|'Some day this boy
will become a priest'
Father Garmann's words at Eugene Gerber's baptism come true
Catholic Advance [Wichita diocesan newspaper]
December 14, 2001
In the early afternoon of Tuesday, Oct. 26, 1976, the Catholic News Service in Washington, D.C. phoned The Catholic Advance office. The message was simple. Be alert for a news release affecting the Diocese of Wichita that would be released in Washington the next day at 8 a.m. EST -- 7 a.m. Wichita time.
The next morning Father Arthur A. Busch, editor, and Anita Hertel, production-circulation manager, were watching the teletype machine as it began to pound out - exactly at 7 a.m. - "10/27/76, NEW BISHOP FOR DODGE CITY, WASHINGTON (NC) - Bishop Marion Forst of Dodge City has resigned for reasons of health and will be succeeded by Bishop-designate Eugene J. Gerber, a priest of the Wichita Diocese.
"The announcement on behalf of Pope Paul VI was made by Archbishop Jean Jadot, apostolic delegate to the United States.
"Dodge City's new bishop was born in Kingman, Kansas in 1931. He attended Catholic schools in Waterloo, Kansas, Conception, Mo. and Kingman, going on to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver for priestly training. He was ordained in 1959 at Kingman."
There was hardly any reason to continue reading as the machine clamored on. The new bishop of Dodge City had served as business manager of The Catholic Advance since 1967. He was well known to Father Busch and Anita Hertel, both of whom had worked with the bishop designate for over seven years. The little teletype room was bursting with excitement.
As the news began to spread, it appeared that the apostolic delegate's announcement was the fulfillment of a prophetic old priest's statement made some 45 years earlier.
The prophet was Father Bernard Garmann, at that time pastor of St. Louis parish, Waterloo, and St. Rose, Mt. Vernon, for 32 years. He died on April 11, 1953, at St. Francis Hospital, Wichita, in his 86th year. The day Father Garmann baptized the second son of Cornelius and Lena Gerber, May 1, 1931, he said to the infant son's father, "Some day this boy will become a priest!" Perhaps that was something he said following the baptism of every boy, praying that it would come to pass with God's grace. It certainly did in this case.
Eugene John Gerber was born at the hospital in Kingman on April 30, 1931, the fourth child of Cornelius and Lena Tiesmeyer Gerber. C.J. and Lena had been married at St. Patrick Church, Kingman, on May 6, 1925. Father William Chawke officiated. The couple lived on their family farm at Waterloo, about 10 miles east of Kingman, one mile north of U.S. 54 and one mile west of Kansas 17.
The family of two girls and two boys was later blessed with two more sisters and one brother. The Gerber children are: Kathleen, Helen, Jerome, Eugene, Leola, Larry and Joan.
Two days after his birth, Eugene was taken to St. Louis Church, Waterloo, where Father Garmann baptized him on May 1, 1931. His godparents were Otto and Lottie Piller.
Father Garmann was the only priest Eugene knew for the first 11 years of his life. Father Garmann was a tall and aged pastor who thought his people always deserved a sermon 45 to 60 minutes in length. In those days there wasn't much else to do on Sundays anyway. As Father Garmann became older and unable to stand for a sermon of such length, he directed the altar boys to bring a chair from the sacristy and set it at the communion rail immediately following the Gospel. There he would preside (a forerunner of today's presidential chair) and deliver his sermon punctuating it with ample pounding on the communion rail. When failing health forced the veteran priest to retire, a young and vigorous priest three years ordained, Father Quintin Malone, was appointed pastor. (Msgr. Malone died just last month, on Nov. 14.) Imagine the surprise of both pastor and servers when the chair was dutifully carried from the sacristy. Father Malone didn't know what to do with the chair and the servers couldn't understand why their new priest stood to preach. They couldn't understand why he didn't preach for one hour either, but both servers and parishioners were delighted with their new pastor and his 30-minute sermons.
It was often difficult to rear a farm family of seven children during the Depression. Patched and hand-me-down clothes were a part of everyday life. Some of the pictures of the Gerber family indicate how much the Waterloo farm boy shared the condition of many of the people he would later serve as a priest and will serve as bishop.
