In their installation robes (left to right) retired Anglican Bishop Jim Njegovan, Bishop of Brandon William Cliff and Dean of Brandon Don Bernhardt. As dean, Bernhardt serves as Cliff’s second in command. (Photo submitted by Don Bernhardt)
A former Stonewall resident who found his true calling, is now the Dean of the Diocese of Brandon and the Rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral for the Anglican Church in the Wheat City.
Don Bernhardt quit Grade 12 approximately one month before he was to graduate from Stonewall Collegiate Institute.
“I was with the military and they were going to send me to Cyprus in (the UN’s) peacekeeping mission. So I thought that’s an once in a lifetime opportunity, and I needed to go right away, so I quit school,” the 57-year-old Bernhardt reflected in a phone interview with the Stonewall Argus & Teulon Times Jan. 13.
“And then as the (Canadian Army) is sometimes known to do, they changed their mind after it was too late for me to go back,” he continued.
Although Bernhardt did not graduate from high school that year, he earned his high school equivalency certificate. With that under his belt, Bernhardt joined the Morden Police Service in 1980. He said he wanted to be a police officer ever since he was a youngster. Bernhardt patrolled the streets of Morden for two years before becoming a member of the Brandon Police for 11 more years.
Not finding the fulfilment he was looking for with law enforcement, Bernhardt switched gears and joined the City of Brandon’s IT department.
“After becoming a police officer, I got a sense that ‘no, this isn’t really what you are supposed to be doing.’ I moved in to the IT world thinking my hobby could become my job and I would be happy with that,” he explained.
However, he found himself still missing something.
“Rediscovering the church and recognizing that is where I am supposed to be,” Bernhardt said.
“Answering God’s call can often be interesting to look back on. It was a matter of me not really knowing what it was I wanted to do, but knowing what I was doing wasn’t it.”
Rather than entering a seminary, Bernhardt enrolled in a Theology course through Thornhill University, which provided distance education. As well, he studied religion at Brandon University during the 1990s.
Eleven years ago, Bernhardt became an Anglican priest and moved up the ranks. His mother, Yvonne Bernhardt, said Don became a priest in 2005 and was posted to Virden the following year.
“I don’t have a ton of experience compared to a lot of my colleagues in ministry, but I have a lot of life experience, which is part of the equation one looks at moving into leadership inside the church,” he said.
Bernhardt was installed in his new positions by the Bishop of Brandon Dec. 14. As the dean, he is the senior cleric of the diocese and fills in when the bishop is absent. As rector, he is in charge of the Anglican cathedral in Brandon.
Ironically in a story told by his mother, she said her son at age 12 did not want to become a priest because it meant going to university.
“I cried through the whole service. I was so happy. I couldn’t believe that was my son,” Yvonne said of Don’s installation.
“I’m very proud of him. He’s doing good,” Don’s father, Henry, added.
‘Dean Don’ as he calls himself, began his new duties Dec. 18.