Helene Bernardo led many students to feminism at Bronx Science


The late Helene Bernardo would best be described as a woman of the world. 

The career English teacher delved into many different interests and hobbies throughout her life, including photography, pottery and even becoming a charter member of the National Museum for Women in the Arts in Washington D.C.

Ms. Bernardo, who taught “Women in Literature” and other courses at the Bronx High School of Science for the better part of 20 years, passed away on Oct. 5, after a brief battle with cancer.  She was 80.

Leo Bernardo, her husband of 57 years, called Ms. Bernardo a pillar of the Riverdale community.

“She is the only person that I know of who has taught at all levels — that is, elementary, middle and high school levels — all in Riverdale,” Mr. Bernardo said. “She went from teaching to teaching basic reading to Shakespeare.”

Ms. Bernardo helped found the “Women in Literature” class at Bronx Science in the 1980s, when there were few such courses.  Mr. Bernardo said his wife was a fierce feminist ahead of her time.

“What was always remarkable to me was how many boys she got to take the course,” Mr. Bernardo said. 

While at Bronx Science, Ms. Bernardo edited the school’s feminist magazine as well as its current literary magazine, “Dynamo.”  Her former student, Lisa Rocchio, is now the assistant principal of the foreign languages department at Bronx Science.

“Getting into Bronx Science was the biggest accomplishment of my young life,” Ms. Rocchio said. “I don’t think I knew it at the time, but I was looking for a role model.  I was around a lot of strong women growing up, but Mrs. Bernardo was strong, confident and educated.”

 “For some people teaching is calling,” Ms. Rocchio added. “For me, it was a choice inspired by Helene.”

Ms. Rocchio said she is not alone in her memory of Ms. Bernardo, explaining that she impacted countless lives.

“I am sure that she has hundreds of [academic] children out there,” she said. “I am just one of them.”

Ms. Bernardo enjoyed many hobbies, especially photography, dedicating her work to Wave Hill.

“We always loved Wave Hill,” Mr. Bernardo said. “Her work is gorgeous and I think merits exhibition in Wave Hill.”

Mr. Bernardo’s home is filled with memories and tokens of his life with his late wife,  including all of her photo projects, some homemade vases and her entire collection of books.

“We have 4,000 books in this apartment,” he said. “We may indeed have a larger collection of British and American fiction than in the Spuyten Duyvil Library.”

Mr. Bernardo said he misses his wife every day, as he still lives in their Riverdale apartment of over 47 years. 

“I am still in grief, and always will be,” he said. “We were joined at the hip. We did everything together.”

Along with Mr. Bernardo, Ms. Bernardo is survived by her two sons, Sanford and Leonard. Sanford Bernardo is a fertility lawyer and Leonard Bernardo works for George Soros’ Open Society foundations. 

Helene Bernardo, Bronx Science, Anthony Capote