One area in which both family and friends share common agreement is that when describing young Eugene's life-style, they just smile and say, "He was one of the orneriest kids in the parish."
Msgr. Quintin Malone once said, "As I remember Gene, he was neither outstandingly good nor bad when he was in school. So he must have been something of a good, average boy. The real troublemakers are easy to remember -- even after all these years."
During the three-year pastorate of Father Malone, Eugene Gerber graduated from St. Louis Grade School in Waterloo. The school was staffed by Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, the same religious community that staffed St. Francis Hospital in Wichita. It was under their guidance that Eugene was prepared for his First Confession, First Communion, and Confirmation. There were four members in the eighth grade graduation class of St. Louis School for 1945. The graduates' teacher was Sister M. Louise, S.S.M.
Father Malone was transferred to Moline on July 20, 1945. He was succeeded by Father Edward Albers. The devoted priest, who died Oct. 19, 1965, encouraged Eugene Gerber to begin his studies for the priesthood in the fall of 1945 by going to Conception Seminary High School at Conception, Mo. After two years at the seminary, Eugene transferred to Kingman High School, Kingman, where he graduated in 1949.
He began his college studies at Wichita State University where he spent one year working on a major in accounting. He then returned to Conception Seminary College for two years. It was during these two years that the former editor of The Catholic Advance, Father Arthur A. Busch, first met Eugene Gerber. The two lived in the same residence hall (a converted barracks) for that was a time of booming enrollments in all seminaries.
The young seminarian then transferred from Conception to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. He graduated from St. Thomas in May of 1955 with an A.B. degree in philosophy. Continuing his study of theology at St. Thomas Seminary, he received an M.A. degree in religious education in 1958. During his final year at Denver he received a bachelor in Sacred Theology (S.T.B.) through affiliation of St. Thomas with Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
It was in his five years at Denver that Eugene Gerber first met Msgr. David M. Maloney, then chancellor of the Denver Archdiocese, as well as his own classmate, Richard C. Hanifen, an auxiliary bishop of Denver. Msgr. Maloney was ordained a bishop Jan. 4, 1961, becoming auxiliary bishop of Denver, until his transfer to the Diocese of Wichita on Dec. 6, 1967. Bishop Hanifen was ordained bishop Sept. 20, 1974. Both bishops officiated at the episcopal ordination of Father Eugene Gerber.
Archbishop Urban Vehr ordained Eugene Gerber a subdeacon on May 29, 1958, and a deacon in December of the same year at St. Thomas Seminary Chapel. After finishing the required course of studies, the officials of St. Thomas Seminary recommended him to Wichita's Bishop Mark K. Carroll for ordination to the priesthood. Four other young men were also recommended for ordination in 1959. They were William Carr, William Cleary, David Cushing and Eugene Grabner.
Because the Waterloo church is relatively small, Bishop Carroll made arrangements to ordain Eugene John Gerber in St. Patrick Church, Kingman. The date was set for Tuesday, May 19, 1959, at 10 a.m. Assisting at the ordination ceremony was Msgr. Ignatius Strecker, chancellor; Msgr. Edward Albers; Msgr. Daniel Reidy; Father Louis Struble, the first native son of Waterloo to be ordained a priest; and Father Michael Lies, who was commentator for the ceremony.
Four days following his ordination, the new priest offered his First Solemn Mass in St. Patrick Church, Kingman, Saturday, May 23, at 10 a.m. Msgr. Albers was assistant priest, Father Malone was deacon and Father James Colbert was subdeacon. Father Struble, pastor of St. Michael parish, Girard, was master of ceremonies. Jerry Cleary and Jerry Carney, both of Wichita, were acolytes. Father Thomas Glynn, rector of St. Mary Cathedral, Wichita, delivered the sermon.
After a brief rest of four days, Father Gerber was appointed assistant pastor of St. Anne Parish, Wichita. Here he joined the team of Father Raymond Schmidt and Father Arthur A. Busch. It was at St. Anne parish that the young assistant learned that preaching not only involved careful preparation and delivery, but it also included getting accustomed to the crying of babies. St. Anne was a flourishing parish of some 800 young families. There were many little children and some of them cried -- even during the homily. There was a cry-room there, but Father Gerber used to jokingly say, "Parents with sleeping babies go to the cry-room to keep them from being disturbed."
