Abbot Andrew Garber, OSB, enters eternal rest
In the early afternoon of Tuesday, 12 November 2019, our beloved confrere,
Abbot Andrew Garber, OSB,
passed into eternal rest. Abbot Andrew was a Jubilarian of both profession and ordination. He had resided in St. Stephen’s Infirmary at Conception Abbey since his arrival here in 2016 from St. Benedict’s Abbey at Benet Lake WI, when the latter community was reunited with Conception Abbey.
Native to the Pittsburgh area of western Pennsylvania, Vernon Ferdinand Garber was born on 28 October 1928 at McKeesport PA, eldest of three sons of Ferdinand and Martha (Klinkhamer) Garber. Raised in nearby Glassport’s St. Cecilia Parish, the young Vernon attended the parochial school; he completed high school at St. John’s Military Academy in Washington DC under the guidance of the Christian Brothers. Upon graduation he enrolled at The Catholic University of America for his first two years of undergraduate studies.
In the summer of 1950, while working in a metal foundry, Vernon found that work there—much more physical than intellectual—left him with time to exercise his mind on matters that did not often come to the surface. He began to consider his place in the world, and what that might mean for a young man of pious inclination. He learned of a new Benedictine monastery located midway between Milwaukee and Chicago, and wrote for additional information. He was surprised to receive in response a telephone call directly from Abbot Richard Felix, founder and spiritual leader of the community. Abbot Richard persuaded Vernon to come and see the place for himself. Although the house and plant of the budding foundation appeared somewhat primitive to this modern 21-year-old, he found something there that appealed to his sense of what monastic life should be, and decided to stay. He professed first monastic vows on 8 September 1952, receiving the name Andrew in honor of the Lord’s first apostle. Frater Andrew studied philosophy and theology at Benet Lake, and was ordained priest on 26 May 1956 by Archbishop Albert Meyer of Milwaukee.
After ordination, Father Andrew was sent to assist at a small Benedictine priory in Atwater OH. He then taught in a Catholic high school in Reading PA while serving as pastor pro tem of the Slovak parish in the town of St. Clair. Called back to Benet Lake, he acted as porter and guest-master. But before long, his youth notwithstanding, Abbot Richard made him prior. He held this positon until Abbot Richard’s resignation in 1964, when he was himself elected the second abbot of Benet Lake on 11 March of that year. He received the episcopal blessing on 29 April 1964, and served as Abbot until his own resignation at age forty-five on 21 May 1974.
After retirement from the abbatial office, Abbot Andrew spent a few months with the Alexian Brothers in the Chicago area, where he cared for a group of three small parishes in the Diocese of Peoria. After a year there, he assumed the position of chaplain at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mishawaka IN, during which time he lived with the Holy Cross Brothers in nearby South Bend. In 1977 he was assigned to St. Mary’s of Nazareth Hospital in Chicago, where he served as chaplain for three years, before moving on to St. Luke’s Hospital in Milwaukee in 1980.
In 1987 Abbot Andrew was named pastor of St. Scholastica Parish in Bristol WI, four miles from Benet Lake. He remained there until 2003, concurrently serving in various capacities at the abbey. He was pleased to note that the parish prospered greatly in both membership and financial status during his time as pastor. In 2008 he was asked by Abbot Edmund to accept an appointment as prior, in which office he served until 2010, when advancing age and vision problems brought about his retirement from administrative work.
Asked about his accomplishments during his tenure as abbot, Abbot Andrew noted two especially: first, the building of the Abbey Church, with its interior space that allowed for versatility in furniture arrangement, as well as a complete spatial reorientation to accommodate eventual developments in the liturgy; and second, visitation and supervision of the many priories established in furtherance of Abbot Richard’s plan to establish a network of “home mission priories.” Several of these succeeded; on the other hand, Abbot Andrew admits that he was obliged to close more failing monastic communities, probably, than any other abbot.
When the community at Benet Lake began to acknowledge that diminishing numbers and the advancing ages of its members was making it impractical to maintain operations, a process of reunification with its motherhouse at Conception was undertaken. In 2016 Abbot Andrew, with several of his monastic confreres, relocated to Conception Abbey, where he took up residence in our newly-expanded St. Stephen’s Infirmary. Though such a move was bound to have its difficulties, Abbot Andrew faced them with characteristic grace and aplomb. He entered our Apostolate of Prayer for the church and the world, ready to live out his monastic life in fidelity and hope.
Abbot Andrew was as fully engaged in the Conception community as his health allowed. He frequented evening recreation with the monastic community, regaling his new confreres with stories of Benet Lake’s early days. He was an avid conversationalist, enjoying visiting with others whenever the opportunity arose. In August, however, his health began to diminish significantly. Having fully accepted his situation with faith and cheerful resignation, he was placed on hospice care.
Abbot Andrew is survived by his brother Raymond (Linda) Garber of Surprise AZ, by his nieces and nephews, and by his monastic confreres.
Vespers of the Faithful Departed will be sung at Conception Abbey at 7:15 p.m. on Friday, 15 November 2019, and Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, 16 November 2019. Abbot Andrew’s mortal remains will be returned to Benet Lake, where a second Mass will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, 19 November 2019, followed by interment at Benet Lake. We commend our beloved confrere to your prayerful remembrance. May he rest in eternal peace!
Abbot Benedict and Community