Written by Patricia Glinton-Meicholas
Vernice Wilson’s early Life was characterized by much change. She was born to Julianna Rolle and Theophilus Wilson, but was cared for by her grandmother, Victoria Rolle, until she was three years old, when she given into the care of her cousins Eugenia McPhee and Melvinia Wright. At age eight, she was returned to her mother, who lived on West and South Streets in the heart of Baintown, where Saint Martin Monastery was established.
The young Vernice’s religious life also exhibited an extraordinary mixture of experiences. When she was twelve, she had an enlightenment that she would remember vividly. One stormy day when she was twelve, she put on her bathing suit to go out into the rain to pick up fatten fruit on a lot next door. As she placed her foot on the first step of house, it came to her that she wanted to become a Christian. Although she was not a Catholic, she attended Mass at nearby St Joseph Church every morning at seven o’clock and attended St John’s Baptist Church on Sunday with her sister Rita. In 1947 her indecision about religion cleared; she decided she wanted to become a Catholic and received her first communion on 8th August of that year.
Following this major life decision, Vernice entered the school system as a monitor at St Francis School, which first met in St Benedict’s Hall. A building was later constructed between the Hall and the Health Clinic. This was the start of a career in education, which continued with teaching second grade at St Anselm (1948-1949), St Joseph (1950-1963) and St Bede’s (1963). These were difficult years because she lost her mother in 1953.
In the same year she went to St Bede’s, Vernice went to stay at Blessed Martin Convent and lived there until 1964. She needed a birth certificate to complete the formalities for entry into the community but discovered that she had been recorded on as Baby Girl”. The problem was eventually solved and she traveled to Saint Benedict’s Convent to begin the postulancy. Sister Angela Haspert, Novice Director, was Superior at the time.
This first contact with another country and culture was at once frightening and exciting. Sister Vernice
remembered being taken especially by the experience of picking fresh fruit in the farm at St Benedict’s. For two years (1965-1967), she taught CCD in several schools, including St Joseph Elementary in St Joseph, St Paul’s in St Cloud and St Joseph in Pierce, Minnesota. She also forged lifelong friendships. At one point, she participated in an exchange programme between the Saint Martin and Erie Benedictines of Erie, Pennsylvania.
Sister Vernice took her first vows in 1967 in Sacred Heart Chapel at Saint Benedict’s. She returned to Saint Martin’s Convent in 1969 and pronounced final vows on 11th July, 1972.
Back in Nassau, this newest member of the community returned to the schools—St Bede’s (1975) and Holy Name, Bimini 11972-19731. To acquire formal teacher training, Sister Vernice pursued the programme at Bahamas Teachers College (1973-1975). Following this period, she returned to teaching at St Bede’s (1975-1976). The next year she took on cooking duties at the Convent, then relocated to Hunter, Grand Bahama to teach second and third grades at St Vincent de Paul and contribute to the Brownies and Guides programmes (1977-1984.)
From this point on, Sister Vernice would move between island missions with interim periods of work at the Convent and a two-year sabbatical in a Josephite community in the United States 1992-1994. The stints away from the convent included teaching at Holy Name School., Bimini (1985-1990) and St Vincent de Paul, Hunter, Grand Bahama (1990-1992; 1995-2000). Sister also ministered to the Catholic community of West End, Grand Bahama and is credited with forming the first Brownie pack on Bimini.
Upon her retirement in 2002, Sister Vernice took on responsibility for cooking, including baking the Monastery’s famous cookies, and shopping, making time in 2005 to start RCIC at St Francis Parish with Sister Jacinta Neely.
Sister Vernice Wilson celebrated her fortieth anniversary of religious commitment on 11th July 2007 at which time she expressed concern regarding the lack of vocations. “I’m trusting and hoping that young people will listen to the voice of God. You can learn a lot but you have to be disciplined. They have to know themselves first before they can know God.” She offered the following poem:
Shells of the Ocean
Listen to the waves of the ocean
Rising from death to life
Growing as the green grass grows Growing as the moss grows
Growing as the flowers grow
Growing as the trees grow
Living life as you continue
To grow in Christ.
Sister Vernice Wilson, OSB, 1992.