For two summers Father Gerber supervised the Little League Baseball program in St. Anne parish. The program involved hundreds of children and some 90 adult men who found themselves gently volunteered by the new assistant who "talked them into it."
In addition to his parish duties, he was assigned to further studies at Wichita State University. He obtained a bachelor of arts in education in June of 1963.
Father Gerber was moved from his first parish on Sept. 10, 1960, and appointed assistant pastor at Magdalen parish. During this time he continued his parish duties as well as his studies at WSU. Then on Sept. 4, 1962, Bishop Carroll appointed him full-time instructor (algebra, religion and guidance) at the newly established Notre Dame High School on the campus of the former Mt. Carmel Academy. Magdalen's pastor, Msgr. George Schmidt, asked Father Gerber to be moderator of the CYO. His efforts were so successful that he was forced to divide the CYO into a junior group (freshmen and sophomores) and a senior group (juniors and seniors), so that more of the members could participate in the youth activities. His success was not without problems, but a member recalls, "He was strict, but fair."
While Father Gerber was attending to his many assignments, it was announced that Msgr. Ignatius J. Strecker, Wichita's chancellor for 14 years, was named Bishop of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. Msgr. Strecker was ordained a bishop on June 20, 1962, in St. Mary Cathedral, Wichita. His episcopal ordination was unique in that he was the first native son of the Wichita diocese to be so honored. Little did the busy assistant priest at Magdalen parish suspect that 14 years later he would be the second native son of the Wichita diocese to be named a bishop.
Bishop Carroll announced that the Holy Father had accepted his resignation as Bishop of Wichita on Feb. 15, 1963, and Bishop Leo C. Byrne immediately became apostolic administrator of the diocese. Bishop Byrne, while serving as coadjutor bishop for two years, must have noticed the work of Father Gerber as he visited the parishes of the diocese. Only three months after taking office he appointed Father Gerber assistant chancellor and part-time assistant at Holy Savior parish, Wichita. That date was May 31, 1963. This new assignment made it impossible for Father Gerber to continue his teaching duties at Notre Dame (Bishop Carroll) High School.
Holy Savior was a growing parish and because the St. Joseph Sisters who taught in the grade school did not have adequate living quarters, the parish rectory was made the new home for the sisters. The three priests in the parish lived and worked out of two small houses until a new rectory could be built. Father Robert Pepe, who came to Holy Savior as pastor at the same time Father Gerber came as assistant, broke ground for a new rectory on Sept. 15, 1963. The rectory was completed in May of 1964. Father Gerber was able to enjoy the new facility for three months. On Aug. 26, 1964, he was named secretary to the bishop and part-time assistant at St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Wichita. In addition to these duties he continued his work as assistant chancellor.
Father Gerber served as part-time assistant for four years at St. Thomas Aquinas parish. His work continued to increase especially as construction of the present Chancery office building began on Sept. 1, 1965. The years 1962 to 1965 were the years of the Second Vatican Council, and Bishop Byrne was absent from the diocese to attend the sessions of the 21st Ecumenical Council being held at the Vatican. Many tasks were delegated to the priests in the Chancery, and Father Gerber was especially busy with the construction of the new chancery building behind St. Mary Cathedral at 424 N. Broadway. On Jan. 7, 1965, the assistant chancellor was promoted to vice chancellor. Construction on the chancery was completed on Apr. 19, 1966, when the new facility was dedicated.
Another task was in store for the new vice chancellor -- on July 1, 1967, Bishop Byrne appointed him business manager of the Catholic Advance, a position he was to hold until his appointment as bishop of Dodge City. Several months before his July appointment, he also served as unofficial editor of the Catholic Advance due to an unexpected resignation of one of the paper's editors. These tasks, together with convert instructions and counseling in the parish during his evening hours, made up the life of Father Gerber.
