Page 14 - Life and Times

Basic HTML Version

September 2013
Continued from page 13
teers to manage.
In the evenings, he counsels engaged
couples, and after that he makes his
rounds at the hospitals.
“Usually there’s five, six, seven peo-
ple to visit,” he said. “‘Other people say,
‘Would you drop in to see my mother?’
“We’re there (as priests) to serve
God’s people,” he said.
When he arrives home, he may read
or watch television news before going
to bed at about midnight, he said.
in 1980, there were 8,645
people in the city.
Now, there are “about 4,000.”
That means church membership has
declined, although about 400 families
still call Fatima home, including many
who live in other areas of the Shenango
Valley and beyond.
“We are getting to be an older com-
munity,” Father Berdis said.
Religious leaders, himself included,
were once much more active in the val-
ley, but as everyone’s aged, they’ve
slowed down, he explained.
Groups like Christian Associates and
the Shenango Valley Initiative, although
still in existence, are no longer a driving
He remembers the times when those
groups “worked together for the better-
ment of the community,” accomplishing
things like getting the site of the former
Sharon Transformer Division of West-
inghouse Electric Corp. a clean bill of
environmental health so it could be re-
These days, much of Father Berdis’
time is spent with grieving families and
dealing with the delicate decisions that
need to be made to bury the dead.
“It’s one of those situations” that has
to be dealt with sensitively, he said.
In one recent case, Father Berdis
was out of town for most of a day and
came back at dusk in time to mark a
cemetery plot for a grave-digger before
night fell so a burial could happen the
next morning.
“You have to be understanding and
patient and kind,” he said. “And by the
grace of God, you’re able to finally re-
solve the problem.”
The days are long and there’s little
time for sleep – or even to stop moving
– in Father Berdis’ case.
“He sits down long enough to eat,”
Hufnagel said. “It’s always something.”
His day starts about sunrise, depend-
ing on the season, as Father Berdis ris-
es about 5:30 a.m.
“I open up the church and get every-
thing ready for Mass,” he said.
Then he does his own morning
prayers and “takes care of Mother Na-
ture” before hearing confessions and
saying daily Mass at 7 a.m.
Then he “takes care of Mother Na-
ture” again, has breakfast and by 9 a.m.
is busy with “the activities of the day,”
he said.
That means a variety of things, de-
pending on the day.
It could be discussing a personal
problem with a parishioner or consoling
a grieving family.
He deals with funerals on an almost-
daily basis, because the parish was
home to so many families over the
years, many of whom now live else-
where but want to be laid to eternal rest
in their hometown.
His three-decade tenure in Farrell
means he knows most everyone, and
he’s had to bury several folks to whom
he was especially close.
“It becomes more difficult, because
it’s like a family member, and some-
times you cry with them,” he said. “It’s
very hard.”
As a priest, he’s come to learn his
presence matters more than the words
he chooses to say.
“You don’t have to say much. The
fact that you are present makes all the
difference in the world,” he said.
His aim is always to “meet the
needs” of the people he serves.
“The people have accepted me and I
accepted them,” he said. “And I’ve tried
to take care of their spiritual needs.
“People here are wonderful,” he said.
Father Berdis understands he’s not
universally loved and accepts that.
“You’re not loved by everybody. You
have to accept that as a human being.
You have to take it in stride,” he said.
14 chil-
dren, and he and three of his sisters
pursued the religious life.
He was born June 9, 1937, in Erie.
“I was the seventh child and the
fourth boy,” he said.
He was a member of Holy Family
Parish in Erie and went to its school,
where he credits the church’s pastor,
Monsignor Stephen Meko, as the man
who inspired him to a vocation in the
“He was an inspiration to everybody,”
Father Berdis said. “He lived a very
simple life and he was an inspiration to
all of us.”
Father Berdis was one of seven men
from the school who pursued the voca-
“This was part of his legacy,” Father
Berdis said of Meko.
After his time at Holy Family, Father
Berdis went on to Cathedral Prep in
Erie, then entered St. Mark’s Seminary
while studying at Gannon University,
also in Erie.
He worked “all during this time,” he
His parents required him and his
brother and sisters to work to help pay
for tuition. He’s proud that he paid his
own way through Cathedral Prep.
He did “all kinds of odd jobs: stuck
pins, peddled papers,” before finally get-
ting a job as a mechanic during his col-
lege years, he said.
He finished his studies at St. Mary
Seminary and University in Baltimore
and was ordained May 22, 1963. He
was one of 16 men ordained in what is
the largest ordination class in the histo-
ry of the Erie Diocese.
His first assignment was teaching at
DuBois Central Catholic and serving as
a weekend assistant at Immaculate Con-
ception parish in Brookville.
He spent 17 years teaching.
On June 5, 1980, he came to Farrell,
where he was in charge of another
school, the one that bore the name of
his beloved predecessor, Monsignor
Geno Monti.
It was a school that held a special
Father Berdis stands outside the former St. Ann’s Church in Farrell, which
was merged into Our Lady of Fatima. His myriad responsibilities as a parish
priest extend to building maintenance and helping dispose of real estate, in-
cluding the eventual disposition of St. Ann’s and of the closed Monsignor
Geno Monti School.