Bernardine Chimis, 89, a Roman Catholic nun who worked as a teacher and later as a principal in Riverside School District 96, died Jan. 18, 2015 at Lakeland Hospital in St. Joseph, Michigan.
Born in Chicago on April 3, 1925 to Catherine and Frank Chimis, she served as a Sister of Providence of St. Mary of the Woods for 50 years, leaving the order in the mid-1990s after retiring from a long career in both public and Catholic education in Chicago, Indiana and Massachusetts.
Ms. Chimis received her bachelor’s degree in education from St. Mary of the Woods College near Terre Haute, Indiana. She earned a master’s degree in administration from Indiana State University and a postgraduate degree in reading.
She taught and served as a principal in many Catholic schools as a nun before landing a job as a reading specialist in Riverside District 96, where she worked during the 1980s and 1990s.
According to her longtime companion, Nancy Roberts, the district’s superintendent at the time was an ordained minister.
“They had similar ideas about education, so she fit right in,” Roberts said.
But the district didn’t go out of its way to advertise the fact that Ms. Chimis was a nun, though the subject became a sore point for some in the community when Ms. Chimis was appointed a principal in the district. She served in that role at both Ames School and Hollywood School.
During her time working in Riverside, Ms. Chimis and Roberts became acquainted. At the time, Roberts was also a nun, working first as director of religious education at St. Mary School and later as the secretary to Pastor Leon Wagner.
Roberts left the convent in the early 1990s and was preparing to move to New Buffalo, Michigan, to care for her infirm mother. Ms. Chimis, upon retiring from District 96, offered to move to New Buffalo with Roberts, who got a job while Ms. Chimis cared for her mother.
Ms. Chimis left the convent not too long after retiring.
“For her it was time to do something else,” Roberts said. “She came up here and just blossomed.”
According to Roberts, while officially leaving the convent, Ms. Chimis never stopped being a nun. She would say her morning prayers every morning and at 4 p.m. each day would go into her room and say her evening prayers, said Roberts.
“She never got out of the habit of being a prayerful woman,” Roberts said.
While known as a serious school administrator, friends knew that Ms. Chimis had a quick wit and wry sense of humor.
She was a sober administrator but had a wonder sense of humor and was someone who liked to tell funny jokes,” Roberts said. “It endeared her to everybody.”
Ms. Chimis also never got the education bug out of her system. After moving to New Buffalo, she volunteered as a reading specialist and tutor at St. Mary of the Lake School.
“She walked into this tiny school and asked if anyone needed any help, and endeared herself to the whole faculty,” Roberts said.
Ms. Chimis was preceded in death by two brothers, Steve and Pete Chimis, and two sisters, Estelle Petersen and Agnes Chura.
Friends are invited to visit with the family at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21 at Ivins/Moravecek Funeral Home, 80 E. Burlington St. in Riverside. A funeral Mass, officiated by the Rev. Thomas May, will be celebrated that day at noon at St. Mary Church in Riverside.