Sr Helen Bergin OP

Being Dominican

Helen entered the Dominican Sisters in 1970 after having completed a Masters degree in English at Victoria University of Wellington, and a Secondary Teachers’ Training certificate in Auckland.

Helen’s first few years in formation at St Dominic’s Priory Dunedin, beginning in 1970, were unsettled. In the post-Vatican II era, there were many comings and goings within the Novitiate.  However, Helen was very grateful to be able to teach at St Dominic’s College where she enjoyed teaching Religious education, English and French to many lovely young women.

A couple of years later, she revelled in the opportunity to learn theology and scripture at Holy Cross College Mosgiel, studying Vatican II documents such as Lumen Gentium andGaudium et Spes, church history and scripture with inspiring teachers such as Fathers Gerry Fitzgerald, John Mackey and Tony Mannix. This extended time of teaching and learning affirmed her identity as a post-Vatican II Christian, where she realized that the gifts of lay people were to be fostered and lived out in local parishes.

Study at Holy Cross eventually led to Helen being invited to undertake two periods of theological study at the Catholic University of America in Washington DC, centering finally on the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx OP. While in the USA, she lived at the Dominican House of Studies with inspiring US Dominican women, some of whom have remained firm friends. Helen returned to teach at Holy Cross for six years, and later at the Catholic Institute of Theology in Auckland. She has just completed many years of teaching theology at The University of Auckland.

Presently, Helen sees the Catholic Church being in a holding pattern, searching anew for its path. The post-Vatican II spark and momentum has largely disappeared for a variety of complex reasons. These have affected our young people in particular, as many parents reflect the changing patterns in our society which have commonly lead to a diminished practice of the faith. This saddens Helen.

Today, Helen rejoices in the gift of Pope Francis whose authentic living of the Gospel has surprised and energized many. She hopes his spark of life for the poor may lead to creative ways of living the Gospel and to renewed forms of spirituality especially for lay people. As well, Helen believes that stories of courageous women and men of faith, present and past, whose yearning for justice and holiness captures our imagination, need to be told and retold in contemporary ways. Helen recalled Marie Euphrasia Pelletier, foundress of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, whose inspiring story Helen read in class when she was about nine years old. Marie Euphrasia inspires her still. Helen believes that in knowing the lives of such passionate Dominicans as Catherine of Siena, Bartolome de las Casas, Joseph Lebret and Yves Congar, many contemporaries would also find a spark to encourage faith. We stand on their shoulders. They are our gift in this year of Jubilee – 800 years since Dominic founded the Order.

ktop 7 March 2016