Fr. Berard Dudek, OFM Conv.
On a brilliantly clear, crisp March morning, I could not imagine the day would get any brighter until I met, for the first time, Friar Berard, the subject of this article.
He was born in Baltimore, August 31, 1927, the last of Martin & Catherine Dudek’s four boys, in a modest and established Baltimore family. His grandparents were immigrants, of Russian and Polish descent. He is now the only surviving son.
He appears much younger than his 88 years with a broad smile and kind, affable nature. He is on in-home hospice at this stage of his life, but seems as happy and content as one might imagine a much younger, healthier man. He was diagnosed with an incurable breathing disorder about four years ago. His daily life is now confined by the limits of his lifeline; an oxygen compressor and tubing. This, however, does not confine his spirit. He refers to the oxygen tubing as his “Angel Line,” knowing that when he no longer needs it, he will be with the Angels.
The conversation began with a litany of his long career, almost too much to list, so I will give you the highlighted version here. His first schooling was at St. Casimir Parish’s School (one of our many province pastoral and parochial school ministries), where he later became Assistant Pastor (1971) and then, after three more pastoral assignments and several education and leadership positions, he served the people of St. Casimir Parish as Pastor (1996).
At the age of 14, he was off to St. Francis High School (one of our province high school ministries), in Athol Springs, New York, which was then an all-boys boarding school and still ministers as a “Roman Catholic, Franciscan, college preparatory school that serves young men of diverse faiths and backgrounds from throughout Western New York.” His tuition for the year, including room & board was $300.00!
He became a novice at St. Lawrence Novitiate in Becket, Massachusetts in 1945, at the age of 18. His education consisted of the years he spent at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York, St. Joseph Cupertino in Ellicott City, Maryland, and St. Hyacinth College and Seminary in Granby, Massachusetts. He went on to graduate studies at the University of Buffalo and Laval University in Quebec. He was ordained on June 24, 1954 at St. Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, Massachusetts, by Most Reverend Christopher Weldon, Bishop of Springfield.
When asked when or how he knew he wanted to be a member of the Religious Order, he has no “come to Jesus” moment. He does recall a conversation his mother had when he was in the third grade. A Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph at the school felt he had a calling. From that point it seemed to be a gradual acceptance and understanding of the path he should follow. Following Ordination, he taught at Bishop Ryan High School in Buffalo New York (1954), serving as the last principal before the school closed in 1971.
At various times he served as a teacher, Parochial Vicar, Associate Pastor, or Pastor at numerous and diverse parishes, mainly in the northeast. From 1982-1984, he was Associate Pastor at The Basilica of The Assumption in Baltimore, the first Catholic Cathedral in America. He has also been chaplain to the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph in Hamburg, New York. Add to that, time spent as Vicar Provincial, Definitor, Senior Friars Commission and Franciscan Discipleship Commission Member for St. Anthony of Padua Province (now in union with Immaculate Conception Province, creating our current Our Lady of the Angels Province) and member of the Priests Council of Rochester, New York. At one point, he actually taught his current Guardian of St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Friary, Fr. Vincent Gluc, OFM Conv.!
In 1995, he took a five-week sabbatical to study in Italy and trace the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi. He returned to ten more years of parish work before coming home to Baltimore and semi-retirement in June 2005 at St. Clement Mary Hofbauer Parish, where he currently resides. When asked which assignment he liked the best, his eyes just sparkle as he says he could not choose. He says they are like colors of the rainbow, all different.
His activities are limited by his lack of mobility and the oxygen tether. He has left the residence just four times in the past four months for medical appointments. He attends Mass daily at the residence. Visiting medical professionals call on him every other day to assure his care is on target. The normal tasks and activities of daily living that are usually taken for granted, take considerable time for Friar Berard to complete. He gets out of breath, even with the “Angel Line,” just walking across the room. It takes about an hour to get up and dressed in the morning, all of which he does with a smile. He is in no pain, other than the sometimes frightening discomfort of not being able to catch his breath. He eats well and looks great!
Friar Berard has many visitors; family and otherwise. Some still come for confession. His one brother had 12 children, one of which is a niece who aspires to be a nun. If you visit, be prepared to have your picture taken, as he is very adept with his iPad and his memory is on point. He does paintings on glass, which resemble stained glass (as exampled by the one featured here). He takes many phone calls, answers e-mail, and snail mail. As our time spent together ended and a fatherly embrace was shared, I left with two blessings–a personally blessed Rosary that will be cherished for life, and the blessing of sharing the morning with this holy and wonderful Franciscan Friar.
~ by Mr. Rick Sipes,
Assistant in the Our Lady of the Angels Province Healthcare Ministry Office