Word came from the Apostolic Delegation in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 2, 1967, that Bishop Byrne was to be transferred to St. Paul-Minneapolis as the coadjutor archbishop. On Sept. 27, 1967, Archbishop Byrne was installed at the Cathedral in St. Paul. Two months later the Apostolic delegation announced that Bishop David M. Maloney of Denver was appointed the sixth Bishop of Wichita. He was installed in St. Mary Cathedral on Jan. 25, 1968.
On Aug. 22, 1968, Bishop Maloney appointed Father Gerber to be assistant pastor at St. Mary Cathedral while continuing in the various other responsibilities already noted. On the same day, Father Busch was appointed editor of the Catholic Advance, a task that would bring him into close work with Father Gerber, the business manager.
In 1969 Father Gerber was appointed chaplain at Holy Family Center, the diocesan facility for retarded children located in west Wichita. To help support the center, he assisted in developing a Memorial Shrine to the Departed at the center. He also enlisted the support of the three Wichita Knights of Columbus councils in an effort to meet the center's financial needs.
Bishop Maloney appointed him diocesan director of the Cursillo movement on July 1, 1970. In this work he guided a new apostolic program in the church to help men lead their families to a deeper and stronger spiritual commitment.
Among the various tasks that members of the Chancery staff perform, is one that is frequently overlooked -- that of being master of ceremonies for all of the spiritual activities when the bishop is celebrant or presiding in the sanctuary. Whether at the professions of sisters, at ordinations, Confirmations, funerals of priests and sisters, the dedication of new church buildings, graduation ceremonies, presentation of scouting awards, convention Masses for the CYO, the Knights of Columbus, the Daughters of Isabella, the Serra Club, the diocesan meetings of teachers and the opening Masses at the various diocesan high schools, Father Gerber was usually on hand from 1963 to the present time, assisting with these ceremonies.
Another 'first' took place on Aug. 16, 1973, when Father Gerber was appointed pastor of Blessed Sacrament parish in Wichita. He worked between his parish and the Chancery Office to renew his parish -- first spiritually, and secondly, materially. In the midst of his pastoral renewal programs, he was appointed chancellor of the Wichita diocese and resident chaplain at Mt. St. Mary Motherhouse for the Sisters of St. Joseph in Wichita. This appointment of Aug. 19, 1975, brought a heavy cross with it. As Father Gerber later revealed, leaving Blessed Sacrament parish was one of the most difficult appointments in his life.
Several months after his appointment as chancellor, Bishop Maloney announced in early October of 1975 that Father Gerber had been assigned to postgraduate studies in theology and Scripture at the Angelicum (St. Thomas Pontifical University) in Rome. He returned to Wichita in early February, 1976, to resume his work as chancellor and Mt. St. Mary chaplain. While in Rome Father Gerber received the ecclesiastical degree of Licentiate in Theology (Summa Cum Laude) on Jan. 31, 1976.
On Wednesday, Oct. 27, 1976, Archbishop Jean Jadot, apostolic delegate in the United states, announced that Father Eugene J. Gerber had been appointed by Pope Paul VI to be Bishop of the Diocese of Dodge City. Bishop-designate Gerber was ordained a bishop in St. Mary Cathedral, Wichita, on Tuesday, Dec. 14, 1976. Bishop David M. Maloney of Wichita was the principal consecrator.
Attending the ordination were Archbishop Jadot, Bishop Marion Forst, Bishop Richard Hanifen, Cardinal John Carberry, Archbishop Ignatius Strecker, Bishop Mark K. Carroll, Archbishop John Quinn, and 17 other visiting bishops.
On the following day, Wednesday, Dec. 15, Bishop Gerber was installed as Bishop of Dodge City. The Installation Mass was held in Dodge City's Civic Center. Abp. Jadot and Abp. Strecker installed Bishop Gerber.
While bishop of Dodge City, Bishop Gerber completed a four-year term on the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Ad Hoc Committee for Parish Renewal.
After the announcement that Bishop Gerber was to become Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita, the canonical ceremony took place in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Wichita, on Feb. 8, 1983. The public Mass and Ceremony of Installation of Bishop Eugene J. Gerber as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of Wichita was held in the Century II Civic Center, Wichita, on Wednesday, Feb. 9.
Bishop Gerber's parents lived to see their son named bishop of their home diocese. Ten days after the announcement, however, Bishop Gerber's father died. Ten days later, his mother died.
