Sister Bernadette Young, a motherly and scholarly former La Roche College administrator and minister for three decades to young Catholics at Oakland universities, died Sunday at the Providence Heights home of the Sisters of Divine Providence in McCandless.
She was 86, and before her retirement just six years ago, she had no trouble influencing people a half-century younger through her wise counseling and enthusiastic spirituality.
From the late 1970s until 2006, Sister Bernadette was a constant presence at the Pittsburgh Oratory in Oakland, which focuses on serving students from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie Mellon and Chatham.
For many years, she led the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program connected to St. Paul Cathedral, which guided young people and others who were converting to Catholicism or recommitting to it.
"She was a driving force bringing students and others in the Oakland area into the faith," said the Rev. Drew Morgan, the Oratory's longtime provost. "Her years of experience were a big asset."
Sister Bernadette, originally from New Philadelphia, Ohio, was educated at elementary and high schools by the nuns of the Sisters of Divine Providence. Her older sister, Muriel, entered the order before her, and she followed at age 20.
She devoted herself to both educating others and educating herself, earning a bachelor's degree in education from Duquesne University, a master's in counseling from the University of Dayton and a doctorate in higher education from Pitt.
Sister Bernadette taught in several local parochial schools before the founding of La Roche, with her appointment at the college's outset in 1963 to wear multiple hats: registrar, admissions director, director of financial aid and residence counselor. She held most of those posts for the next eight to nine years.
Sister Mary Traupman, a La Roche student in the 1960s who became a lifelong friend, said Sister Bernadette was gentle with the students while at the same time inspiring them with her energy.
"It was hard to say no to her," said Sister Mary, of Brighton Heights. Sister Bernadette had a lot to do, "but she was not a 'poor me' soul. Her enthusiasm was so infectious that you just helped" with anything she asked.
Sister Bernadette was recognized in 2012 commencement ceremonies at La Roche with the university's Woman of Providence Award.
By that time, she had influenced many students beyond those at La Roche. She had been pursuing her Ph.D. at Pitt in the 1970s when becoming involved at the Oratory, and she subsequently decided to make serving the young people there her spiritual mission.
She immersed herself in Oakland's busy college community, living in a home near CMU with other sisters and connecting easily with students on several campuses for three decades.
Explaining her role at one point, she said, "I'm available. I listen. If I see students who are lonely or alone, I'll sit with them and talk."
Sister Joan Coultas, who studied with Sister Bernadette at Dayton and would later serve as president of La Roche, said Sister Bernadette "was wonderful with students but an in-depth scholar at the same time. ... She would be the person helping you figure out where you were headed in the future, and also one who brought a lot of people into the Roman Catholic church."
Sister Bernadette was also known as a talented cook and knitter. She recovered from two heart surgeries many years ago, but was slowed in recent years by a stroke and other health ailments. Through the years, she kept in touch with many former students.
At the time she was honored at La Roche last year, one of those students said of her, "In our lives we meet people who plant seeds, but she spent time pruning and cultivating, too."
Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and noon to 3 p.m. Wednesday at Providence Heights, 9000 Babcock Blvd., McCandless.
A wake service will be held there at 7 p.m. today, with a Mass at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday at Divine Providence Chapel.
Gary Rotstein: email@example.com or 412-263-1255.