined a live-in young adult Catholic community and ended the relationship with my boyfriend.

Upon my return from WYD in Germany, I had a new zeal for my faith and found that I wanted to share what had happened for me with others, as I felt that God had become very real in my life, which began the start of my missionary journey.

Challenges in vocation life

One of the biggest challenges I have faced in my vocation was the process of even discerning religious life in the first place. 

If it had not been for some amazing people along the way, who introduced me to silent retreats, spiritual direction and walked the journey with me, I would never have had the opportunity or courage to discern this call. 

Since joining the MGLs, I have questioned whether I was on the right track, and it has been difficult to bring this in openness and honesty to the Lord and discern it well. 

I think in any vocation there will also be times of dissatisfaction and difficulty, and this has been true at certain times of my vocational journey too, when our life limits me from doing something I would like to do or when I feel the ‘pinch’ of our life of poverty, chastity and obedience. 

At these times, I take comfort that every vocation involves sacrifice, and I remember the joyful and blessed parts about religious life.

What are the things that you value more, since joining religious life?

Something that I truly value is that even though I have had to move away from my family, I feel closer to them, because I am drawing closer to Jesus, and he is helping me in my relationships with others. 

I also truly value the gift of praying with the Sisters, because their presence and commitment to prayer supports and sustains me in my prayer life. 

I value the gift of friendships and community, as we are members of the Disciples of Jesus Covenant Community and so we are often meeting, praying and ministering with other lay married and single people and families, which is such a blessing for me. 

Passions and hobbies? I have a varied and ever-changing list of passions and hobbies, ranging from AFL (I barrack for the Hawks who aren’t doing so well at the moment!) as well as hiking, camping, playing guitar and singing.  In my spare time you will find me playing board games with friends, reading the newspaper, watching movies or visiting