These days, Sister Rebecca Berghoff thinks often of her couple of years teaching at Maryville Academy in Des Plaines, Ill. It wasn’t her favorite ministry; that distinction is a toss-up between her years at St. Joseph/Marquette in Yakima, Wash., and at Providence High School in Burbank, Calif. But Maryville definitely was her hardest mission.
Her students at Maryville were children who had been removed from their families by the courts. The children were lonesome, and so was Sister Rebecca, who was with them day and night, sleeping in an adjacent “cell” in the corner of their dormitory.
“They cried and I cried with them,” she recalled. “We kind of bonded. I was sorry I couldn’t do more.”
Known as “the friendly principal”
As a result of the experience, Sister Rebecca became “the friendly principal,” quick to offer a smile, a hug, encouragement and support to her students. That is her legacy in her 70 years as a Sister of Providence. Retired now at St. Joseph Residence in Seattle, she lights up when she has the opportunity to read to children at the day care at nearby Mount St. Vincent.
Sister Rebecca was born February 8, 1925, at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Yakima. Her baptismal name was Elizabeth Jean, but she was given the name Rebecca at first profession. One of six daughters and two sons in a church-centered family, she discovered she was called to religious life at a retreat during her senior year at St. Joseph Academy. She followed in the footsteps of her older sibling Sister Mary Maxine Berghoff, and entered the Sisters of Providence on July 17, 1943, at the age of 18. Two years later she was teaching a classroom of 50 children at St. Catherine School, Seattle. She taught in Seattle, Olympia, Yakima and Sun Valley, Calif., while spending summers working on a degree at the College of Great Falls.
She later earned a master’s degree in education from Loyola University.
Yakima’s St. Joseph Grade School her “home”
In 1955 she became principal at St. Joseph Grade School in Yakima, and two years later went to Maryville Academy. The ensuing years included 18 years at Providence High School in Burbank, 13 of them as principal, and 25 years as principal of St. Joseph/Marquette Academy back in Yakima, followed by three years as vice principal.
St. Joseph’s, a school begun by Mother Joseph and the first Catholic school in Yakima, holds many fond memories for her. It represents home, both personally and professionally.
A resident of St. Joseph Residence in Seattle today, Sister Rebecca is looking forward to both the local community and congregational celebrations of her 70 years of religious life. “I guess I’m retired now,” the friendly principal said with a smile. You just know she’d love to be back in a school with the kids.