By Shelley Grieshop
MARIA STEIN -- Brother Bernie Barga was the kind of man who could see into people's hearts and always find goodness, his friends say.
"He was a very heartfelt man, he would see the good in everybody and in almost every situation," says the Rev. Rick Nieberding, who worked with Barga on local youth retreats from 1987-1996.
Nieberding, now the senior pastor at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Minster, recalls Barga's humor and frequent antics, which always made people smile.
"He would open up his third floor window and yell out 'By golly!' and people walking up the path would just laugh. He was very unconventional," Nieberding adds.
On Dec. 26, 2001, Barga succumbed to chronic heart problems but the dedicated service he provided to area communities has not been forgotten. A beautiful 100-foot flowing stream and memorial garden laden with colorful perennials has been constructed in his honor along the front walkway of the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein, where Barga gave guidance to area children. A dedication is planned for Oct. 1. Members of the local Men's Fellowship Group used donated funds and labor to create the new landscape that flows downhill to the edge of the center's parking lot. The serene atmosphere mirrors Barga's welcoming personality and comforting impact on others, Nieberding says.
Barga, who was born John Jacob Barga, took the name Bernard when he become a religious brother with the Cincinnati Province in 1951. During his first 21 years with the society he could be found down on the farm working the dairy operation at St. Charles in Carthagena. In 1972, he was assigned pastor of Nativity Church in Lake Mary, Fla., and moved to Brunnerdale High School Seminary in 1976 to become director of brother formation.
Barga's ministry took him abroad to Ireland for several months where he promoted reconciliation and peace through the national Ulster Project. In 1987, he returned to St. Charles and ministered with the retreat and renewal team at the Spiritual Center of Maria Stein. In 1995, he moved to Dayton following an appointment as director of initial formation for those entering the Precious Blood Society.
In January 1998, he again returned to St. Charles, where members of the Precious Blood and scores of friends welcomed back his exuberance and undying devotion to his vocation.
Barga's positive nature and willingness to go the extra mile for others won him a place in the hearts of everyone he met, says Nieberding, who recalls speaking at his friend's funeral Mass nearly five years ago.
"It wasn't difficult preaching at his funeral because he kind of wrote his own sermon by the life he led," Nieberding says. "We'll never forget him."
-- Insert photo by Shelley Grieship is a statue of St. Francis in the Brother Bernie Barga Memorial Garden.