A funeral Mass for Sister Bernita Marie Leiker was celebrated May 22 in the chapel at the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Wichita Center in Wichita, Kansas.
The Kansas native who ministered in Brazil for 44 years and later at a parish in St. Louis County died May 19 at the Caritas Center in Wichita. She was 97 and had been a professed Adorer of the Blood of Christ for 80 years.
Born in Antonino, Kansas, the fifth of nine children in a farming family, her mother died when she was age 6. Her father kept the family together and everyone shared chores. She entered the Adorers in 1939 and made first vows in 1941 and final vows in 1946.
She attended Catholic grade school in Antonino, but lacked formal, higher education, though she later took correspondence courses. After several years of domestic work in Kansas, Nebraska and Texas, she volunteered to serve in the Adorers’ newly opened Brazilian mission. She studied Portuguese, packed supplies and left Wichita for Brazil in 1948 at the age of 24.
Sister Bernita Maria ministered in six places over 44 years in or near Brazil’s Amazon region. She started schools in Coari, Codajaz, Altamira and Santarem for street kids, then oversaw renovation of a large house into a 20-bed hospital in Belem. In Fortalza, she started an elementary school and a laundry, as a means for poor women to earn a living. She also started a nursery and training program for the women.
She returned to Belem in 1966, where she stayed until 1992, managing the bookkeeping, banking, purchasing, shipping and banking needs of the Precious Blood Fathers’ mission. She once said she kept the “water pumps running, machines fixed, leaks sealed and the guests happy.” She recognized how her ministry freed up others to teach, provide health care, evangelize, and do social work and pastoral work.
She returned to Wichita in 1993. She volunteered for her community, and helped at a parish in Oklahoma and in the Archdiocese of St. Louis at St. Catherine Laboure Parish in Sappington from 2001-06. She retired to Wichita in 2008.
In 2018, when the Adorers were hosting African families, some of them Portuguese-speaking and seeking asylum in the United States, Sister Bernita Maria assisted as a great-grandmother figure to their children.