Bishop Emeritus Eugene J. Gerber died Saturday, Sept. 29 after complications from a heart attack, hospital officials said. Gerber was 87 years old.
Gerber was driving on the evening of Sept. 26 when the medical emergency happened, causing his SUV to veer off the road and strike a bridge pillar and then a barrier wall. He was taken to Via Christi Hospital St. Francis where he died a few days after the accident.
The Newman community was saddened to hear the news of Gerber’s accident.
Newman President Noreen M. Carrocci, Ph.D., said, “We give thanks for his 87 years, and his incredible dedication to his vocation as priest, pastor and bishop. Bishop Gerber leaves an incredible legacy for our Diocese. For all of us who were privileged to know him, we trust that our tears of sadness today will turn into happy and cherished memories of this holy man of God.”
Gerber has played a large role in the local community since he was ordained as a priest of the Diocese of Wichita in 1959, including the creation of the Lord’s Diner, an organization to help combat hunger in the Wichita community. Their mission is “to serve a nutritious meal with dignity and respect to anyone who is hungry.”
Gerber was appointed the eighth bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita in November 1982 and officially installed in February 1983. His services during his time as bishop include: serving on numerous committees for the National Council of Catholic Bishops as well as the board of directors for the Wichita Urban League, the board of Via Christi Health Systems, HopeNet, Kansas Foodbank Warehouse Inc. and Wichita Grand Opera.
A new science center at Newman University was recently dedicated in his honor. Hundreds of community members, supporters and friends gathered outside the building to celebrate the opening of the state-of-the-art facility.
“We are blessed to have in the Bishop Gerber Science Center wonderful spaces and places for our excellent faculty to challenge and support generations of students to come,” said Carrocci at the dedication.
“The new opportunities for scientific learning and research in these classrooms and laboratories will enable our graduates to realize their dreams. And formed within the context of our Catholic identity and mission, they will be prepared for professional success with caring hearts and a commitment to transforming society.”
At the dedication, Gerber said he was proud of what Newman does and believed in educating the whole person, no matter what their denominational calling.
“Newman University is a life-giving institution because it treats the whole person,” Gerber once said. “I’m really proud of our Catholic university and I think it stands out among a lot of others that are much larger and more well known.”
He also said he liked what he saw in regards to what Newman was doing in the field of science and teaching the distinction between what is possible and what is right.
“Just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it’s right,” Gerber had explained. “Because what’s possible can destroy us. When you can do just about anything, we need to ask, ‘What ought we do?’”
Gerber leaves behind a faith-filled legacy — he will be greatly missed by not just the Newman community, but by a much larger population of individuals who have come to know and love a man who was filled with a passion to serve and help others.
An open-casket viewing will take place at Downing & Lahey East Mortuary Sunday, Oct. 7, from 2-8 p.m. and from 1:30-6 p.m. following the noon Mass Monday, Oct. 8, which will take place at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Wichita.
An all-night vigil begins with solemn vespers Monday evening at 6:30 p.m. A rosary will be prayed at 8:30 p.m. Viewing and visitation will be possible until 9 a.m. Tuesday.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 9, at the Cathedral. Interment will be at 2:30 p.m. at Ascension Cemetery in Wichita.
For full details on the service, or to express condolences and share memories, visit Gerber’s obituary online.