Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA
“You shall be my people and I will be your God.” Ezekiel 36:28
Liguorian continues its tradition, begun in 2020, of publishing profiles of people who have served in ministry most of their lives. In 2021, the subjects will be women religious. A title will spotlight a favorite Bible passage of the woman being profiled. Our January article is on Sr. Dianne Bergant, CSA, a teacher, an eloquent writer, and a lifelong devotee to God, theological students, and the Catholic Church.
q. How did you discover your vocation?
a. When I was in kindergarten, the daughter of family friends made her first holy Communion at a neighboring church. There was a procession of the communicants with the Blessed Sacrament that evening. I remember being thrilled by the occasion. I have no idea why I liked it. It was “high church,” “smells and bells.” I only knew that I liked the experience. Two years later, my sister and I were enrolled in that school, where I met members of the community I eventually joined. I trace my interest in the Church back to that event. I have never doubted this vocation. The vocational struggle I experienced had to do with the character of religious life—apostolic or monastic.
q. What role does prayer play in your life today?
a. To me, prayer is more a disposition toward life—or God within the realities of life—than an action or set of actions. There are times when life loads burdens on one’s shoulders, and then prayer is fundamentally a recognition of inadequacy and a call-out or acknowledgment of the need for help. One walks around carrying that along with the burdens. At other times, such as when life strips away what one loves dearly, prayer is open-handed relinquishment. I am more and more convinced that ultimately prayer is relatively simple, no more than “I’m sorry,” or, “Thank you.”
q. In what ways has your ministry been an example of servant leadership?
a. Though in my early years of religious life I taught seventh and eighth grade, during most of my life I have taught Scripture on the graduate level at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. It has been a most rewarding ministry. I have worked with and discussed various theological and ministerial issues with some premier theologians from the United States—and abroad. Doors were opened to me for expanding my ministry into writing and lecturing throughout the world. However, I have always maintained that the greatest privilege I have experienced has been to be part of the formation of future ministers of the Church. This has helped me to see clearly that the real meaning of ministry is diakonia (service).
q. How have you experienced God’s goodness in your life of ministry?
a. People might speak of God’s goodness from the perspective of what they have been given. I know I have been given much. However, I choose to answer the question from a different point of view. I am very conscious of God’s care of me. The first decade of my life in community was extraordinarily difficult. Despite feeling alone through it all, I survived. I have never experienced anything like that since, but then again, I have never been as vulnerable as I was at that time in my life. I now know that I have inner strength. I am confident that regardless of what I might have to endure, how my life might unfold, and even if I am broken, I will never be destroyed. There is no destruction where there exists resurrection. And I believe that resurrection is a promise, not a dream. Experiencing this has been the greatest evidence of God’s goodness in my life.
q. What does the Catholic Church and the Catholic faith sustain in you?
a. As a trained biblical theologian, I am immersed in our religious tradition. Teaching at a school of theology has widened my theological perspective to include other theological disciplines. As a member of a religious community, I have had hundreds of people with whom I have shared religious values, concerns, and initiatives. Few laywomen or men have been so privileged. For me, our religious tradition is really the lens through which I look at the world, the standard I use to measure what is important. This is not to say that I have always been as faithful as I might have been. But, when I am aware of my failure in this regard, that same tradition accuses me and also encourages me to do better. I realize that both as a member of a community and as a theologian I am privileged, and I do not take this privilege lightly.
q. What gives you hope in the Church today?
a. I find great hope in the commitment of women and men of all ages to issues of social justice, whether this commitment is exercised through church or societal agencies. The giving nature of so many people that has been showcased by their willingness to care for others during the COVID-19 crisis is evidence of genuine love of others. Perfect strangers are distributing food to the hungry and caring for the afflicted. Those with “necessary jobs” see those jobs as a service. As important as theological accuracy might be—and as a theologian I believe that it is important—theological insights can change and develop. Attending to the needs of others is a constant that will always be present among us. Women and men all over the world have stepped up, and this gives me hope.
Sr. Dianne Bergant was also an active member of the Chicago Catholic/Jewish Scholars Dialogue from 1988 through 2017. She also served on a half-dozen editorial boards over the years and was a member of the board of trustees for Sacred Heart School of Theology and St. Francis Seminary, both in Milwaukee. Today she writes the weekly reflection for Liguori Publications’ Sunday bulletin, Our Parish Community.