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Sister Bertha Penabad, 94, ‘spent her life evangelizing’

Sister of Mary Reparatrix worked at St. Brendan, produced Spanish radio programs

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MIAMI | She was funny, lively, loved animals and nature, and the singing of Frank Sinatra.

She also “spent her life evangelizing,” and left an indelible mark on all who knew her — especially the people of St. Brendan Parish in Westchester.

Sister Bertha Penabad, Society of Mary Reparatrix: Born July 28, 1922, died Feb. 22, 2017. In religious life for 70 years.

Photographer: COURTESY PHOTO

Sister Bertha Penabad, Society of Mary Reparatrix: Born July 28, 1922, died Feb. 22, 2017. In religious life for 70 years.

Sister Bertha Penabad, a member of the Society of Mary Reparatrix who ministered in the Archdiocese of Miami from 1978 to 2000, died Feb. 22 in Monroe, Michigan, after several years of failing health. She was 94.

“She touched the lives of many people,” said Silvia Lopez, a lay associate of the Reparatrix community who got to know Sister Bertha at St. Brendan.

“Spiritually, I grew a lot through her classes and her experiences,” said Lopez, who kept in touch with Sister Bertha after she left Miami. “She spent her life evangelizing.”

Sister Bertha served as pastoral assistant at St. Brendan — teaching adults — while also working in the archdiocesan communications ministry. She produced the televised Mass in Spanish as well as two Spanish-language programs for radio, “Panorama Católico” and “Huellas” (Footprints). Both aired on commercial stations before the archdiocese bought its own, Radio Paz 830 AM.

“We concentrate on scripture, folkloric music, helpful hints in exercise,” she said in an interview with the archdiocesan newspaper in 1984. “Imagine, a sermon in the church will reach 200 people. We can reach 30,000 people.”

What many of her listeners might not have known was that Sister Bertha was an accomplished linguist, fluent in French, Arabic and Ugandan in addition to English and her native Spanish — all due to the various places where she had served as a religious.

Even when, around age 77, she left Miami’s warmth for the colder clime of the Reparatrix community in Ridgewood, New York, she told Lopez, “I go where my order sends me. The Lord needs me.”

Sister Bertha was born July 28, 1922 in Havana, Cuba. She had one sister, Esther, who died years ago. After attending the University of Havana from 1940 to 1944, Bertha was sent to Spain. She entered the Society of Mary Reparatrix in Segovia on Oct. 19, 1946, and made her first vows May 2, 1949 in Madrid. In 1950, she was sent to the community in Cairo, Egypt, where she learned Arabic.

She then served in Rome, London, Newcastle and Elie, Scotland. In 1957, she was sent to oversee novices for the community in Entebbe, Uganda, where she learned another language. She also served briefly as superior general of a small community of African Reparatrix sisters who wanted to form their own congregation.

After Uganda, Sister Bertha was sent to Nantes, Paris and Strasbourg, France. In the early 1960s, she was named superior of the Reparatrix community on Reunion Island, off the coast of Madagascar.

Then she served in Rome and Spain until 1978, when she came to Miami and started a small community of Cuban Reparatrix. Eventually, the group became part of the congregation’s U.S. Province. One of them, Sister Dora Morales, still lives here.  

While in Miami, Sister Bertha worked closely with the Cuban exile community, especially those who arrived in the Mariel boatlift of 1980. In 1992, she was awarded the Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice medal by Pope John Paul II, in recognition of her devoted service to the Church.

In 2006, Sister Bertha left the community in Ridgewood and moved to the Reparatrix health care facility in Riverview, Michigan. About a month before her death, she was moved to the health care facility of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Monroe, Michigan, where she died.

She was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Southfield, Michigan. She is survived by a number of nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews. One of them, Teresita Quesada Penabad, wrote this on her aunt’s online obituary:

“She had this unique quality to make the best of everything. Her gift was her ability to spread her positive energy. She was the happiest person I have ever known…”

Sister Margaret Hoey, of the Society of Mary Reparatrix in Riverview, Michigan, provided background information for this report.

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