The new bishop's motto reads "God is with us." And the diocesan family felt the impact of that motto in a striking way when Bishop Gerber was appointed to head the Wichita See Nov. 23, 1982.
Glancing back, they remembered that the first bishop in the state had been a Frenchman, the second a Bavarian, and that two "FBI" (Foreign Born Irish) had been the first two Bishops of Wichita. Then, by 1920, the American Church had reached a point of development sending them five successive bishops born in the U.S., but coming from Ohio, Missouri and Colorado.
Imagine, then, the atmosphere of euphoria and pride which spread like wildfire from corner to corner of the diocese from Fulton to Anthony, from Baxter Springs to Bushton, from Zenda through Wichita to Fort Scott-when the story broke that one of their own had been named eighth bishop of Wichita.
He had been, one might say, "on loan" to the Diocese of Dodge City, which he had headed for six years from 1976 to 1982. But the Wichita Diocese still claimed him, since he had not only been born and ordained in Kingman, but the whole Gerber family lived in the Wichita area.
Wichitans knew him well. After all, he had been assistant pastor at St. Anne's, Magdalen, Holy Savior, St. Thomas Aquinas and Cathedral, and pastor at Blessed Sacrament. He had been on the original faculty of Bishop Carroll High School and chaplain at both Holy Family Center and Mt. St. Mary Convent.
People all over the diocese also knew him well, since traveling with the bishops as master of ceremonies had taken him to them in parishes and institutions. The youth and the men of the diocese knew him, too, since-, he had been director of the CYO and the Cursillo Movement. As vicar of religious, the Sisters got to know him as well.
As for Bishop Gerber, he not only knew the diocese but he had firsthand experience in the workings of the Chancery Office, where he had served for 13 years as assistant chancellor, secretary to the Bishop, vice-chancellor and then chancellor. He had even had much of the responsibility for the construction of the chancery building in 1965 and 1966. Nine years as business manager and six months as interim editor of The Catholic Advance had thoroughly acquainted him with the operations of the diocesan newspaper.
It was a real homecoming, then, when Bishop Gerber was installed Feb. 9, 1983 as the Bishop of Wichita. This significant event added such a special dimension to the signal blessings which the Diocese of Wichita had enjoyed during its first century that its people already had ample reasons to "rejoice as at a harvest" as they approached the centennial year.
But Bishop Gerber came home with such a clear vision of how to capitalize on the expert cultivation of his predecessors, that during the short four and a half years since his installation, he has multiplied reasons for celebration in a manner never anticipated.
Thus, Bishop Gerber's own centennial slogan, "Let us rejoice as at a harvest," has been translated into rejoicing because of a much more abundant harvest brought to fruition in particular by two major undertakings which have united the diocesan family and enhanced its faith life.
The young bishop also had a dream. He called it "A People Gathered." The price he was willing to pay to make it come true was profoundly self-emptying. It meant that in setting directions for the diocese, he would listen rather than speak, consolidate rather than dictate.
Trusting completely in the Holy Spirit speaking through each member of the diocesan family, Bishop Gerber launched a nine-month process of listening sessions through a pastoral letter issued on the First Sunday of Advent , Dec. 2, 1984, "A People Gathered" began, then, at the grassroots level in the parishes, where people came together to discuss three basic questions: What are the qualities of a good parish? What are the obstacles to the creation of a good parish? If we had unlimited resources, what would we like to do with our parish and our diocese?
Much like the Synod process the diocese is currently undertaking, the needs and dreams surfacing from "A People Gathered" questions were then brought to six regional hearings by parish representatives. Believing that without vision the people perish, Bishop Gerber opened these hearings with his own dreams for the diocese and then assumed the role of a listener in order to discern what the Spirit was saying to the Church through the people. The results of the listening sessions were carefully recorded and assigned to a task force, which used them to formulate a three-year pastoral plan for the diocese.
In accepting the Pastoral Plan at the Sept. 29, 1985, general assembly closing "A People Gathered," Bishop Gerber said, "It is from working through us (the men and women, the priests, religious and laity of this quarter of Kansas) that we learn something of the direction He wants us to go. We come together in prayer. We share our experience. We listen to one another. And soon, even though we are weak and sinful ... soon ... the dim outline of tomorrow begins to emerge.
