By: Fr. Mike Mendl, SDB
Salesians of Don Bosco Eastern Province
Fr. Robert Bauer died peacefully around 10:00 p.m. on March 23, apparently of heart failure, at United Hebrew Nursing Home in New Rochelle, N.Y., where he’d been resident for a few months. He was 78 years old and had been a professed Salesian 59 years and a priest 48 years.
Bob Bauer was born in Chicago on June 25, 1941. He was the son of Viktor and Mildred Paulsen Bauer; Mr. Bauer was a baker by profession. Bob was baptized within a month at St. Viator Church in Chicago.
He entered Don Bosco Juniorate at Haverstraw, N.Y., and was admitted from there to St. Joseph’s Novitiate in Newton, N.J., in September 1959. On September 8, 1960, he made his first profession of vows, and six years later (on June 25) made his perpetual profession at Newton.
In June 1964 Bro. Bob graduated magna cum laude from Don Bosco College in Newton and began his practical training there as assistant to the Sons of Mary (1964-1966). He completed his practical training teaching at Salesian High School in New Rochelle, N.Y. (1966-1967).
While Bro. Bob was still in college he took on the task of teaching Greek 101 to the Sons of Mary at Mt. Don Bosco in Ellenville, N.Y. One of those Sons in 1962 was the future Fr. Tom Ruekert, who “is grateful for Bob’s presence in my life.” and offers many specifics of that presence. He still recalls Bro. Bob’s daily mantra: “Greek is easy; Greek is fun”—a mantra that he continued to use when teaching Greek at the Josephinum years later, and in table conversation at the provincial house in his last years.
Fr. Ruekert also remembers Bro. Bob’s contribution to community life at Don Bosco College. “Often,” he writes, “Bro. Bob would skillfully accompany our community services by playing the organ. He was a talented musician.” On one particular feast of St. Patrick, “he and I danced an Irish reel during one of those community entertainment times. Imagine: two Germans doing the Irish reel!”
Bro. Bob undertook theological studies at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Worthington, Ohio, in 1967, earned a Master’s degree in religious education in 1970, and was ordained on September 11, 1971, in Hackensack, N.J. He earned another Master’s, in English, from The Ohio State University in 1971.
According to Fr. Ruekert, “as a theology student, Bob was well-respected. In his fourth year he was elected as president of the Student Senate, a group of students who would bring issues to the administrators and help with seminary life at the Josephinum.”
Following ordination, Fr. Bob spent two years teaching at St. Dominic Savio High School in East Boston. One of his students the first year was future Salesian John Nazzaro, a senior at that time. He remembers: “I first had the privilege of meeting Fr. Bob when he was a newly ordained priest at St. Dominic High School…. For a young priest, teaching our senior class was a challenge, but Fr. Bob quickly became one of our favorite Salesians because he was there for us. His office was in the gym building, and he would always be available to open the gym for us to play basketball at nights to keep us off the street. Six of us made a TEC (Teens Encounter Christ) retreat, and Fr. Bob took the time on a Sunday night to be at our final Mass at the Cenacle Retreat House in Brighton, Mass.”
In East Boston, Fr. Ruekert notes, “he was a special friend to Fr. Joseph Caselli, whom he admired very much. He looked forward to visiting Fr. Caselli whenever he could.”
In 1973 Fr. Bob moved to the San Tarcisio community in Rome and began his specialization in biblical studies at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, coming away with a licentiate in Scripture in 1976. He returned to the Josephinum that year as professor of Old Testament, proving himself over the next 25 years one of the most popular teachers among both the Catholic seminarians and the Protestant students from the Lutheran and Methodist schools in the Columbus theological consortium.
A typical appreciation comes from Fr. Ken Shaw: “Bob was an outstanding Biblical scholar of the Old Testament. He had the gift of teaching that was recognized by both Catholic and non-Catholic students. You had to arrive at his teaching sessions early in order to be guaranteed a seat.”
Fr. Ruekert observes that one of his teaching techniques—rooted in his personality, and so it wasn’t just a “technique”—was “that he sought to get to know each of his students on a one-to-one basis. He preferred ‘walking and talking’ oral exams to written ones.”
Fr. John Nazzaro had Fr. Bob as a Scripture professor for all four years in Columbus. “He was always available and was my spiritual director before we called it spiritual direction,” Fr. John writes. “We will miss him….”
Fr. Bob also taught Hebrew and Greek. Fr. John Serio was in a Greek class. “When we had Bob for Greek at the Josephinum, his first lesson was ‘Greek is easy! Greek is fun! Don’t panic!’ He was right. It was a great class, we learned a great deal, and it was painless. It was a very practical approach. We must have translated almost the entire New Testament. Class met at the difficult time of 3:30—it was never boring.”
