Bishop John O. Barres thinks of the late Msgr. Joseph F. Rebman as his mentor, but he doesn’t believe that separates him much from the rest of the clergy in the Diocese of Wilmington.
“No question. I would say my entire priesthood, he was a mentor, more directly when I worked in the chancery,” said Bishop Barres, the former Wilmington priest who is bishop of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y.
“I think he was a mentor to the entire presbyterate. We’d all call on him. We’d have a question on canon law, and we’d have not only seminar on it from him, but the pastoral charity of canon law,” the bishop said in a telephone interview Oct. 4.
Msgr. Rebman, 85, died Oct. 3. He’d been a priest in the diocese 61 years, including the last 21 as pastor of St. Joseph on the Brandywine before his retirement last April.
“He’s a man of just incredible priestly, pastoral charity,” Bishop Barres said. “He taught you so much about how to be a priest just by being with him, just by soaking in his advice and his presence.”
“He was always young in spirit, always open to some sort of insight.”
Bishop Barres talked about the latest news from the Vatican that Pope Francis is inviting Catholics both in the mainstream of church life and on the margins to voice their dreams, ideas and concerns in preparation for the Synod of Bishops in 2023.
“We’re preparing for the concept of living synodality,” the bishop said. “Msgr. Joseph Rebman has been living synodality his whole life. As he dies, and we’re moving toward this, Monsignor has been living this a long time.”
The bishop said he has many memories of Msgr. Rebman from their days in the chancery and while they shared the residence at St. Joseph’s on the Brandywine.
“One of my most beautiful memories was his kindness to my elderly parents,” the bishop said. “No matter how busy a day it was, Monsignor would just sit down with them and engage them. You just knew he understood.”
Msgr. Rebman served in numerous jobs in the diocese including chancellor, vicar general and judicial vicar. He was elected administrator of the diocese for nearly a year in between bishops in the mid-1990s. He is a longtime member and past president of the national Catholic Cemetery Conference.
“He recalled a story about being at the USCCB when he was administrator, sitting on a longer bus ride with Bishop Saltarelli, who was an auxiliary bishop (in Newark) at the time,” Bishop Barres said. “Bishop Saltarelli knew he been named Bishop of Wilmington but it was not public yet. Msgr. Rebman talked non-stop about the nature of the Diocese of Wilmington. Monsignor was a Diocese of Wilmington boy, a young man at Salesianum. He loved the Diocese of Wilmington. Loved the history of it. Served all the bishops with great loyalty, great counsel and great wisdom.”
“Msgr. Rebman used to say ‘Bloom where you’re planted.’ It’s a cliché, but he lived it and celebrated it his whole life. It was not a cliché for him, but a piece of wisdom because he lived it. It was powerful coming from him.”
“He had amazing pastoral charity. Always the Good Samaritan. He would always go the extra mile in every situation. Insightful about human nature and situations. He was a real go-to person.”
Details of funeral services are not yet complete. Bishop Barres said he will be there.