On August 31, 2017, following the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the official matriculation ceremony to being the academic year, Fr. John Lanzrath offered a reflection to the assembled Newman community on our namesake, Bishop Eugene J. Gerber. Fr. Lanzrath gave a powerful account of Bishop Gerber’s skill as a listener and the wonderful things he was able to accomplish for the Church as a result.
The Gerber Institute was proud to co-sponsor Fr. Lanzrath’s talk and a lunch for the community in honor of Bishop Gerber. Fr. Lanzrath kindly provided the text of his talk, which is provided below:
Reflections on Bishop Eugene J. Gerber
August 31, 2017
We have just celebrated the Mass of the Holy Spirit and the Ceremony of Matriculation, whereby you are now enrolled officially as candidates seeking a degree in higher education at Newman University. Whether you are an incoming freshman, a returning student, a faculty member, staff, administrator, benefactor, Sister Adorer of the Blood of Christ, alumnus, member of the Board or friend of Newman University, we are blessed to gather today to usher in this new academic year.
Newman University is a Catholic university named for Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman and founded by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ for the purpose of empowering graduates to transform society. To transform society is a lofty goal indeed. The verb, “transform,” has several meanings. One such meaning is to change in composition or structure. Over the many years since its opening in 1933, this campus has transformed immensely in composition and structure.
As we look at the buildings and manicured grounds that surround us on this beautiful last day of August, we thank God for all those individuals who have gone before us and by their sacrifices have made this university campus a reality. But the transformation of primary importance at Newman University is not buildings and grounds. The primary transformation is about the human person. For our freshman class, these names will soon become part of your vocabulary – Eck, Dugan, Merlini, DeMattias, Dondlinger, O’Shaugnessy, Fugate, Jabara, Gerber. These are not just buildings. These are persons.
One of those persons whom I am honored to speak to you today is Bishop Eugene J. Gerber. Soon, the newest building to be dedicated on this campus will be the Bishop Gerber Science Center. The excitement of providing state of the art facilities for the pre-med, nursing and science programs on campus will enhance the educational opportunities for all of the students matriculated here today and for the many students who will come after you.
Bishop Gerber is not a building. He is a person. Born in 1931 in western Kingman County, he was ordained a priest of Jesus Christ on May 19, 1959 for the Diocese of Wichita. Seventeen years later, at the young, tender age of 45, Fr. Gerber was named Bishop of the Diocese of Dodge City in 1976, where he served as bishop until 1983. Pope John Paul II named Bishop Gerber the 8th Bishop of the Diocese of Wichita and the native son returned to the Diocese of Wichita where he served as Bishop in this diocese for 18 years until his retirement in 2001. Bishop Gerber has been a priest for 58 years, of which 41 of those years, he has been a bishop. Today he continues to serve as Bishop Emeritus for the Catholic Diocese of Wichita.
This man, this priest, this bishop, this steward, this servant has transformed society on this campus of Newman University, in this City of Wichita, in the Catholic Church of the Diocese of Wichita and beyond. If Bishop Gerber heard me say that statement, he would totally disagree. He would immediately state that he is simply an instrument in the hand of God and that it is God who does the work. We do well today, my sisters and brothers, members of the Newman family gathered here this afternoon to thank God for the gift of this servant, Bishop Eugene J. Gerber.
Some of you know Bishop Gerber well. He is well known by thousands of people. Because of the manner in which Bishop Gerber is respected in this community, people came forward in huge numbers to donate to this project to build the Science Center that we look forward to dedicate in a few more weeks. But again, the transformation of this university is not about a building, but about the human person.
So many things could be shared about Bishop Gerber, but I will share with you only one characteristic. A good leader is a good listener. I have never met a person who is a greater and more attentive listener than Bishop Gerber. In a society bombarded with a plethora of talking heads, there are sadly all too few heads who are listening. One such head who listens attentively is Bishop Gerber.
None of us are called to be Bishop Gerber, nor John Henry Cardinal Newman nor St. Maria DeMattias. But each of us is called by God to holiness. And each of us can learn from people who have shown by their lives how holiness is attainable. A good leader is a good listener. A disciple, from the Greek word, discipulus, means pupil. We are pupils, students in formation here, no matter what our age, culture, creed, gender or race. We are children of God and we need to listen attentively to the voice of our God.
Please allow me to give brief examples of how Bishop Gerber listened and transformed society. In 1985, Bishop Gerber called the diocesan family together in listening sessions he entitled, “A People Gathered.” There, he listened to the people speak their concerns and needs and desires. He heard the people say, we need a place that provides a Catholic atmosphere to care for our aging parents, our aging consecrated religious sisters, our aging priests. He listened to them say we need a place for spiritual formation and leadership development. From listening in those sessions, the Catholic Life Center was born in northeast Wichita. The needs identified in “A People Gathered,” gave birth to a 180-bed nursing facility, a retirement center for priests, an endowment for the Adorers of the Blood of Christ Sisters and Sisters of St. Joseph of Wichita to provide quality care for their aging Sisters and the Spiritual Life Center. Opened in 1991, the campus of the Catholic Life Center continues to expand and serves thousands of people each year.
At the dawn of the Third Millennium of Christianity in 2000, Bishop Gerber lived in downtown Wichita at the rectory of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. There he encountered the homeless population of the City of Wichita. He listened to these individuals who often do not have a voice in the community to speak on their own behalf. Bishop Gerber asked community police officers of the city to take him at night to the places in the downtown area where the homeless people congregated. One of those places was under the Douglas Street Bridge near Century II. He listened to the needs of these homeless brothers and sisters. From listening to them, in February 2001, The Lord’s Diner opened its doors on Valentine’s Day at the corner of Central and Broadway in downtown Wichita. The Lord’s Diner now serves in its numerous sites and mobile trucks hundreds of nutritious and healthy meals for the hungry every night – 365 days a year.
Several months ago, Bishop Gerber listened to the administration and leaders of Newman University. For many years with Sr. Tarcisia Roths, a past president of Newman University, Bishop Gerber has been a committed friend of this university. Bishop Gerber listened to Dr. Carrocci, to J.V. Johnston and to other leaders of this university for the need of building a science center on this campus. Bishop Gerber gave his name to the project and unbelievable energy to reach out to potential donors. In a few weeks, the building will open.
These are but a few brief examples of how listening transformed society through the life of this one person. Bishop Gerber listens attentively to people. But Bishop Gerber listens most attentively to God in prayer. My brothers and sisters, to you who are students, faculty, staff, benefactors, friends of this place of higher learning, listen! Listen to one another. Most importantly, listen to God speak.
The Gerber Science Center is not just a new building on campus. May its presence serve as a reminder of the person who gives us an incredible example of how one transforms society – through the art of listening.
O God, we thank you for the gift of your servant, Bishop Eugene J. Gerber. Bless him O Lord and we pray that when you call him from this life, may he hear you say to him, “Well done good and faithful servant. Come, enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.” Amen.
Thank you very much!