WORDS OF REMEMBRANCE FOR BROTHER KEVIN ERB, FSC
Given by Brother Colman Coogan, FSC
January 18, 2013
Mass of Christian Burial
St. Joseph’s Church, Beltsville, MD
When Brother John McErlean, our Director at Ammendale, invited me to share with you my reflections on Brother Kevin Erb, I could not refuse since Brother Kevin and I had shared most of our lives together in both community and ministry. I knew his parents, John and Mary (his dear Irish mother from County Leitrim), as well as his brothers and sisters, so it is easy for me to render him this honor.
James Thomas Erb, the Marine
In preparation for today I spoke to several individuals who knew Kevin in order to garner their impressions so I could match them with my own. All of us knew Kevin as a very unique person. Although only seventeen, and despite his Dad’s objections, Kevin fudged his age so he could join the Marines. Kevin’s dad had received a Purple Heart from World War I and knew what war was about.
“Sarge,” as Kevin was affectionately known to us, was thrust into the Second World War in 1942. Serving in the Fifth Tactical Battalion Tank of the Fifth Marine Division, he was sent to Jima Island on February 25, 1945, just two days after the historic raising of the American flag on Mt. Surabchi. His group waded ashore to replace the Fourth Battalion that was virtually wiped out after the first landings. Although the island was secured in just four days, nearly 25,000 of our service personnel either died or were wounded there. Jim experienced early on the horrors of war, fear, injury, and death, the memory of which never left him. Looking back on the battle of Iwo Jima, Admiral Chester Nimitz commented how, on that island, the Marines reflected that “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.” With the cessation of hostilities in the Pacific, Jim was assigned to the Army of Occupation on the mainland of Japan where he came to know and respect the Japanese people in a more peaceful context and for which he received a decoration. By then, Sargent Erb was a full-fledged Marine, a pride he carried throughout life. It was during these years that he had a tattoo emblazoned on his arm, acquired a high degree of spit and polish, self-discipline, and a specialized vocabulary that he shared when angry or frustrated. Mustered out at age 26, Jim took advantage of the GI Bill to complete his education at La Salle College and to begin a degree in social work at Fordham.
Brother Gerard Kevin Erb, FSC, the Christian Brother
By then his younger brother, Joe, had joined the Christian Brothers. Learning of their work with the poor and disadvantaged, Jim requested admission into the community where he received the name of Brother Gerard Kevin. Although his brother left the community, answering a call to married life, Kevin remained. Since Kevin entered with a college degree, he was bumped into the fast track of religious formation. There he joined my age group as we received our first teaching assignments in 1954. Little did either of us foresee at that time just how our lives would be intertwined for the next sixty years.
During his apostolic career, Brother Kevin received numerous assignments, the variety of which would boggle the mind of even a Christian Brother. The first of these was as a cook for some one hundred scholastics at Elkins Park. (Remember that he was a mechanic in the tank division of the Marines!) So, to supplement his background, he was constantly on the phone to receive coaching from his mother on how to mash potatoes, cook meat, and all other things his new position required. And he did each one well.
In addition to being a teacher of history in several schools, he moved into child care for both dependent and delinquent youths in numerous capacities. One of these he particularly liked was that of Court Representative in the Philadelphia Family Court where he spoke on behalf of the St. Gabriel’s System on the acceptance of new placements. Hundreds of boys there benefitted by his compassionate interest in helping them to find a better life.
In 1991 Brother was asked to go to Ammendale and was soon appointed Director. Considering the many things he did, it was here where he was truly in his element, giving service to our retirees. This ministry rose to new heights through his vivacity, strong sense of community, and his genuine caring. With a perfect Manhattan or two in hand during socials, there were few problems he could not resolve. One of his cherished responsibilities was to provide for the burial of Brothers at our cemetery. Each of these served to demonstrate his sensitivity to the Brothers’ families present in what was often their final contact with the Community.
Always a powerful, energetic man, Kevin played a mean game of golf. If he shook your hand, you could come away with a sprained wrist or strained shoulder. In everything he did, he made friends. Few ever met him who could forget that he was both a Brother and a Marine. One was never allowed to say former Marine. Brother would be very quick to correct such a statement with “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Forever colorful, he seems to have had a special hat for every occasion. Yet never did any of this misrepresent the profound spirituality that stood behind his cheerful smile.
The Final Years
As age came upon him, Brother Kevin had to relinquish responsibility in deference to injuries sustained earlier in a near fatal motorcycle accident. Now at 89, he was recipient of the many services he had rendered to others, a need he accepted with gratitude and humility. Recognizing that more care was necessary, he took the initiative to request a transfer to De La Salle Hall, Lincroft. When leaving Ammendale, he remarked, “I’ll be back in a year,” a premonition of death that proved to be nearly correct. Gone were the hustle and bustle of yesteryear replaced by a quietness and peace reflective of those who have integrated all that life had to offer while regretting none of it. As quoted from Hammarskjold, “We all have within us a stillness surrounded by silence.” And so it was as he went to God in his sleep surrounded by peace and quiet.
There were two guiding legends in Brother Kevin Erb’s life: Semper Fidelis and Signum Fidei. “Always faithful,” and the “sign of faith and zeal.” How well he lived them both! Thanks, “Sarge,” for your brave, wonderful, and unique life. May it stand as your legacy to us in the years to come. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
Please pray for the happy repose of the soul of Br. Kevin Erb, FSC
Born James Thomas Erb in Philadelphia, PA, on November 19, 1924
Entered the Ammendale, MD, Novitiate on October 15, 1951
Received the Religious Habit and Name, Brother Gerard Kevin, on February 1, 1952
Pronounced Perpetual Vows in Ammendale, MD, on August 29, 1958.
Br. Kevin died at De La Salle Hall, Lincroft, NJ, on January 13, 2014
Friday, January 17, 2014
Viewing from 1:30 pm – 3:30 pm
De La Salle Hall
810 Newman Springs Road
Lincroft, NJ 07738-1608
Saturday, January 18, 2014
Viewing from 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm
La Salle Hall
6001 Ammendale Road
Beltsville, MD 20705-1202
Mass of Christian Burial – 2:30pm
St. Joseph Church
11007 Montgomery Road
Beltsville, MD 20705
Luncheon at La Salle Hall to follow
Private burial in the Brothers’ cemetery at a later date
SUFFRAGES FOR OUR DECEASED BROTHER KEVIN
District: 50 masses
De La Salle Hall Community: 30 masses
Each community in the District: 1 mass
Brother Kevin died peacefully and unexpectedly in his sleep in the early morning at De La Salle Hall. May he rest in peace.
Military Service in United States Marine Corps
Elkins Park, PA
Central Catholic High School
St. Francis Vocational School
South Hills Catholic High School
group home director; food service director
St. Gabriel’s System
La Salle College High School
De La Salle in Towne
juvenile court representative
St. Gabriel’s Hall
sub-director of Holy Family Community
La Salle Hall
director of Holy Family Community
La Salle Hall
La Salle Hall
De La Salle Hall