By Barb Arland-Fye
Father Tim Sheedy held up a well-worn Bible stuffed with notes and said to those gathered for Bernie Vogel’s funeral at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Bettendorf: “This is Bernie’s Bible. He read it a lot. Bernie not only read the Bible, he lived it; he proclaimed it and he shared it!”
Before his death July 31, this 83-year-old faith-filled husband, father, retired music teacher, choir director and businessman had been working on a series intended to help Catholics rediscover their Catholic heritage. We’d talked on the phone a few weeks ago; his voice was just above a whisper as we discussed his plans for publicizing the faith-deepening series in The Catholic Messenger.
Then-Msgr. Robert Gruss was scheduled to speak about the Mass during the final session of the three-part series sponsored by the Blessed Trinity Prayer Group. But the monsignor was appointed bishop for the Diocese of Rapid City, S.D., and ordained July 28 — two days before the series was to begin.
If Bernie was disappointed about losing a powerful speaker and having to find a replacement, he didn’t let on. He had absolute trust in the Holy Spirit.
“Faith was the center of Bernie’s life,” his obituary says. “Bernie considered death a promotion and looked forward to being embraced by God in his new life.”
Those words caused me to smile. Bernie had been practicing the new evangelization for years, including through his “Spiritual Toolbox” series in our diocesan newspaper. But I didn’t realize his efforts reached back decades. His obituary says that the Davenport Diocese commissioned him to write the music for the first English High Mass in 1965!
A member of Lourdes parish for 55 years with his wife, Mary Frances, Bernie also founded the men’s choir in 1962 and led the Lourdes choir for many years.
“Bernie was always willing to gather some singers to provide music for Christmas and Holy Week and other holy days when it was difficult to find people available,” said Father Tom Stratman, a former Lourdes’ pastor and one of five priests who concelebrated Bernie’s funeral Mass. “Bernie always saw to it that we had music at all the Masses and the music was excellent.”
Music was one kind of gift. Bernie also was a gentle, contemplative man who sought to discern the gifts the Holy Spirit had bestowed on him and help others to determine theirs.
“Bernie truly was an instrument of Christ’s love and acceptance and generosity. He put into practice what the Gospel calls us to do,” said Fr. Sheedy, main celebrant at the funeral Mass. “Bernie believed everyone has gifts and everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit … He helped others recognize their own gifts and talents.”
That includes Leslye Killian, a co-leader with Bernie of “Called and Gifted,” a program to help Catholics in the Davenport Diocese discern their gifts from the Holy Spirit. “We went for training and both of us discerned a strong charism — he of leadership and me of help, or assistance, which enabled us to work together to bring forward Called and Gifted in the diocese,” she said.
More important than discerning gifts was the example he set, reiterated in the eulogies that three of Bernie’s relatives — a brother, son and grandson — gave at the end of Mass. Leslye especially appreciated the observation of the grandson, Brian Mills, who said his grandpa’s actions matched his words.
For me, the best quote came from Bernie’s son John Vogel, describing his father’s success as a role model not only for his five children, but for all of us. Using a baseball analogy, because Bernie was a baseball fan, John said: “Dad, you hit one out of the park.”
Bernie really did hit one out of the ball park for God’s team.