A very dear and holy priest died this week, Fr. Bernard Reiser:
Rev. Bernard Reiser, founding pastor of Church of the Epiphany, Coon Rapids, died Tuesday evening. He was 87 years old.
Reiser recently underwent brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor behind his eye, but he returned home to Epiphany Pines earlier this month and was at home in hospice care when he died.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
Reiser was born in 1924, the son of farmers Aloys and Otillia Reiser, and was ordained into the priesthood June 4, 1949.
He was a priest in a parish in White Bear Lake for 15 years when he was called on by Archbishop Leo Binz of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in April 1964 to start a Catholic parish in Coon Rapids.
In May 1964, he was named the first pastor of Epiphany. A 70-acre farm on Hanson Boulevard was purchased. “There was nothing but sand and thistles, no trees except along Hanson Boulevard,” Reiser said in an interview with ABC Newspapers staff writer Sue Austreng earlier this year.
Reiser had a school, Epiphany Catholic School, built before the church, he said in that interview.
The school auditorium served as Epiphany Catholic Church while the church building was being constructed.
There were some 125 people attending services at Epiphany in those early days; now close to 5,000 families are members of the parish, which is one of the largest in the state.
Scott Schulte, Coon Rapids City Council member and owner of Hi-Ten Service Center at Hanson and Coon Rapids boulevards, describes Reiser as his mentor growing up.
Schulte attended Epiphany Catholic School from second- through ninth-grades and said that Reiser taught religion every day during first hour.
“Father had a great influence in my upbringing,” he said.
“He was a great man, served the community and did a lot for everyone, no matter their faith. He was an excellent man of God.”
In Reiser’s years as pastor of Epiphany, the campus expanded beyond the church and school to include Epiphany Pines senior living, an assisted living facility and Epiphany Cemetery.
Reiser retired as pastor of Epiphany in 2000, but continued to serve the Catholic church as a substitute pastor in various parishes in the state. He was also pastor emeritus at Epiphany.
In the years since his official retirement, Reiser has also been deeply involved in relief and humanitarian efforts in the Caribbean country of Haiti.
He first visited Haiti in 1996 and on his return, established Reiser Relief Inc., which since then has provided fresh water, fed the hungry, built an orphanage and eldercare facilities and funded primary schools in the impoverished country.
“We can’t forget,” Reiser said in his interview earlier this year with Sue Austreng.
“You can’t walk away from misery and do nothing.”
And since 2008, Reiser Relief Inc. has hosted an annual community fund-raiser, Keep the Wheels Turning Gala, for its projects in Haiti.
Earlier this year, Reiser was named by KARE TV as one of its “Eleven Who Care” program recipients for his and Reiser Relief’s work in Haiti.
The annual program honors the volunteer contributions of 11 outstanding, grassroots volunteers and promotes the spirit of volunteerism in the communities from nominations submitted by individuals and service organizations throughout KARE’s viewing area. - Peter Bodley, ABCNewspapers