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Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, 76: 'A true Christian gentleman'

Life marked by humility, service will be celebrated at funeral Mass Monday

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Bishop Gilberto Fernandez at his episcopal ordination in 1997. His viewing will take place at St. John Vianney Seminary on Sunday, Oct. 2, from 6 to 10 p.m. and on Monday, Oct. 3, from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral. Funeral Mass will take place Monday at 11 a.m. at the cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Fernandez's

Photographer: FLORIDA CATHOLIC

Bishop Gilberto Fernandez at his episcopal ordination in 1997. His viewing will take place at St. John Vianney Seminary on Sunday, Oct. 2, from 6 to 10 p.m. and on Monday, Oct. 3, from 9 to 10:45 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral. Funeral Mass will take place Monday at 11 a.m. at the cathedral, celebrated by Bishop Fernandez's "episcopal twin," Archbishop Thomas Wenski.

MIAMI — Humble, gentle, “a true Christian gentleman” — that is how people who worked with retired Miami Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez will remember him.

Bishop Fernandez, 76, died Sept. 30 after a long illness.

“He was my twin,” said Archbishop Thomas Wenski, alluding to the fact that both were ordained together as auxiliary bishops on Sept. 3, 1997. “He retired due to illness less than five years after being ordained a bishop, but his long illness was a cross that he embraced and offered for the Church of Miami. We trust that he will continue to pray for us as we now entrust his soul to the Lord. May he rest in peace.”

Archbishop Wenski will celebrate the funeral Mass for Bishop Fernandez on Monday, Oct. 3 at 11 a.m. at St. Mary Cathedral, 7525 N.W. Second Ave., Miami.

Archbishop John C. Favalora, archbishop emeritus of Miami, who ordained both Bishop Fernandez and Archbishop Wenski to the episcopacy in 1997, will receive Bishop Fernandez’s body on Sunday, Oct. 2 at 6 p.m. at St. John Vianney Seminary, 2900 S.W. 87 Ave., Miami, where a viewing will take place from 6 to 10 p.m. The viewing will continue from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Monday at the cathedral.

Bishop Fernandez served as spiritual director at St. John Vianney seminary the year before he was named a bishop.

When Bishop Fernandez retired for health reasons in December 2002, he asked the people of South Florida “to help me with your prayers, and I will help you also with mine.”

Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman described him at that time as “a good example as a priest, as a brother and as a bishop. You preach the Gospel. But the most important thing is that you live the Gospel. You live the Sermon on the Mount.”

“Bishop Fernandez was a gentle but uplifting breeze in the Catholic world, and specifically at Sts. Peter and Paul,” said Carlota Morales, currently principal of Sts. Peter and Paul School in Miami.

She was a math teacher there, and later assistant principal, when Bishop Fernandez served as pastor of the parish.

“Bishop Fernandez always worked with a great collaborator, Father Vincent Andriuska, and together they renovated the church’s altar,” recalled Morales. Bishop Fernandez “always loved art and music,” she added.

Father Robert Vallee, who served as associate pastor when Bishop Fernandez was pastor of St. Kevin Parish in Miami, remembers him as “one of the greatest pastors I ever worked with, a man of deep, deep humility.”

Father Vallee, now a philosophy professor at St. John Vianney Seminary, also worked with Bishop Fernandez when he was spiritual director there.

Someone once described the bishop as “a true Christian gentleman,” Father Vallee recalled. He said it was the best description of a man who was “unerringly gracious, kind and gentle.”

True to those traits, Bishop Fernandez really enjoyed his time at San Pablo Church in Marathon, “a small little parish that he could run like a family,” Father Vallee said. “I think he would have stayed there the rest of his life.”

Instead, his next assignment was at the sprawling, fast-paced St. Kevin, where he could not be as intimately involved with the parishioners.

“He did it out of obedience,” Father Vallee said.

Obedience also was the reason he accepted his nomination as auxiliary bishop.

“The last thing in the world Bishop Fernandez wanted was to be a bishop,” Father Vallee said, noting that “it was a real curse for him” to have to take on the duties of archdiocesan administration.

Indeed, when his appointment as auxiliary bishop of Miami was announced on June 24, 1997, Bishop Fernandez was quoted as saying: "Sometimes people talk about the loneliness of the priests, but when you are in a parish you don't feel that loneliness because you are surrounded by love and warmth. I never thought about doing anything else but being a parish priest. But man proposes and God disposes. That's the situation here."

Born in Feb. 13, 1935 in Havana, Cuba, Bishop Fernandez was part of a family of eight children, five boys and three girls, that gave four priests and one religious to the Church. Two older brothers, Msgr. Orlando Fernandez, now deceased, and Father Nelson Fernandez, now retired, also served as priests in the archdiocese. Another brother, Fausto Fernandez, was administrator of Marian Towers, a facility for low-income seniors run by Catholic Health Services.

