Lorna Bergin, a long-time resident of Wellington and parishioner of St Teresa’s, Karori, died peacefully on August 19, 2008. Lorna was aged 86 and had lived in the western suburbs for well over 50 years.
Fr Bernie Hehir told several hundred mourners at her requiem that Lorna’s life of unfailing Christian charity and gentle humility epitomised the truth that one person can make a difference (just seven weeks before his own death).
Lorna was born in Dunedin in 1921, the sixth and youngest child of Lorna and David Stark. Her parents’ happy marriage linked Catholic and Presbyterian traditions. Lorna’s father owned a bookshop and this heritage instilled in her a life-long love of reading. When she was only 12, Lorna’s father died, and her widowed mother took her to live in Invercargill to be closer to family.
In the deep south, Lorna completed her education at St Catherine’s College before moving back to Dunedin to train as a school teacher and to study at Otago University. While there, she met Jack Bergin, a medical student from Foxton. He fell in love with Lorna’s curls and pretty face while seated next to her on a bus and the rest, as they say, is history!
Lorna taught at Waitaki Boys High School and married at age 25. For the next 48 years, she was devoted to Jack, and, by association, to the medical profession. Dr Bergin was a neurologist who founded the Neurology Department at Wellington Public Hospital. Lorna shared her husband’s time with the insistent demands of his profession, but she never once complained.
Lorna Bergin was confident and contented in her home-making roles. She was a loving mother to eight children and proud grandmother of 16. Not interested in accolades or fame, Lorna worked diligently for the community. She was a life member and counsellor for Pregnancy Help, a founder member of the Marian Mothers’ Movement in New Zealand and a home visitor for the Cancer Society.
She returned to university in her 50s, graduating from Victoria University with a BA in music. Lorna celebrated life, and well into her 80s she enjoyed Probus, her literary, embroidery and walking groups, and singing with the St Teresa’s choir.
Lorna was known for her courage. While she had a warm and ready smile, she also knew great suffering. In 1970 her eldest son Michael was killed in a road accident aged only 20. A short while later, Lorna was diagnosed with breast cancer. She survived this, but lost both her husband and their second son, Fr Paul Bergin SM, to cancer tragically early. She mourned their deaths deeply but bore her grief with great dignity.
Faith and the sacraments nourished Lorna spiritually. She prayed constantly, was a daily Mass-goer until too frail, and supported many Christian causes. Lorna and Jack Bergin were appointed by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Council for the Family in 1982, the first New Zealanders to hold this role. Lorna was also devoted to the Marist Third Order and the Catholic Women’s League. She believed that prayer should be accompanied by practical works of charity.
Ever so slowly, in the last few years, dementia gripped Lorna’s mind. She was stripped of her sharp intellect, and confusion replaced comprehension. As one young grandson wrote, ‘My nana is losing her memory and I don’t think she’ll ever find it again!’
In her dementia, Lorna showed those she met how to live fully in the present moment. In many ways, this was her final gift to others. Lorna never forgot to say thank you. Gratitude was her special quality when she lived in Village at the Park in Newtown over the past year. A simple walk in the garden or drive in the car became a reason to say thank you and to smile.
On the day she died, Lorna thanked a friend for visiting and exclaimed over the beauty of another visitor’s new baby. That evening, she stepped out of her bedroom, looked towards the staff, sat down and died—a gentle way to go for a truly gracious woman. May she rest in God’s eternal peace.