Always in service to others
Br. Gabriel Kersting, SCJ, died April 7, in Seminole, Fl. (near St. Petersburg) where he was in hospice care close to the Sacred Heart Community in Pinellas Park. He was 95.
Originally from Pittsburgh, Pa., Br. Gabe worked in the Merchant Marines as a deckhand from 1942 to 1946 before following his vocation with the Priests of the Sacred Heart. He made his first profession when he was 26.
Br. Gabe spent much of his religious life as a support person to others. He served at the novitiate (Ste. Marie, IL), at Dehon Seminary (Great Barrington, MA), at Sacred Heart Southern Missions (Mississippi) and at Kilroe Seminary (Honesdale, PA).
In 1959, he moved to province administration, again as a support person, serving as secretary to the provincial superior for 14 years.
It was when he was provincial secretary that Br. Gabe began thinking of the missions. He went to the airport to pick up Fr. John Strittmatter, SCJ, a missionary from South Africa who was home in the States for meetings. “He told me what he was doing in South Africa and it really stayed on my mind,” said Br. Gabe. “He said I should 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, the cathedral of the diocese. With hundreds of intricately designed tin tiles on the 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. Although he lived at a nursing facility in his last years, Br. Gabe continued to be a member of the Sacred Heart community; local SCJs, as well as the whole province, made it a priority to visit with Br. Gabe. He was surrounded by members of the community at the time of his death.
Several years ago Frater James Nguyen, SCJ, reflected on his visit with the retired missionary just before he professed his first vows:
“Of the many wonderful people we met during our novitiate trips was Br. Gabriel Kersting. Although he has Alzheimer’s disease and cannot remember much from the past, just seeing his mere presence and his joyful witness to religious life was so graceful. In his 90s, Br. Gabriel experiences and sees things for the first time, like a child, on a daily basis. ‘I think of heaven a lot. And I believe I am close to it each day, but I feel like a kid again,’ he says.
“One of my favorite memories of him was when we were walking down the pier in St. Petersburg and we saw a boy with Down Syndrome. Br. Gabe pulled me aside and said, ‘Look into those eyes, how can you not see the grace of God in them?’
“The memory stays with me.”
Arrangements are as follows: