by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Anyone who knew Msgr. Robert N. Bergman understood this: His life was his priesthood, and his priesthood was about the salvation of souls.
“I told him he was truly the ‘Curé of Ars’ for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas,” said Father Richard McDonald, pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Basehor.
“He cared so much to reconcile people to God, and he was always available for the sacrament of confession,” he added. “And he especially loved all of his parishioners as only a good and loving shepherd could, after the love of Christ.”
Father Ric Halvorson once asked him when he was going to retire. Msgr. Bergman said there is no retirement for priests. “We’re priests for life,” he told him.
“I don’t think I ever saw him without his [black] clerics on, even on retreats and convocations,” said Father Halvorson, pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Overland Park. “I don’t know if he owned anything other than clerics.”
“He was a priest,” said his brother Kenneth Bergman. “It was not a job to him or something he did; it was what he was. There was no such thing as punching out at 5 o’clock and having the rest of the day to himself.”
Msgr. Bergman, 75, died in hospice care on Aug. 11 at the rectory of Immaculate Conception Parish in Louisburg, where he was pastor. He was a priest for a little more than 48 years.
He was born on March 5, 1946, in Kansas City, Kansas, one of three sons of Arnold and Julia (Gable) Bergman. They were members of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Kansas City, Kansas.
“Growing up across from the church, we wound up serving a lot of Masses for boys who didn’t show up,” said Kenneth Bergman. “The Catholic faith was very important to our parents. There was no such thing as missing Mass or confession.”
Msgr. Bergman went to Blessed Sacrament Grade School, graduated from Bishop Ward High School in 1964 and went on to St. Thomas Seminary in Denver. Next, he went to the Pontifical North American College in Rome and studied at the Pontifical Gregorian University there. (He later would earn a degree in canon law in Rome.) He was ordained a priest by Archbishop James Hickey on Dec. 17, 1971, at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
He returned to the archdiocese and his first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Agnes Parish in Roeland Park.
Msgr. Bergman returned to Rome in 1991 and worked five years for the Congregation for the Clergy. He was named a monsignor on Sept. 30, 1996.
Msgr. Robert J. Sarno of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, and Msgr. Bergman became friends as seminarians at North American College. They renewed their friendship when Msgr. Sarno worked at the Congregation for the Causes of Saints and Msgr. Berman returned to Rome.
Msgr. Bergman, said his friend, had a deep sense of humility of himself, of his roots and of his life.
“[He] was never caught up with himself, and yet you could sense . . . a great intelligence he had — that he was a real thinker and a man who could reason and think his way through issues and yet would remain balanced and humble,” said Msgr. Sarno. “I would say the virtue that defined Msgr. Bergman was humility.
“He was able to see through problems and find solutions to different types of problems and help [people] accept difficult realities. He was a very balanced and fair-minded person.”
Msgr. Berman was deeply loved by his current and former parishioners, said Deacon George Karnaze, of Louisburg. People would drive long distances to Louisburg for Mass, confessions, spiritual direction and counseling. He had a special love for prison ministry, referring to prisoners whom he’d personally known in their youth as “my kids.”
“He kept track of those guys and sent them rosaries and Bibles,” said Deacon Karnaze.
Msgr. Bergman is survived by his brother Kenneth, nephews, a niece and other relatives. He was preceded in death by his parents and his brother Raymond.
A Mass of Christian burial was celebrated on Aug. 18 at Church of the Ascension in Overland Park. Burial was in the family plot at St. Patrick Church in Kansas City, Kansas. Memorials may be made in Msgr. Bergman’s name to the Immaculate Conception Parish building fund.
Funeral arrangements were made by the Porter Funeral Homes and Crematory in Lenexa.