Versatile missionary priest helped to rebuild island after hurricane

Father Edward Herberger, 1932-2012


Father Edward Herberger SVD, 79, who made a name for himself as a master rebuilder, passed away on Thursday, Feb. 9.

During his 51 years as a priest and 23 years as a missionary in the Caribbean, he served as one of the first Divine Word Missionaries in Jamaica and helped to rebuild the island of Montserrat after Hurricane Hugo.

"In whatever Ed was asked to do—administrative work, vocations or parish ministry—he pursued it with enthusiasm, attention to detail and innovation," said Very Rev. Thomas Ascheman, SVD, provincial superior of the Society of the Divine Word Chicago Province. "Upon his death, we received responses from people in Japan, Indonesia, Italy, Spain, Colombia, Ghana, Taiwan, Jamaica, Ireland and the Philippines. Through his work as a priest, he touched countless lives and hearts."

During a one-year working sabbatical from his duties at an Iowa seminary college in 1980, Father Herberger grew to love the islands and their people. He returned to the Caribbean in 1985 to serve the people of St. Thomas civil parish, Jamaica’s most economically depressed region. During the next 22 years, he also worked in Montserrat, Antigua, St. Kitts, and Anguilla, where he was pastor of St. Gerard for ten years.

Perhaps no assignment tested his determination and perseverance like Montserrat. In September 1989, Hurricane Hugo devastated the tiny island. The Category 4 storm left 17 people dead, more than $100 million in property damage and 90 percent of residents without homes.

The losses at the Catholic parish were great and included the new building for the island’s only Catholic school, the historic St. Augustine School. The roof of the old, stone St. Patrick Church blew off, and the rectory was so damaged that Father Herberger had to sleep in what had been a storage room.

The parish hall and catechetical center, which had been completed 18 months earlier, suffered structural and roof damage. But after two weeks of clearing debris, they resumed classes at St. Augustine and provided hot lunch for the children for the next five months while many homes on the island were without electricity.

In addition to funds from Catholic Relief Services and Caritas, Father Herberger raised $100,000 for home repairs. He helped to establish a repayment agreement that mirrored that of the St. Vincent de Paul Society by which the recipients would repay the money if and when they could. That money went into a relief fund for future recipients who suffered from other natural disasters either on Montserrat or other Caribbean islands. Montserratians drew upon those funds after one of Montserrat’s three volcanoes became active in the 1990s, destroyed two-thirds of the island and obliterated the country’s economy.

Born in East Amherst, N.Y., in 1932, he was the eldest child of Edward and Marie (Popp) Herberger and oldest sibling to two sisters and six brothers.

He professed religious vows in 1952 and was ordained to the priesthood at Techny in 1960. After ordination, Father Herberger moved to Rome for a year to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

In addition to Father Herberger’s work in the Caribbean, his assignments included serving as assistant treasurer, spiritual director for junior brothers, and director of Brother Formation at Techny; dean of students at Divine Word College in Epworth, Iowa; and national vocation director for the Society of the Divine Word in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

Father Herberger directed the Brothers Formation Program during a time of great transition in the late 1960s and early 1970s. He and his team restructured the program to better reflect the times and changing roles of missionary brothers as more and more of them ministered directly with people on social, economic and religious issues.

In 2007, when he returned to Techny, he became chaplain of Techny Towers Conference and Retreat Center. During his four-year tenure, he celebrated or arranged for others to celebrate Mass in the historic chapel, led chapel tours, and was available to assist groups using the facility for Mass, confessions and religious services.

Father Herberger is survived by one sister and six brothers: Loraine Galley, Thomas, Donald, Richard, Leonard, Kenneth and Gerald Herberger. Many family members, friends and fellow Divine Word Missionaries gathered for his wake and funeral on Sunday, Feb. 12, and Monday, Feb. 13, respectively, at the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in Techny Towers. He was buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Herberger can be made for the care of retired missionaries and may be sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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