One sister, Sister Lilia Fernandez, is a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph of St. Augustine who ministers at Mercy Hospital. Another sister, Teresita Fernandez, lives in the Miami area and another brother lives with his wife and children in Mexico. A third sister, Ondina, also lived in Miami and died a couple of weeks before her brother.

Bishop Fernandez was ordained May 17, 1959, for his native Archdiocese of Havana. He served in four parishes there, including as administrator of the cathedral, before being forced into exile in Miami in July 1967.

Among his assignments in South Florida, he ministered to migrant farmworkers in Naranja, Homestead and Delray Beach. He served as pastor of Sacred Heart Church, Homestead (1978-1979); pastor of Sts. Peter and Paul, Miami (1979 to 1988); administrator of San Pablo, Marathon (1988-1989); pastor of St. Kevin, Miami (1989-1996); and spiritual director at St. John Vianney College Seminary the year prior to his appointment as bishop.

Bishop Fernandez accepted his appointment as auxiliary bishop with characteristic humility, knowing, he said, “that many others among my brother priests are better qualified than me.”

For his episcopal motto, he chose "amor ultima ratio" -- love is the supreme reason. His episcopal coat-of-arms features two clasped hands in front of a golden cross. The hands represent Miami, a meeting place and a place of welcome. Stars above the cross symbolize the Virgin Mary as well as the Cuban and U.S. flags. The bottom half features blue and white waters, representing the Caribbean Sea and the Catholic Church, which is often portrayed as the "bark of Peter."

Bishop Fernandez will be buried in the priests section of Our Lady of Mercy Cemetery in Miami.
 FAST FACTS
Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez


Born: Feb. 13, 1935, in Havana, Cuba

Ordained:
- To the priesthood, May 17, 1959, for the Archdiocese of Havana, Cuba
- Appointed Titular bishop of Irina and Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, June 24, 1997
- Ordained to the episcopacy, September 3, 1997
- Retired for health reasons, Dec. 11, 2002

Education: Buen Pastor Seminary, Havana, Cuba

Priestly Ministry:
Archdiocese of Havana, 1959 to 1966
- Assistant Pastor, El Salvador Church, Cerro, Havana (1959 to 1960)
- Administrator, St. Peter's Church, Batabano, Havana (1960 to 1961)
- Administrator, Cathedral of Havana (1961 to 1962)
- Pastor, El Cerro Church, Havana (1962 to 1966)

Archdiocese of Miami, 1967 to 2011:
- Assistant Pastor, St. Ann's Mission, Naranja (September, 1967 to October, 1969)
- Administrator, Our Lady Queen of Peace, Delray Beach (October, 1969 to September, 1971)
- Assistant Pastor, St. Patrick Church, Miami Beach (September, 1971 to June, 1974)
- Pastor, Sacred Heart Church, Homestead (June, 1974 to May, 1979)
- Pastor, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Miami (May, 1979 to April, 1988)
- Pastor, San Pablo Church, Marathon (April, 1988 to December, 1989)
- Pastor, St. Kevin Church, Miami (December, 1989 to June, 1996)
- Spiritual Director, St. John Vianney Seminary, Miami (June, 1996 to June, 1997)

Other appointments include membership in the Archdiocesan Worship Commission; Personnel Board; Presbyteral Council; and Advisory Boards for Permanent Diaconate and Catholic Cemeteries.



Comments from readers

Alison Fey - 10/04/2011 07:20 PM
I knew this humble man as Father Fernandez while he was at Sacred Heart Parish in Homestead, FL. My father, Allison R. King, and Father Fernandez were best friends until my father's sudden unexpected death when I was in fourth grade at Sacred Heart School. Father Fernandez's compassion, caring and genuine love were apparent even to us students. I am so saddened that he is gone but I'm quite sure my Father is very glad to have him in Heaven. May God grant him a well-deserved rest.


My deepest sympathies and condolences to his friends and family.
Luisa Padilla - 10/03/2011 09:57 PM
One of the most gentle and caring priest I have known. A true servant to the Lord and his people. He will be truly missed. Looking forward to our reunion someday!!!!!
carlos cespedes - 10/03/2011 08:28 PM
The Lord is with you,your soul in peace and we miss you,and for sure I will meet you there.
Thanks
Gladys Miranda - 10/03/2011 03:22 PM
Que descanse en paz Bishop Gilberto Fernandez.
Bishop Estevez - 10/01/2011 09:29 PM
May he rest in peace. Even when he was sick he reflected peace and acceptance of his difficult fate.
The love of his family was always there. His humility kept to himself many of his talents. I was told he was a fine pianist and he knew several other languages. The promises of the Lord to His servants are for him now but his charity is an example for us all. +Felipe, Bishop of St. Augustine, Fl.

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