Here is Fernand Gruber’s provisional biography, the final one will appear later in the Petit Echo.
Fernand was born on June 10, 1934 in Ingwiller, diocese of Strasbourg, in the Bas-Rhin.Alsacien, and proud to be so, Fernand has always loved being with his family, with his two sisters, with his mother. She remained a widow because Georges, her husband, was mobilized by the Germans in 1944, and no news of him was ever received afterwards; probably disappeared on the Russian front. Despite much research and consulting many archives, Fernand did not succeed in elucidating his father’s fate, which had a strong and lasting impact on him.
His primary school was first in German from 1940 to 1944; then, from 1945 to 1948, in French. As for his secondary studies, they were first held at the White Fathers’ minor seminary in Altkirch in Alsace, and then continued in Bonnelles in Seine-et-Oise.
This was then the normal process: philosophy at Kerlois – novitiate at Maison Carrée; his theology, begun in S’Heerenberg (Netherlands), was interrupted by military service in France and Germany; demobilized, he then went to Totteridge for three years of theology. He was ordained a priest on 29 June 1963 in Strasbourg.
Then began six long years of study. Given Fernand’s intellectual abilities, accompanied by good language skills (French, German, English), the leaders of the Society wanted to prepare Fernand for a particular service of mission: he was oriented towards the study of the problems raised in our missions by the presence of churches of diverse denominations, especially Protestant, and more generally, it was to bring him into the field of ecumenism.
He first studied Catholic theology in Paris where he obtained a degree in theology in 1965. Then a year spent at the Protestant Faculty of Theology in Paris for a doctorate. He then moved to the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches in Celigny, Switzerland, after which he spent a semester with ecumenical bodies in the United States. And, finally, two years of study at the Institut Supérieur d’Etudes Œcuméniques in Paris. We are then in June 1969. The gates of Africa will open for Fernand. Zambia welcomed him.
Since September 1969 Fernand has been at the Ilondola language centre where he learns Bemba, which he speaks very well; this allows him to be at ease as a curate in Chiboté, in the diocese of Mansa. He enjoyed the daily contact with the parishioners, taking an interest in their way of life and their concerns. However, he had to provide an “interim” at the minor seminary in Bahati for two years. After that he found himself vicar in the parish of Nsakaluba – and religion teacher in the boys’ college.
But his doctrinal skills led him to be appointed to the National Major Seminary of Zambia, first in Kabwe and then in Lusaka. He taught dogmatic and pastoral theology, liturgy, ecumenism and… the Bible. While being dean of studies, and in charge of a rural parish.
It was with regret that he left Zambia for Saint Anne of Jerusalem on September 16, 1981. His main activity until July 1998 was the “Revue Proche-Orient Chrétien” of which he was the administrative secretary. In charge of the library, he was also “vicar” of the German parish of Jerusalem. This lasted 18 years.
From September 1998, his life will take place in Europe. First in France, where he was provincial secretary for five years. Then, in December 2003 in Germany, in Frankfurt where he devoted himself to parish ministry.
Tired, he then settled in Mours, where, for five years, he provided the “reception” service, while ministering in the area. He gave himself totally to it; and Brother Muratet, treasurer of the house, told us: “Fernand leaves an excellent memory at the service of the White Fathers community as to the visitors; he knew how to raise a lot of affection, friendship and esteem”.
The time for retirement came in 2012. First in Bry-sur-Marne, from 2012 to 2015. Then, wishing to get closer to his family and the Alsatian area, he was appointed to the retirement home of the African Missions in St. Pierre. He was hospitalized in the summer of 2018 at the Sélestat hospital from where he left us on July 16, 2018.
Brother Gabriel Muratet, who gave the homily at the funeral, underlined Fernand’s influence until the end of his life. This is witnessed by this group of men, telling him on the porch of the church: “Not all of us are good practitioners, but we come to the church this day to gather the moral heritage left to us by this child of the country, the missionary Fernand Gruber. We will miss him”
Thank you, Fernand, for having been an excellent confrere and a good worker in the different fields of apostolate that were yours. God welcomes you to his home, where you have found your father, whose memory has remained alive in you all your life, and your mother.
Jean-Marie Vasseur, M.Afr.