"And so it has. The outline is there, is here, less dim now. I embrace it today, grateful to the hundreds and thousands across the Diocese who helped bring it into focus. I pledge myself to pursue it wholeheartedly in these three years to come. For I remain as curious as you. 'We are not quite sure where the Spirit is leading us, but we trust Him and move with Him in the confidence born of deep faith.' I am as curious as you where we shall end."
As a result of "A People Gathered," the diocesan family was no longer curious about "where we shall end." From the experience of the past two years, they believe that the Pastoral Plan will end right on target, by being implemented according to schedule. Paying the price to make his dreams come true, Bishop Gerber brought to reality the majority of the desired outcomes outlined in the plan.
The diocesan Office of Worship, progress in establishing pastoral councils and a diocesan-wide ministry with the disabled became a reality. Greater attention to ethnic groups had enabled Black Catholics to hold their own reflection days and attend the Black Catholic congress in May 1987. The new Diocesan Hispanic Council has its own vicar for the Spanish-speaking.
Catholic Charities is operating an office to assist illegal aliens to become naturalized citizens. The two Guadalupe Clinic sites are staffed by volunteer doctors and nurses to serve the working poor. The Vietnamese Catholic Community has its own native priest with a flourishing community.
The Pastoral Plan's call for stress on youth has resulted in an expansion of programs for young adults and coordination with campus ministry. Attention to the "oft-excluded" has brought into being a Task Force to organize programs for the widowed, divorced and separated. Training for leaders of natural family planning programs has been subsidized by the diocese.
A more vibrant prayer life had been fostered as a result of "A People Gathered" by an expansion of programs at Villa Christi Retreat Center, reestablishment of the Cursillo Movement, introduction of perpetual adoration in parishes, and the continuing vitality of Diocesan Charismatic Services.
Receiving new impetus at the general assembly of "A People Gathered" through Bishop Gerber's call to come "together to protect innocent and defenseless life in the womb," the already strong pro-life groups in the diocese were joined by the Knights of Columbus, who pledged and continue, an order-wide initiative to overturn the Roe vs. Wade decision.
Perhaps Bishop Gerber's most remembered legacy to the people he shepherds is the Catholic Life Center, which even now continues to evolve.
The Spiritual Life Center, which opened in 1990, is arguably the finest example of a Catholic retreat center in the country.
Established to serve the spiritual and catechetical needs of the faithful of the diocese, it serves as a focal point of Catholic education for the diocese. It will continue to be an integral part of the formation and growth of the faith in the diocese as the church begins to focus even more on the synodal process.
The Catholic Care Center is one of the finest examples of nursing home care in the state of Kansas. The Priest Retirement Center not only serves as a residence for priests of the Diocese of Wichita and the Diocese of Dodge City, it is a source of help for many priests and parishes who are sometimes in need of pastoral assistance.
Bishop Gerber's vision continues to be a source of grace for the diocese as work continues on the Catholic Life Center's Assisted Living and Memory Care Residences.
Several other projects are also underway in the diocese.
Goddard is building its first Catholic church. Holy Spirit Parish is watching the concrete and rebar rise out of a field on the east side of the town. The parish hopes to have kindergarten and first grade classes beginning in the fall of 2002.
Construction continues at the new site of the Church of the Magdalen in east Wichita. It is being moved as the result of highway construction on Kellogg at Woodlawn.
St. James Parish in Augusta is also watching a new parish complex grow in a field in the northeast part of town.
As the paint dries in the buildings there, construction continues and is nearing an end at a special project that is near Bishop Gerber's heart: The Lord's Diner.
The project, involving several firms in Wichita, is the result of a large outpouring of donated materials and labor.
Of all the projects undertaken by Bishop Gerber in his many years as a bishop in Dodge City and Wichita, The Lord's Diner is perhaps the best reflection of the bishop born in Kingman.
It is an example of the love he has shown throughout his priesthood when he fed his flock with the Bread of Life. With the help of others, he will also feed his flock who will come to the door hungry and with no means.
God is with us, as bishop says.
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