0213-austin-bernabeiGiven by
Br. Robert Berger, FSC

After learning about the death of Brother Austin, Brother Francis Bowers gave a preview of this homily, “Austin was a fine man.”

Jesus tells us, “Everything that the Father gives me will come to me” and in New Rochelle during July of 1928 Tillie and Ralph Bernabei gave their newly born son Robert to Christ. This evening we gather to remind each other that God graced us with a fine man, a devoted Brother of the Christian Schools, a loving son to his parents, a devoted brother to Ralph and a proud uncle to Regina, Rose and Ralph. This eulogy cannot dare to touch upon the great love and pride that Robert Bernabei had for his family. As a Brother of the Christian Schools Brother Austin dedicated his life to his Brothers in community, his students, his colleagues and his scholarship. Year after year he would prepare lectures for physics courses that he knew inside and out and yet he prepared them as if they were his very first lectures. Undergraduate students admired his dedication, scholarship and gentle sense of humor set off by a quiet chuckle and an impish grin. Austin once spent hours framing photos of famous physicists in his lab only to have his students borrow childhood photos of him from his mother, Tillie, have them blown up and replaced them in the frames. Walking around the lab Austin was amazed at the transformation of lab decorations. He was tremendously proud of his students. Years of studies at various institutions, decades of teaching at Manhattan College, more years in the missions in Bethelem, Palestine, Nairobi and Rongai, Kenya, St. Vincent’s Island, West Indies and even as far from the Bronx as El Paso, Texas point to a fine man.

Although torment touched Austin in later years, faith told him that his life was in the hand of God. God was faithful. Whether he was dealing with cancer procedures, weeks of rehabilitation at Burke, or months of nursing care at De La Salle Hall, Austin wanted so much to be at peace. Austin saw the Son and believed in the Son. Austin desired eternal life, life to the full.

We look around this community gathered here, everyone a part of Brother Austin’s life, and we have all tasted more than our fair share of death. Except for Monsignor Larkin, most Brothers go to more funerals in one year than the average person goes to in a lifetime. And we gather once again. We gather here to share with one another, and to support one another by our presence, by our struggles and by our faith. Austin’s life is a testimony to the belief that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

It is in this community that Austin looked for renewed meaning. It is in this community that Austin found a wider family than his own biological family. It is in this community of faith that Austin sought to be restored. And we know what happened to Austin because we now see the entirety of his life: he became a “wounded healer.” Deeply wounded by hurt and pain and sickness in his later years, he nevertheless got that grace-filled gift to be faithful to the end. But what does it mean to have yet another Brother die among us? What grace does Austin’s completed life challenge us to become in 2013? Next time, when someone faces death, will we simply say the same words and go through the same rituals? Have we become somewhat numb to pain and death, living our lives in such a way as to deny suffering? Or will we have hearts to give and healing to offer because, like Jesus, we’ve had wounds in our hearts and in our bodies. Will we be present to each other in more powerful ways as we grow older side-by-side before God?

Austin sought to live in a community that accepts us as we are: our good and our bad, our cleverness and our stupidity. This liturgy reveals to us a scenario for what we are about tonight. We will be healed through a fine man’s death, through scripture, through Eucharist and through community.

All here would probably agree that Austin gave over his entire life to an attraction of God. Whether it was his entrance into religious life in the 1950s, renewal at Sangre de Cristo and prayer groups in the 1970s, missionary work in the 1990s or personal prayer and study in the 21st-century, he was the prime example of what Saint Augustine described in the 4th-centuty, “Lord, our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The pull that drew Austin to God came from God. Austin’s life among us ends but the questions that he lived with remain. How is God drawing us near? What does that pull look like on a personal level, a family level and a community level? Austin answered that pull in the 1950s, the 1970s, the 1990s and bravely during the last decade. How do we answer it from here on out?

Austin often spoke about death. He understood it. He accepted it, and finally, last Saturday afternoon, he died. It is finished. But not quite, any more than it was on Calvary. Like the people on that hill 2,000 years ago we are sad, mournful and empty but, finally hopeful. Because … in the story of Jesus something else happened. It wasn’t finished. At the moment of total emptiness, Jesus was raised up to new life with the promise in today’s Gospel that we too shall be raised with him on the last day. The grave was to be the place where the seed of new life came forth. The love of God is too strong. Death could not hold Jesus, death cannot hold our Brother Austin and death will not hold us. There is resurrection. The Good News is that, since Calvary, death is no longer the last word. It is the next to the last word. The last word is life. Life given, life given to Austin and, as Jesus promised, given abundantly.

In a word, the message is that God’s love is stronger than death and that Austin, who so much identified with this gospel, with all that went on at Calvary, can and does enjoy that life forever. The door of death that gradually closed on him when all was finished has opened up to the arms of a God who has always loved him. As the poet says,|:

Is there a leaf upon the tree
The Father does not see?
Leaves fall, so do we all
Return to earth, to sod.

Sparrows and kings,
And all manner of things
Fall, fall into the hands
Of the living God.

Austin, the journey is over. That long, hard journey.
Austin, you are relieved. We are relieved.
Austin, it is finished.
Austin, by the grace of God, it is just a beginning.
Austin, you were a fine man.

Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of
Br. Austin Bernabei, FSC

Born Robert Joseph Bernabei in New Rochelle, NY on July 5, 1928

Entered the Barrytown, NY, Novitiate on June 12, 1950

Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Austin of Mary, on September 7, 1950

Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Barrytown, NY, in 1956

Brother Austin died at De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, NJ, on February 2, 2013


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Viewing from 10:00 am – 12:00 pm (noon)
Wake Prayer Service at 12:00 pm (noon)

De La Salle Hall
810 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738-1608

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Viewing from 3:00 – 6:45 pm
Mass of Christian Burial at 7:15 pm

Chapel of St. Benildus
Christian Brothers Center
4415 Post Road
Bronx, NY 10471-3499

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Burial at Gate of Heaven Cemetery (family plot), Valhalla, NY



District: 50 masses
De La Salle Hall Community: 30 masses
Each community in the District:
1 mass

Brother Austin died peacefully at De La Salle Hall while in hospice care. Brothers, as well as Austin’s nieces and nephews, were with him at the time of his death. May he rest in peace.

Tour of Duty

Pawtucket, RI
St. Raphael Academy

Bronx, NY
Manhattan College

Bethlehem, PALESTINE
Bethlehem University

Bronx, NY
Manhattan College

Nairobi, KENYA
De La Salle Novitiate/Scholasticate

Rongai, KENYA
Rongai Agricultural and Technical School

Bronx, NY
Christian Brothers Center

Rongai, KENYA
Rongai Agricultural and Technical School

St. Vincent, WEST INDIES
St. Martin’s Secondary School

El Paso, TX
Cathedral High School

La Salle College

Bronx, NY
Manhattan College

El Paso, TX
Christian Brothers

Bronx, NY
Manhattan College

Lincroft, NJ
De La Salle Hall


May the soul of Brother Austin, and all the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.