“I got to Waterloo and thought, ‘This is not for me,'” said Fr. Bernardy in a 2010 interview with The Compass in celebration of his 50-year jubilee. “I was walking along the river one day and I had visited the church. Something said, ‘I want you in the priesthood.’ I sat down and wrote a letter to my pastor back home.”
Following two years at Jordan Seminary in Menominee, Fr. Bernardy entered the diocesan minor seminary in St. Nazianz. He then studied philosophy and theology at St. John Seminary, Collegeville, Minn. Fr. Bernardy was ordained to the priesthood by Bishop Stanislaus Bona on June 11, 1960, at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, Green Bay.
The Second Vatican Council stood out in his early years of priesthood, which included serving as an assistant pastor in parishes in Manitowoc, New London and Green Bay.
“That was the best thing, when we could turn to the vernacular,” he said. “That was super. We were talking their language.”
In 1970, Fr. Bernardy was appointed pastor of St. Anthony Parish, Oconto Falls. Nine years later, at the recommendation of his close friend, the late Fr. Carl Steiner, he became pastor of St. Anthony, Niagara. He served the parish for 20 years until his retirement in 1999. For 15 of those years, he also served as administrator at St. Margaret Parish, Pembine.
Celebrating Mass, baptisms and hearing confessions were among his joys in ministry. Fr. Bernardy promoted ecumenism and assisted with Alcoholics Anonymous. He was a driving force behind the building of the new Maryhill Manor, a nursing care facility in Niagara.
Fr. Matt Settle, pastor at St. Anthony Parish, Niagara; Sacred Heart, Aurora; and St. Margaret, Pembine, said that he admired Fr. Bernardy’s sense of family.
“That was a big theme for him,” said Fr. Settle. “He saw the parish as a family. Over the last year or so at Maryhill, every time at Mass, he would pray for ‘our families.’ He talked about how, as Christians, we are members of one family.”
When Fr. Bernardy retired, he moved to his residence on Hemlock Lake near Crandon, which he purchased in 1977. He was nicknamed the “Friar of the Forest” by his close friend, the late Fr. Jim Jacobs, a.k.a. the “Padre of the Pines,” who also resided on the lake.
Msgr. Paul Koszarek, a.k.a. the “Monk of the Marsh, ” another Hemlock Lake resident, enjoyed time spent with Fr. Bernardy.
“He was very friendly and was a good party guy,” said Msgr. Koszarek. “He was a stimulator of conversation who was interested in what was happening in the church. He enriched people’s lives.”
In 2004, Fr. Bernardy moved back to Niagara to be closer to doctors. His longtime housekeeper Barb Wetzel served as his caretaker. In retirement, Fr. Bernardy assisted with Masses, including services at Maryhill Manor. In 2007, he suffered a physical setback when he was struck by a car outside St. Anthony Church, but continued to serve when he was able. On June 13, 2010, Fr. Bernardy was honored with a celebration at St. Anthony in recognition of 50 years of priesthood.
Fr. Bernardy is survived by one brother, Francis “Johnny” Bernardy of Marinette; two sisters, Joyce Meschar of Louisville, Ky., and Betty Ann Edlebeck, Wausaukee; and numerous nieces and nephews.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Albert and Julia (O’Neill) Bernardy; three brothers, Albert, Harold and Raymond Bernardy; and two sisters, Irene Dal Santo and his twin, Patricia Elmer.
The funeral Mass was celebrated on Nov. 19 at St. Anthony Church, Niagara, with Bishop Robert Morneau officiating and Bishop Robert Banks concelebrating. Fr. Matt Settle delivered the homily. Burial followed on Nov. 20 at St. Joseph Parish Cemetery in Walsh.