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Gebhard.jpgHe almost had his Ph.D. He was so close and yet God had other plans for Robert Gebhard. Father Bob explained, “I took a leap of faith, as they say, and entered the seminary and it was a whole different world.” 

Young Bob Gebhard was born in Buffalo and baptized at St. Ann Church on Broadway. By the time he was in third grade, his family had moved to West Seneca and he finished out his elementary school years at Fourteen Holy Helpers Parish School. He went on to graduate from St. Mary High School in Lancaster and entered into the Biology program at Canisius College. He graduated with a BA in Biology and started working on a PhD at the University of Buffalo in Natural Sciences.

Thoughts of the priesthood hadn’t even occurred to him until he met Fr. Lary Werner at his home parish of Fourteen Holy Helpers during his college years. As Fr. Bob recalls, “He was just a little older than me and we became good friends. I saw a side of priesthood I never saw before that was attractive to me and so that’s what led me there. When I was in the Doctoral Program it became one of the most difficult times of my life because I began to think about priesthood. Everything on the surface looked perfect; coming towards the end, looking at job security, house, white picket fence, dog in the yard, wife and children…but there was just something that was very unsettling inside of me and I just struggled with that for a long time.”

 So he took a leave of absence from the program and decided to give Christ the King Seminary a try. He continued to do research while starting the program at CKS, testing the waters on both ends and the testing resulted in favor of priesthood.

Father Bob was ordained July 3, 1987 at St. Amelia Parish in Tonawanda where he had been assigned as a Deacon. At that time, men were ordained either in their home parish or the parish of their diaconate. Father Bob recalls, “St. Amelia was the perfect place for anybody to start. There were lots of young families, lots of young kids, lots of activity and outstanding clergy role models.”

After ordination his first assignment was to St. Philip the Apostle in Cheektowaga which was very close to where he grew up. After about three years, he was reassigned for a few years to the Newman Center and then to St. Mary in Swormville. Father Bob’s first pastorate was at St. James Parish on Bailey and Kensington where he ministered for almost 15 years.  He then spent a few months helping out at the unusual location of the island of St. John next to St. Thomas in the Caribbean because they hadn’t had a resident pastor there for a few years. After he returned, he was asked to go to Christ the King Seminary to help with the formation of seminarians for priesthood. In May of 2012 Fr. Bob began his current assignment as pastor of St. John Vianney Parish in Orchard Park.

“My hobbies are the outdoors. I love to camp and hike. I used to do backpacking and now occasionally do some day hiking.” Father Bob owns a cabin in the Southern Tier near Allegany State Park. He exclaimed, “That’s my salvation. We’re off the grid so there’s no TV, stereo, internet, etc. I do have my cell phone if there is an emergency.”

Administration is a challenging part of priesthood for Fr. Bob. He said, “It’s overwhelming and gets more and more complex all the time.” He knows retired priests who are happy to be able to return to ministry without all the worries of being in charge of a parish. 

He views the diversity of ministry to be the best part of priesthood. He explained, “It’s not the same routine day in and day out. There are just so many different opportunities to meet God; going to the hospital, nursing facility, meeting people in their homes or going to a night meeting. When I’m having a bad day I just go down to the school – the children are absolutely incredible!” He also enjoys preaching on the weekends and finds it to be, “a real blessing.”

In advising someone who is interested in becoming a diocesan priest, Fr. Bob suggests, “Be open and recognize that this priesthood has a lot of guys who come with a lot of different experiences and backgrounds. Find your niche. There’s room for everybody in priesthood in the Diocese of Buffalo.” Father Bob added a great perspective on the formation program that seminarians are required to undertake. He explained, “When you’re going through the formation program it’s something that everyone seems to hate but, in hindsight, what a wonderful opportunity.  Nobody gets the chance to examine their life like guys who go through the seminary or women who go through vocational training. That whole discernment in life and the ability to look at yourself in a raw kind of way, to have people there to help you through it and to be able to treasure coming to know yourself in a very honest way is, I think, a gift.”

Even if the discernment process leads a man to understand that God is not calling him to the priesthood, the gift of self-understanding remains.

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