Sister Mary Bertha Horning, SSpSAP, died May 8 at Mount Grace Convent in St. Louis. She was 98 years old and died on the 77th anniversary of her religious profession.
Sister Mary Bertha was baptized Helen Rosemary Horning, born on Jan. 19, 1925, in Springfield, Missouri, to Homer Horning and Mary Bertha Newton. Her parents died before her first birthday, so her maternal aunt and uncle adopted her as one of their own; she became one of seven children in that loving family. She used to call her adoptive parents “mother and daddy.” Her aunt, however, made her retain her biological parents’ last name. She said she was so blessed to have had two sets of loving parents and was looking forward to meeting them.
She was just a teenager when the thought first dawned on her to become a nun. She once shared that while looking up at the monstrance during a 40-hour adoration, she thought, “What in the world is more important than the Incarnation and the Eucharist?” Her mother had plans for her to go to a Benedictine college, but when she spoke to her spiritual director, the priest told her, “God calls — that’s the time to go.”
On Aug. 13, 1943, at the age of 18, she entered Mount Grace Convent in St. Louis, a convent of the Sister-Servants of the Holy Spirit of Perpetual Adoration, a congregation dedicated to perpetual adoration and praying for the sanctification of priests. Three years later, on May 8, 1946, she made her first profession of vows in Philadelphia and took her religious name Sister Mary Bertha in honor of her biological mother. She made her final commitment on May 21, 1951, also in Philadelphia.
On May 8, 2021, she celebrated her diamond jubilee in St. Louis. She had also been assigned to the sisters’ convents in Philadelphia, Corpus Christi and Austin (which has been closed). Along with learning a little German, she learned to play the organ in the Motherhouse in Steyl, Netherlands. She once told a sister that she played the organ only out of obedience and that she never liked it. She spent most of her years as an organist and a librarian, and she also helped in the correspondence room.
In 2017, while in Corpus Christi, Sister Mary Bertha had to undergo two hip replacements after falling twice. In 2019, she was assigned back to St. Louis where she became confined to her room because walking became difficult. Nevertheless, she continued to live her life of unceasing prayer and sacrificial love faithfully and serenely for the salvation of souls and for the needs of the world. She also welcomed anyone who visited her with a smile and a listening ear. Her favorite prayer was the Rosary; she always had her beads in her hands. She likewise kept in her room a small statue and relic of St. John Neumann, her favorite saint.
Sister Mary Bertha died on the anniversary of her religious profession, concluding 77 years of loving dedication to the Eucharist and the Lord’s service, having kept in her heart the Lord’s promise: “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood … I will raise on the last day.”