A Legacy of Difference: Newman remembers Bishop Eugene J. Gerber

By Kaitlyn Smith, A&E Editor

Bishop Eugene John Gerber, who died on Sept. 29 and was laid to rest at the Cathedral this week, was a particular influence at Newman University, said several members of the Newman community.

This week, several of them talked about the importance of Gerber to the college, where a new science building is named for him.

“He loved Newman. He believed in what we do here, that we’re not just producing graduates who are competent but who have a moral compass and that we frame things in terms of theology and philosophy and the dignity of the human person,” President Noreen Carrocci said. “He really believed in us as this diocese and as a Catholic university and the need for us to be light in the dark.”

The Bishop Gerber Science Center opened in the fall of 2017. Carrocci said that when Gerber agreed to attach his name to the project, the fundraising efforts became much easier.

“This also meant that the many friends and people who admired Bishop Gerber could contribute to that project in his honor, especially because he was known in the diocese for his humility and his lack of desire for public recognition,” Father John Fogliasso said.

As a bishop, Gerber worked closely alongside Sister Tarcisia Roths, who was Newman’s ninth president from 1991 to 2000, and a friendship blossomed between the two.

“It was toward the end of that time that I went to talk with him because I knew the college was in a lot of financial difficulties, and so I talked with him about that. I really needed him to help me let the Catholic community know,” Sister Tarcisia said. “And I was afraid that if something didn’t happen we would have to close the college. He said that would be a terrible tragedy and so then I said, ‘Then, I need your help.’ And from that time on, he was our spokesman for the Catholic community. He talked about the treasure it is to have a Catholic college in the diocese.”

Roths said that during this time, the Catholic colleges in surrounding dioceses, Dodge City and Salina, were closing.

Roths said that having a Catholic college was important in the education of sisters who wanted to teach.

The community did not have enough money to send these sisters off to a Catholic college, so Roths said that having one here was a blessing.

“When I became president and we needed to start campaigns to raise money, I went to him again and said, ‘I really need your help’ and he … spoke from his heart, and he talked about this jewel we had in the diocese that needed to have our support. And he made calls to help me raise this money and he visited with the board. He was just excellent.”

The money raised in these campaigns was used for keeping the college running and building additions to expand the university.

“Bishop Gerber worked with her on two very significant campaigns that built Eck Hall and O’Shaughnessy Hall and DeMattias Hall,” Carrocci said.

“As we were getting ready to try to put a campaign together to raise funds for the new science building,... two former board chairs thought that if he would give us his name it could help in the fundraising effort.”

Carrocci said that she approached Gerber about the idea of using his name for both the fundraising effort and the future name of the science center. After asking him, she said he went to California to reflect on the proposition and came back and said no.

“He didn’t think it would be the right thing to do,” Carrocci said.

A little over a year later, Carrocci said, she had lunch with him in her office with his niece, Linda, who was now on the project board to discuss the topic a second time.

“Neither of us had done a campaign, and he had done so many with the spiritual life center, and the Lord’s Diner, and the other campaign here, and so we were picking his brain on how we approach this. By the end of the lunch he said, ‘You think I ought to revisit this naming opportunity?’ and we said ‘Sure.’ Linda and I are convinced the Holy Spirit was in this room,” Carrocci said.

Before Gerber said yes to using his name, he requested that Carrocci reach out and get other opinions on the matter. At the same time, he was looking for spiritual guidance on his decision.

After much thought and gathering multiple opinions, Bishop Gerber agreed to lend his name.

“That was when our fundraising really took off. Bishop Gerber and I did a lot of the fundraising that really made everything possible. I think it was providential that he could step out and do that and he was still well enough to be really engaged and active,” Carrocci said. “He helped me raise about half the money, and I got to be his friend.”

Many have said that they will miss Bishop Gerber’s personality and generosity.

“In my priest prayer group yesterday, we were discussing Bishop Gerber and his legacy, and one of my brother priests shared that Bishop Gerber had a unique ability to make every person that he was speaking to individually, at that moment, feel like they were the center of his world, and that he had such a charisma about him that I am going to miss and that I hope we can all learn from and try to imitate,” Fr. Fogliasso said.

PHOTO: BISHOP GERBER is remembered fondly by those in the Newman community who had the opportunity to know him personally. Courtesy Photo, Newman Advancement