BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Our Lady of Mercy Church on Government St. has a school attached, and as 9News is in the sanctuary, grade school students are in lines around the building awaiting their session with the priest for confession.
But that's not why 9News is there. We are watching a quiet, silver-haired woman named Judy Bernard slide along the wall, hardly noticed by anyone. It's Thursday, and she has replaced all the candles that have burned in the sanctuary, more than 100 of them.
"When I come in on Thursday, what I do..." Bernard is whispering because there's a prayer service underway. "The first thing I do is I look to see if there are any small candles that have been lit and are out. I replace those, then if any are a half an inch down, like this one, I could possibly blow it out and I carry a cart with me with boxes of candles in there, and I take that and put it in there and replace it."
People don't see her do it, but the flames are always beautiful at mass. It's a weekly volunteer job, and no small feat! WAFB's Donna Britt asks her how many needed replacement. Bernard answers, "Today, I replaced eight boxes, and there's twelve in there, 96. Ninety six big candles and I replaced 30 of the little ones."
It is late morning and the sun is streaming through Our Lady of Mercy's stained glass windows. The view is beautiful. WAFB follows Judy Bernard home, where we learn that she worked for Franklin Press for years before retiring. She grabs plastic grocery bags filled with brightly colored fabric neatly folded inside. She moves the bags to a side bedroom, apparently for storage. Bernard's volunteer work also involves colorful fabric.
Judy has another bedroom entirely dedicated to her projects. A white table awaits the latest sewing project, and one is on the table. Bernard pulls out a finished blanket to show Britt. "This is my quilt. Have you seen it? This is my quilt," she says. Britt sighs. "Ohhh yes! That's snuggly and then the back is really soft," says Britt.
Bernard tells her the back is fleece. Britt runs her hand over the back to feel its downy surface. "It's really pretty," Britt says about the blanket. Bernard fills her days with soft flannel materials, working with her hands, using her exacting eye to construct free blankets for babies all over Baton Rouge. She donates bags and bags of blankets to Baton Rouge General for the Woman's New Life Center, for fire stations, and flood victims. She makes sure there's a little handmade charm wherever a baby might need a blanket.
Bernard describes how her day is filled with three things: making baby blankets, making drawstring bags that are good for flood victims or children being removed from neglectful homes, and making rosaries.
When Bernard pulls out her tools and materials for making rosaries, Britt comments on how tiny the component parts are. Bernard spreads her hand before Britt, palm up, and gestures. "Look, five little chain links. You have to have a magnifying glass practically to see them see," she says.
Bernard builds rosaries that have beads paired in the groups for proper prayers. Churches say they love to give them to people in nursing homes, who maybe have lost their own, and one nun gives them as gifts for other nuns who visit to help with a volunteer need. It's very tiny, with 600 pieces for just one rosary.
"People ask me why, and the reason is if I could get just one person back to saying the rosary, I've accomplished what I wanted," Bernard says.
Sending comfort to babies, blessings to the faithful, and wishing she had more hours in the day to do even more, she is a light in the world today! Bernard is our Power of 9 super volunteer winner for January 2017.
Power of 9 awards are proudly sponsored by Louisiana Honda Dealers, Capital Area United Way's Volunteer Center, and WAFB. To nominate someone for the volunteer award, contact the Capital Area United Way.