Father Bob Berson

Father Bob BersonCINCINNATI (March 7, 2003)—Glenmary Father Robert C. Berson, a member of the Cincinnati-based Glenmary Home Missioners for 53 years, died March 5, 2003, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Born April 2, 1924, in Cincinnati, Father Bob, who had suffered from Parkinson's disease for many years, collapsed and died at Fairfield Pavilion, a retirement center in the Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield.

Father Bob spent 14 years in Glenmary leadership, first as superior general (1965-1971) and then as president (1975-1983). "He is responsible for renewing Glenmary in the spirit of Vatican II," says Glenmary Father Dominic Duggins. He remembers the grace and vision Father Bob provided in leading Glenmary through the turbulent years after the Second Vatican Council as all Catholics struggled to adapt to a new understanding of church and appreciation for the laity.

During Father Bob's time in office, Glenmary Home Missioners moved from its original location in Glendale, Ohio, and built a new facility on Route 4 in Fairfield. Before the completion of current interstate highways, Father Bob, a pilot, would fly a small plane from Cincinnati to the remote areas of Appalachia, the South and Southwest to keep in touch with the Glenmary missioners serving in some of the poorest counties in the nation.

Serving "the poorest of the poor" was his personal passion—and his heart, even while serving in administration, was always in the missions. Following his ordination in 1949, he spent 11 years in the mountains of Southwest Virginia, based in Norton. He then returned to Cincinnati in 1960 to serve in various administrative capacities (mission coordinator, personnel director) before becoming superior general in 1965.

He returned to the mission fields as a Deep South regional worker based in Newnan, Ga., in 1971. Part of this four-year assignment was to serve as a representative to the Southern Baptist Convention on behalf of the U.S. Catholic Bishops' Committee on Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue. A Glenmarian continues to fill this role to this day.

Other mission assignments included pastoral ministry specialist in Glenmary's
Department of Pastoral Services in Nashville (1984-86); pastor of Glenmary's mission in Russellville, Ala. (1986-1995); and senior member assisting in Glenmary's missions in Adams County, Ohio (1995-2000).

Slowed by the effects of Parkinson's, Father Bob returned to the Glenmary residence in Cincinnati in 2000. There he worked on writing commentaries on the diaries of Glenmary's founder, Father William Howard Bishop. He dealt gracefully with his disabilities and was an inspiration to his fellow Glenmarians, says Brother Dennis Craig, who lived with Father Bob. "His keen intelligence and gentle spirit enhanced our community life."

A high point of his later years was receiving the 2002 Christian Leadership Award from his alma mater, Elder High School in Cincinnati. The award is presented each year to an alumnus who has given exemplary service to Church and society.

"The first word that comes to mind for Father Bob Berson is ‘missionary,'" says current Glenmary president Father Jerry Dorn. "He gave himself totally to the home missions and to Glenmary. We will truly miss this great missionary from Cincinnati."