A trio of 90-somethings

On March 27 Br. Gabe Kersting becomes the youngest of our province "90-somethings"

Youngest of province elders turns 90

On March 27, Br. Gabe Kersting beomes the province’s youngest 90-year-old. He follows Fr. Don Barnd, who celebrated his 90th birthday on January 19 and Fr. Leonard Tadyszak, who turned 90 on January 5.

Br. Gabe may be the youngest in years but he falls right in the middle when it comes to profession (first vows in 1949). Fr. Don is the youngster with the SCJs, celebrating a mere 60th anniversary with the community this year, while Fr. Leonard has more years in vows than anyone else in the province. This is his 68th year as an SCJ.

After devoting their lives to the Priests of the Sacred Heart, all three men are retired. Fr. Leonard and Fr. Don are members of the Sacred Heart Community in Franklin, Wis. (with residence at the Congregational Home in suburban Milwaukee), and Br. Gabe is a member of the Pinellas Park community in Florida, where he continues to enjoy taking in a few spring training games each year.

Youngest to eldest, here’s a quick look at the elder statesmen of the U.S. Province. Besides sharing the same age, all three also share a similar item on their curriculum vitae: a missionary assignment to South Africa.

From Merchant Marines to South Africa

Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., Br. Gabe worked in the Merchant Marines for several years before following his vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart.  He made his first profession when he was 26.

Br. Gabe often served as a support person to others.  His first assignments in the province’s seminaries and parishes were as a cook or in maintenance.  In 1959, he moved to province administration, again as a support person, serving as provincial secretary.

It was when he was provincial secretary that Br. Gabe began thinking of the missions.  He went to the airport to pick up a missionary from South Africa who was home for meetings.  “He told me what he was doing in South Africa and it really stayed on my mind,” said Br. Gabe.  “He told me to come down and try it [missionary life] and by the end of that car ride I was ready to go!”  In 1973, he was on his way to South Africa.

“My greatest pride and joy was the church I painted,” said Br. Gabe.  He and an assistant re-painted the inside of St. Mary’s Church in De Aar.  With hundreds of intricately designed tin tiles on its ceiling, needing two or three coats of paint each, the job wasn’t an easy one.  “We were on scaffolds at least 30 feet high for hours at a time.”

After 20 years overseas, Br. Gabe returned to the United States.  He spent two years with the novitiate community in Chicago, and in 1997, joined the Pinellas Park community.

Ordained on mother’s 81st birthday

Fr. Don is originally from Morris, Minn., and entered the SCJs after six years in the Navy.  Initially, he served the province as a brother. He ministered at St. Joseph’s Indian School in South Dakota, the novitiate at Ste. Marie, Ill., Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Ind., and Immaculate Heart of Mary Seminary in Lenox, Mass., before volunteering for the missions in South Africa in 1968.

Fr. Don breaks into laughter, telling stories from his years with the community.

As a brother, Fr. Don said that used the skills that he learned from his father.  Mr. Barnd was an engineer and he taught his son at an early age how to use mathematics for a variety of projects.  “I remember one time, my father, grandfather and I were going to paint the house,” said Fr. Don.  “I knew then how to square numbers so he had me figure out how much paint we needed for the project.  I didn’t get it right the first time, but after he showed me my mistake I never forgot how to do it again.”

Fr. Don returned to the United States in 1970, and said that that he noticed a change in himself after South Africa.  “I wanted to go back to school,” he said.  Challenged by other SCJs, he began to think about the priesthood.  He entered Sacred Heart School of Theology in 1975, and on his mother’s 81st birthday in 1978, he was ordained to the priesthood.  Years later in his retirement, he returned to school again and earned his bachelor’s in religious studies from Cardinal Stritch University in suburban Milwaukee and a Master’s of Divinity degree from SHST.

As a priest he served at the Kateri Indian Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., at St. Martin Church in Murdo, S.D., and as a “help-out” priest in parishes too numerous to list.

Tiny ad led to vocation

A Milwaukee native, Fr. Leonard learned of the Priests of the Sacred Heart through an advertisement in a religious magazine. “It was so small I could barely see it,” he said of the ad. “But I felt like I was called to serve the Sacred Heart and so I contacted them.

It was while he was chopping logs with the CCCs (Civilian Conservation Corps –– a program that put young men to work during the Depression) when he started to think about a vocation.

Fr. Leonard Tadyszak, the eldest member of the U.S. Province

“After seeing that ad I just wrote to them [the Priests of the Sacred Heart] and told them I wanted to join,” he said. Soon after, he received a letter from Fr. John Emonts, SCJ, saying that the priest he had written to, Fr. Henry Hogebach, SCJ, had just died in a car accident. “But he added that I was still welcome to come to Hales Corners –– I guess they didn’t have much of an admissions process then.”

At 19 he was considered a “PG” or post-graduate student, so he was placed in an intensive two-year Latin program at Divine Heart Seminary. He completed his studies at Sacred Heart Monastery and was ordained to the priesthood in 1952. And then, like many newly ordained at the time, his first assignment was back at the seminary.

“They needed teachers, so that’s where we went,” said Fr. “Tady,” as he is often called. His first assignment was as a Latin teacher at Divine Heart. When asked if he was a little nervous in his first year of teaching he said “yes” with little hesitation.

“I didn’t know Latin all that well myself,” he admitted. “All I had were those two years at Donaldson and a little later on. But I stayed about two days ahead of the class so I could figure out what they were going to ask. After seven years, I actually got to know the language pretty well!”

In 1961 he left for De Aar, South Africa. He stayed for four years before returning to the U.S. Province to once again serve in education and formation.

After his years in education, Fr. Tady became a “pinch-hitter” of sorts – – filling in at parishes when others were on vacation, or serving as a fill-in until a permanent SCJ was assigned to a location.

He retired in 1992 and alternated his time between the retirement communities in Florida and Wisconsin before finally settling in Wisconsin last year.