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Since 1732, the Redemptorists — a congregation of missionary priests and brothers — have followed in Jesus’ footsteps, preaching the Word and serving the poor and most abandoned.
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Monthly Archives: January 2009
Wednesday

Father Joseph Bertrand, the first Virgin Islander to be ordained as a Redemptorist priest, died of cancer Wednesday, Jan. 14,2009, at St. John Neumann Residence in Saratoga Springs, NY. He was 83 year old.

"He was one of the legends among the people, said a fellow St. Thomian, Father Rodney Olive, C.ss.R. "He was always a good mentor to me and he was a great people person. He was one of those priests who, even when he really didn’t have time, he had time for you."

A wake service and funeral were held at St. John Neumann Chapel, Saratoga Springs, NY, on the weekend of January 16th; because many of Father Bertrand’s relatives live in the New York City area, a second funeral Mass is to be offered on Saturday, January 24, at 10:30 a.m., at Out Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Brooklyn. Burial will be in the Redemptorist Mausoleum on his native island of St. Thomas.

Father Bertrand was born June 27, 1925, the son of Ernest and Josephine Florant Bertrand. He graduated from Sts. Peter and Paul School and studied for one year at Charlotte Amalie High School before the family moved to New York, where he continued his education.

From 1943 to 1946, he was in the U.S. Navy in the Seabees, serving in the Pacific Theatre. On his return to civilian life, he attended the Fordham University School of Education for two years. Then, despite his greater maturity than the other students there, he went to the Redemptorist junior seminary in North East, PA, for intensive studies in Latin. He went on to study philosophy and theology at Mount St. Alphonsus in Esopus, NY. After spending a novitiate year in Ilchester. MD, he made his first profession of vows in 1950. Three years later, he made his final profession and, in 1955, he was ordained to the priesthood.

As was the custom at the time, ordination was followed by a second novitiate, a time of transition into active ministry. Along with classmates, Father Bertrand was sent to St. Mary’s Church in Annapolis. In Maryland, as in other southern states, Jim Crow laws were enforced, segregating the races in everything from drinking fountains and restrooms to movie theaters and restaurants. According to Bishop Emeritus Elliott Thomas of the Virgin Islands, Father Bertrand had been soft-spoken and humble even as a student at Charlotte Amalie High School. The Jim Crow laws did not make a dent in Father Bertrand’s practice of humility, but honed it to the point where people rich and poor were drawn to him, trusting him for advice and a show of God’s merciful love.

Father Bertrand’s first mission assignment was to Fajardo, PR, where he ministered from 1957 to 1960. Father Clement Cahill, who was with Father Bertrand for four months there and, later, three years in Christiansted, St. Croix, recalled: "In 1957, the rector said Joe Bertrand would be living with him in Fajardo and told me, ’You, Clem, will take care of him.’" Their positions were reversed in St. Croix, where Father Bertrand, as rector of Holy Cross, introduced Father Cahill to the West Indian community. "He was quite a nice man to live with," Father Cahill said. When the two men were together again at Saratoga Springs, he added, "It was a real honor and pleasure to be with him here."

Father Bertrand’s first assignment to Christiansted was from 1960 to 1970; he was then named rector of Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral on St. Thomas, where he served until 1981. Msgr. Michael Kosak, the first priest ordained for the Diocese of St. Thomas, recalled meeting Father Bertrand back in 1966. "He took me on my first tour of St. Croix," he said "I think he was Episcopal Vicar then for Bishop (Edward J.) Harper. He always made me feel very comfortable in his presence. I remember he loved to cook, too, and he had a great generosity."

Bishop Thomas, who as a layman served as sacristan at the cathedral, remembered Father Bertrand’s kindness on St. Thomas. "When he was rector, every day before the first Mass he’d go to the bakery so after Mass we always had fresh bread and hot coffee waiting for us," he said. "He also went to the hospital every day to visit the sick and the other priests and the laity really respected him for that."

After his many years in the Virgin Islands, Father Bertrand accepted an assignment as one of the first Redemptorists in St. Lucia, being named rector of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Vieux Fort in 1987. Illness brought him to the Redemptorist Provincial Residence in Brooklyn for a few months in 1993, and then he returned to his beloved Carib¬bean. In 1994, he went to St. Patrick Church, Grand Bay, Dominica, and the next year he was assigned to Sacred Heart Church in Marchand, St. Lucia.

In 1999, he moved to St. Patrick Church in Frederiksted, St. Croix, where he served with Father Kenneth Gaddy, C.Ss.R. "I really enjoyed my time with him at St. Patrick’s," Father Gaddy said. "He had a knack for remembering names and was a wonderful confrere with a true sense of brotherhood." Despite the considerable difference in their ages, Father Bertrand kept to the Redemptorist practice of asking permission from his younger rector whenever he wanted to start a new ministry. "It was humbling to me to hear him," Father Gaddy said. Although Father Bertrand grew more frail and forgetful during his years in Frederiksted, Father Gaddy said that "he always added a lot of joy, a lot of happiness for people. He was down-to-earth and available to everyone. He really kept abreast of what was going on in families."

Father Carlyle Blake, C.Ss.R., another St. Thomian, said that whether Father Bertrand was stationed on St. Thomas or visiting there, "you couldn’t get five steps with him without his being called out, ’Father Joe!’ He always had time for people." When he went to the hospital, he would give holy cards and rosaries to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. "He was a man who’d give you the shirt off his back," Father Blake said. When Father Blake was asked to preach parish missions on the West Coast of the States, he was confident in going, he explained, because he knew Father Bertrand would always look after his family for him.

For his numerous nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews, Father Bertrand was not so much a legend as he was their favorite uncle – the one who taught them to make and fly paper kites, the one who always had time to play with them, the one who made them laugh with funny stories and songs. "He played with all the children," his niece Donna Doyle said. She would like to tell her uncle, she said, "If each one of us were to tell a story of our fondest, funniest memories of you, there would be a book truly bound with love and laughter."

Having been raised as one often children, Father Bertrand always kept in close touch with his family. In his generation, he is survived only by his two youngest sisters, Una Arrindell and Eldra Vera. Mrs. Arrindell, speaking on behalf of her sister also, said, "Thank God for blessing us with a loving, caring brother." They are grateful, she added, for the prayers, advice and laughter he gave them. "It was deeply appreciated," she said.

 

Rev. Joseph Bertrand C.Ss.R.

  • Born: January 27, 1925
  • Professed: August 2, 1950
  • Ordained: June 19, 1955
  • Died: January 14, 2009

 

Services

St. John Neumann Residence
233 Lake Ave. Saratoga Springs, New York
Funeral: Saturday, January 17, 2009, 11:00 a.m.
Wake: Friday, January 16, 2009, 4:00 p.m.
Wake Service: 7:00 p.m.

Monday

Hundreds of pilgrims attended the annual 12:15 p.m. feast day Eucharist celebration at the National Shrine of St. John Neumann, Philadelphia, PA.

The Most Reverend Joseph R. Cistone, D.D., V.G., Auxilary Bishop, Archdiocese of Philadelphia, presided. Concelebrants included the Most Reverend Daniel E. Thomas, D.D., S.T.L., V.G, Titular Bishop of Bardstown, and the Very Reverend Kevin Moley, C.Ss.R., Director of the Shrine and Pastor, St. Peter the Apostle parish.