He also served for several years as director of the PCJ Master of Arts program and, for approximately six years, book review editor of the Josephinum Journal of Theology.
His particular ministry outside the classroom was visiting juvenile offenders in local confinement, together with some of the Salesian theology students. Of this ministry, Fr. Serio writes: “I don’t think many people know how dedicated Bob was to visiting and ministering to incarcerated young men in Columbus. He often said Mass, heard confessions, and counseled young men at Buckeye Training Center and TICO (Training Institute of Central Ohio), a maximum security facility for adolescents on the west side of Columbus. He helped introduce me to ministry at TICO. On my first day, he took me on a tour, and in the middle of it he said, ‘Well, I have to go back to the ’Phinum for my Greek class.’ He left me at the intersection of two long corridors. But that was my introduction to a ‘part-time-that-became-almost-full-time’ ministry during my Columbus days. Bob enjoyed this immensely, and he was very instrumental for me and many others in this ministry.”
A friend from his time at the Josephinum, Dr. James A. Yeager, a church musician now living in New Mexico who remained a presence in Fr. Bob’s life until his last days, recalls him as “a good friend, colleague, funny, at times devilishly so. Yet he always was a man of honor and good faith. He was beloved by his students and rightfully so. He was dedicated to the best things that his vocation demanded and he never swerved from the work or the study.”
Another friendship formed in the Salesian community in the 1970s was with Bill Moriarty, who later left the Congregation, but feeling a great debt of gratitude to Fr. Bob. Bill shares some this reason for gratitude: “Because of Bob, I taught adult Scriptural studies, first in the Formation for Ministry Program in Syracuse, N.Y., later for the diaconal classes there, and later in my parish in Marblehead, Mass. I would never have been able to do that if Bob had not whetted my appetite for the wonder of God’s word.”
Fr. Bob left the Josephinum in 2001 to teach at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, Fla., until 2004. He resided in the Salesian community in St. Petersburg for one year, then another year at the Institute of Salesian Studies in Berkeley, Calif. In 2006 he retired to the Salesian provincial house in New Rochelle, where he suffered for many years with various health problems, including diabetes, Parkinson’s, and congestive heart failure. Early in 2020 he entered United Hebrew Nursing Home in New Rochelle.
One of Fr. Bob’s gifts was making guests and newcomers to the provincial house community feel welcome. For example, Fr. Thomas Pallithanam, who joined the community in 2019, states: “He was always very welcoming and in the days I was new to the community he made sure that I felt at home. He helped me navigate the early days, introduced me to the library, helped me with my driving routines as he sat beside me I while I drove him to the library. I was happy to do that and he was always very grateful for that and would tell me that every time. He did not take that for granted.”
Another way in which he supported his confreres and friends was by unexpected remembrance. Bro. Tom Sweeney recalls that “Bob would mail a note with a holy card, an article he knew you might be interested in, a card congratulating you on a particular occasion (birthday, Christmas, profession anniversary, graduation, or something you’d accomplished). It was totally unexpected, but I really appreciated that he took the time to do this. He will be missed.”
Fr. Bob was a voracious reader and a regular client of the New Rochelle Public Library, and some of the staff knew him quite well. They missed him when his illness took him first to the hospital and then to the nursing home.
Besides the sacred Scriptures—the Psalms, especially—Fr. Bob had two abiding passions: aircraft and ships. (If you got him started on the Titanic, he could go on for an hour or more.)
The following are just a few “snapshots” embedded in my memory and imagination.
Fr. Ruekert again: “If an airplane were flying overhead, Bob could tell you precisely what make and model it was, as well as how much it cost to manufacture it. He would often drive near an airport, just to watch the planes land and take off.”
Bill Moriarty learned of Bob’s early life: “His father was a baker, whose only day away from the oven was Sunday. When it was only Bob, his mother and his father, each would pick a different restaurant to go to on Sunday. As Bob said to me and Marian [Bill’s wife] with that mischievous gleam in his eye, ‘Every third Sunday we went to the airport’ so he could see the planes taking off and landing.’”
Fr. Bob always retained a love for good music, both liturgical and classical. Another of Bill Moriarty’s recollections: “One day, while Bob was visiting the East Boston community, he drove to our house in Marblehead, and entered waving a CD. He immediately made us sit on the sofa, popped the CD into the player hooked to the Bose speakers, and said, ‘You have to listen to this.’ ‘This’ was Evgeny Kissen playing Rachmaninoff’s Third Piano Concerto. It was glorious.”
Fr. Bob is survived by his brother Bob, David McConney, and a half-brother, Richard Presby.
A great many confreres and friends would endorse what Fr. Tom Ruekert prays: “May God reward him for all the good he has done for so many, especially to his former students.”