BAILEYS HARBOR — When the Missionaries of the Word were invited to send one of their sisters to Milwaukee to throw the first pitch before the Milwaukee Brewers-St. Louis Cardinals baseball game at Miller Park, the answer seemed obvious: Sr. Marie Bernadette of the Sacred Heart.
However, her reaction was laughter.
“I’m from the Milwaukee area, I’m a big Brewers fan and I’m an athlete,” the diminutive sister said, sitting on the patio of the St. Joseph Formation Center’s Kangaroo Lake campus, where much of the Catholic Youth Expeditions’ ministry occurs. “But I grew up with different sports — cross-country and soccer.”
She was still the first choice for Mother Mary Catherine, the religious community’s foundress, because it will give Sr. Bernadette a chance to see her family, who still live in the area and who will attend the event.
So, in whatever spare time she can carve out of her work-and-prayer days, Sr. Bernadette has been getting some coaching from another member of the order, novice Sr. Thérèse, who has softball in her background.
“Apparently, I throw a baseball like a football, and that’s not quite the same,” Sr. Bernadette said, chuckling at this new athletic challenge.
Sr. Bernadette’s opening pitch will be on Sunday, June 24, as part of the Ballpark Day of Faith promotion.
Ballpark Day of Faith began 11 years ago with four friends, including a seminarian, who met before a game for some food and conversation that eventually turned to spiritual things. Today that small circle of friends has grown into an annual event with about 1,000 people and includes Sunday Mass and tailgating before the game.
Sr. Bernadette recalls the years when her dad came home from work, piled everyone in the car, picked up subs along the way, and headed to a Brewer’s game. They ate their food in the car once they had parked and headed into the stadium, usually missing that first pitch. It was a part of her childhood world.
“My brothers always talked about being the sausages,” she said, referring to the costumed “racing sausages” that are the comic relief at some point in the game. None of them ever imagined throwing out that first pitch.
Sr. Bernadette said with a chuckle that this opportunity is probably every little boy’s dream. But she, true to her calling, is more interested in the chance to proclaim Christ by her presence. Tossing that first ball in the public sphere, wearing the habit of a religious sister, is a wordless reminder of Christ.
“When I was growing up, my whole life was sort of out of order,” she said. “Sports, friends and other things were above God and even above family — as is often found in the secular world. But, a rightly ordered life, with Jesus first, then others, then yourself, brings joy.”
Sr. Bernadette said that she still enjoys learning to throw a baseball. She plays soccer with the CYE campers and still goes for a run when she can, but “those things are not consuming.” Instead, she sees those activities, and her ability to do them well, as gifts from God to be used while doing his work.
Because of that, her pitching practice isn’t something that comes first in her days. She fits it in here and there, sometimes going a whole week without picking up a ball. What’s more important to her is her order’s mission of working with the young people who come for the Catholic Youth Expeditions.
Sr. Bernadette will be traveling to the game with Sr. Thérèse, and they’ll probably stay for “at least part of it.”
“But I’m anxious to get back here because we’ll have a new group of expeditioners just arriving,” she said.
Still, it’s easy to imagine Sr. Bernadette leading with her quick and easy smile as she heads onto the diamond, baseball in hand.