Msgr. Kern left a legacy at St. Louis Cathedral
As a person who always wanted things done “yesterday,” Msgr. Crosby W. Kern, the rector of St. Louis Cathedral and moderator of the Clarion Herald, took the attitude that once a decision was made, there was no reason to dawdle in carrying out the task.
That’s why Father Gerald Seiler said he was not surprised that Msgr. Kern, who died Nov. 30 at the age of 73, passed away just six weeks after first being diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer.
“If you know Crosby, once he accepted something – once he made a decision – he was ready to go, and so he did,” Father Seiler, chancellor of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, said in his homily at Msgr. Kern’s funeral Mass Dec. 6 at St. Louis Cathedral. “Those who had the opportunity to spend some time with him in these last few weeks saw the authenticity of his faith.”
“He received the news of the seriousness of his illness with the expected fear that anyone would,” Father Seiler added. “But in a matter of days, he came to accept God’s will and embrace the cross he was being asked to carry. He was at peace; he was ready.”
At the time of his death, Msgr. Kern was the cathedral rector, having served there since 2003, following his previous 24 years as pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Metairie.
Father Seiler, who grew up in St. Angela Merici Parish, anointed his former pastor a few days before his death and gave him absolution and viaticum. He said Msgr. Kern asked him to deliver the homily at his funeral.
“He made it very clear that he did not want a eulogy,” Father Seiler said. “He said, ‘Preach the faith and preach about the priesthood, but not about me.’”
Then, joking about Msgr. Kern’s well-earned reputation for tunnel vision and clear directions, Father Seiler joked: “Those of you who know Crosby well know that he was not one to try to impose his will on anyone else. He was always perfectly content to let others decide how things should go. Well, just this once, we’ll let Crosby have his way.”
He had a deep faith
Father Seiler described Msgr. Kern as someone with the gift of a deep and abiding faith.
“Today we celebrate the gift of faith that so deeply motivated Crosby’s life,” Father Seiler said. “Actions speak louder than words, and Crosby was nothing if not a man of action. His faith was evident in his personal prayer life, his generosity and in his priesthood.”
Through the years, Msgr. Kern served as vocation director, director of the permanent diaconate, chairman of the Presbyteral Council, dean of the East Jefferson Deanery, Navy chaplain and moderator of the Clarion Herald.
After coming to the cathedral in 2003, he established the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center at the Old Ursuline Convent and St. Mary’s Church, and he coordinated a successful exhibit of frescoes from the Vatican, which in October 2004 drew Cardinal Francesco Marchisano to the grand opening.
One of his last projects was restoring St. Anthony Garden behind the cathedral – where he was laid to rest after his funeral Mass. That project included an archaeological dig that uncovered Native American artifacts and evidence of a small hut predating the street grid that appears to be associated with New Orleans’ pioneer land-clearing days, dating between 1717 and 1726.
He also oversaw the restoration of the cathedral’s 6,000-pipe organ and launched an artist-in-residence fellowship in which budding organists studying at the prestigious Conservatorie de Paris came to New Orleans for several months to perform and hold master classes.
“The cathedral has a world-class instrument,” Father Seiler said. “The conservatory wouldn’t send its students out just anywhere. He set that up and had world-class musicians coming to play that organ. He really opened the place up.”
Those who knew and worked with Msgr. Kern recognized that he had a stubborn streak, and they learned to live with it. Deacon Richard Brady recalled Msgr. Kern’s amusement with an article published about him during the Vatican mosaic exhibit in which he was described as “mostly amiable and sometimes brusk.”
Could poke fun at himself
“After the article came out, he put a little hand fan outside the door to his office,” Deacon Brady said. “On one side, he wrote ‘Amiable,’ and on the other side he wrote ‘Brusk.’ He would turn it to one side or the other depending on his mood. But what I’ll always remember was his tremendous heart and love for people – his great generosity.”
Dr. Charles Nolan, former archdiocesan archivist, worked with Msgr. Kern on many projects associated with the Catholic Cultural Heritage Center, with the main emphasis of placing the cultural and artistic patrimony of the church “at the service of the church and the community.”
“He had this magnificent way of just getting things done,” Nolan said. “His eyes just sparkled, and in his inimitable way, he said, ‘OK, we’ll do that.’ We had been talking for probably 45 or 50 years about making the convent into some kind of a museum or center. He did it.”
In his remarks after Communion, Archbishop Gregory Aymond offered words of consolation to Mary Kern, Msgr. Kern’s 94-year-old mother, and to his sister Kay Kern and their family. He said Mary Kern was “better known to us in the rectory as our Blessed Mother.”
“Mary, you know the other Mary – the Blessed Virgin Mary – also experienced the death of her son, and we pray that Mary’s comfort and love will surround you,” Archbishop Aymond said.
Final days of reconciliation
Archbishop Aymond said in the final weeks of his life – facing certain death – Msgr. Kern told him several times he was uniting his suffering with Christ’s passion.
“He said, ‘I must go through this, I will carry the cross, I will follow the cross,’” Archbishop Aymond said. “He said, ‘My mother is helping me carry the cross, as Mary did for her son. … I’m offering all that I’m going through for my brother priests and for the future priests and for anyone with whom I need to be reconciled before I die.”
Msgr. Kern was a graduate of Jesuit High School and attended Tulane University and Notre Dame Seminary. He was ordained on Dec. 18, 1965, by Archbishop Philip Hannan shortly after Archbishop Hannan’s arrival in New Orleans. He was an associate pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle and St. Leo the Great and was pastor of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Parish in Hahnville from 1975-79 before being named pastor of St. Angela Merici.
“He was one of the greatest preachers I’ve ever known,” said Deacon Gil Schmidt, who worked with Msgr. Kern for many years at St. Angela. “I never heard him give a bad one. Crosby loved being a priest. Even on his day off, he would never leave without celebrating Mass. He loved hearing confessions, and he loved celebrating the Eucharist.”