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Sarah Toppen and Sister Bernice Garcia, OP are walking together on an oral history project for SisterStory. It is an ongoing initiative of National Catholic Sisters Week, a campaign to broaden awareness of Catholic sisters. The following is an introduction to this project by Aquinas College Student Sarah Toppen.

Sarah Toppen and Sister Bernice Garcia

From the moment I enter the Dominican Center at Marywood, Sister Bernice Garcia always brightens up my day. It has been both an honor and joy to get to know Sister Bernice!

One of my favorite ways Sister Bernice and I have gotten to know one another is by touring part of the Dominican Center at Marywood. One of the common areas Sister Bernice took me down was where they exhibit collections from different artists. This particular artwork was done with a Southwestern Native American style, similar to the artwork Sister Bernice saw when she was in New Mexico, in both her childhood and later as a sister, serving her community through various roles. It was beautiful to learn about her vast knowledge of other cultures but also to share in the enjoyment of the beautiful gifts and talents of others.

Sister Bernice and I have enjoyed exchanging stories, and she always provides a nugget of wisdom. One of my favorites is when Sister Bernice told me that it was no mistake that God spelled backward is dog. One of the first things I shared with Sister Bernice was the love of my family’s dog, Nellie. (I had to show the picture of Nellie in a child’s penguin hat.) I was thrilled to learn that Sister Bernice also had a dog when she was growing up. Because her family was very active in their church, their dog ended up adopting the priest, knowing that the family was at church so often! While Sister Bernice and her family continued to provide and take care of the dog, the dog had fallen in love with the priest. This story had us both laughing!

In the few times Sister Bernice and I have gotten together, I have gotten more excited to start the  interview process with her. While I have learned some of the many ways she has served communities across America, I am eager to learn more about her multiple careers and her vocation. Sister Bernice shares a beautiful love for the Catholic faith and a passion for including others in the service at Marywood and in the Catholic faith.

Sarah Toppen is a Junior at Aquinas College, where she is studying Political Science and Women’s Studies. After taking “Women in American History” at the same time as “American History,” she became passionate about including women’s narratives in historical accounts and teachings. She has furthered her passion towards helping women through her advocacy internship with the Nothing But Nets Campaign, United Nations Foundation during Summer 2017. Sarah is excited to experience her faith in a new light. During the Spring of 2018 she was paired with Sister Bernice Garcia, OP, a Dominican Sister of Grand Rapids.