Father Bernard Reiser, longtime Epiphany pastor, dies

| December 28, 2011 | 43 Comments

Father Bernard Reiser, in a Catholic Spirit file photo from 2001.

Father Bernard Reiser, the founding pastor of the Church of the Epiphany in Coon Rapids who served there from 1964 to 2001, died Dec. 27. He was 86.

Father Reiser’s vision for Epiphany parish was to create a campus that served people from birth to death. During his pastorate, the parish built an elementary school, perpetual adoration chapel, several outdoor shrines, a senior housing building and an assisted living facility, where he lived after his retirement from full-time ministry as a priest.

Father Reiser was also the author of “Reiser’s Ramblings,” which helps support the charity he founded — Reiser Relief Inc. — to serve the people of Haiti.

Deb Pafko, whose son, Matthew, spent the last days of his 16 years helping to raise money for Sharing and Caring Hands in Minneapolis, said that “everyone loved Father Reiser,” especially the Pafko family.

“He came to our house every week, Thursday at 4:15, for two years, through every weather, through every holiday. He came down to the hospital for Matthew,” who died July 20, 2009, from spine and brain cancer, Pafko said. Just weeks before his death, Father Reiser also had surgery to address a rapidly growing cancer in his brain, which Pafko said was another connection between her son and former pastor.

Father Reiser was born in Medina in 1924. He was ordained a priest June 4, 1949, and served in White Bear Lake, before being named pastor of the new Coon Rapids parish.

A 24-hour vigil/wake service and reviewal will begin at 11 a.m. Friday, Dec. 30, at Epiphany Church, 1900 111th Ave. N.W., with vigil prayers at 7 p.m.

The funeral Mass will be at 11 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 31 in the main church. There will be overflow seating in the gym and cafeteria with media feeds of the service.

Do you have a favorite memory of Father Reiser? If so, please share it in the comments section, below.

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Category: Local News

  • Marcos

    German Shepard is now Saint Bernard

  • Mopedgal70

    Father Reiser may have done many good things in his life, but what about those that were not so good? Such as ‘turning the other cheek’ when he knew children were being abused by their parents. Read the book, ” A Death in White Bear Lake.” He could have saved Dennis Jurgens’ life, but chose to ignore the abuse. Just because he was a Catholic priest, does not mean he was a saint.

  • Marjorie

    When I first moved to Minnesota, Epiphany was one of my first parishes. At first I thought Fr. Reiser very theatrical in his homilies and I wasn’t sure what to make of him, but he grows on you. I came to love him and his style very much. We have lost a great soul. May he rest with the saints.

    • Trishkabobo

      I read that book.  My humble opinion is he believes in the best of everyone.  And if you knew how many peoples’ lives he touched for the better, you would excuse a mistake.  We’re all human, but he seemed to have superhuman qualities. 

  • Scott Sales

    “EXCELLENT!”  Was always his enthusiastic response to “how are you?”  

  • Pirner72

    Father Reiser had just gotten off a plane from Hati when he received a call from our family that my father inlaw had been taken to Mercy hospital and was not doing well. Rather then send someone else to read him his last rights. He came and did it his self and then sat with us at the hospital for hours. He will be missed by all.

  • Sharbear60000

    Marvelous every time you seen him he would shake your hand with that strong handshake and if asked how he was doing or if he asked you his response was always MARVELOUS : )

  • A.C.M

    R.I.P FATHER, You will be missed, My family and I will never forget what you have done for us. Are prays are with you.God bless you.  

  • Bench5

    A gentle soul with a heart of gold.  Through family troubles, sickness, or death, he was always there for you whenver he could be.  A man who loved Epiphany and left us all something to love in his memory.  God Bless Father Reiser.

  • kkv

    Rest in peace Father.  You were a blessing to my family.

  • Mary

    What a wonderful priest Father Reiser was. He had a gift for being able to draw people of all ages in to the church. The nicest marriage ceremony I’ve ever attended was performed by Father Reiser. How wise he was to advise to the new husband to bring his new bride one rose each month on the monthly anniversary of their marriage. He will be missed by so many whose lives he has touched. God bless Father Reiser and keep him and let the perpetual light shine upon him.

  • Auntiemare

    I met Father Reiser 39 yrs ago, as he made his rounds seeing his parishoners that were patients at Unity hopital. Altho I never got know him well, I do know how he helped all the people he visited, & touched my heart in a special way. God bless you Father Reiser.

  • CarlyAnn

    I spent a lot of personal time with Father Reiser as he is my husbands fathers best friend. My husbands middle name is after Bernard… I cannot say enough beautiful things about this man. He will be missed at family gatherings! This was a man of greatness.

  • Kmyrna


  • Fr. Reiser was so generous to our Catholic mission in Russia when we were beginning from scratch.  He got the parish council to plegde a certain amount each month for our liturgical music development program, and he was instrumental in giving the old Epiphany organ to our parish in Vladivostok as a free gift.  It has been a great blessing for our parish and the entire city (of 700,000 people).  May the Lord take him immediately to heaven and give him eternal happiness.  Fr. Dan Maurer, Most Holy Mother of God Catholic Church, Vladivostok, Russia.

  • Brooke

    When my brother, sister, and I were little my dad would bring us to Epiphany every Sunday. When mass was over we would always wait in father Reiser’s line to shake his hand. We would always see who’s hand he would shake the hardest! He had such a firm grip. It was a great childhood memory. You will truly be missed father Reiser!

  • Mary

    I was 10 years old when I met Father Reiser, and I was very sick.  My great aunt lived behind St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake, where she attended daily Mass.  I was staying with her and she would bring me to Mass and have father bless me.  I always felt his blessings made me well.  God bless you Father Reiser, may your soul and the souls of the faithful departed, rest in peace.  Amen. 

  • Jpafko

    I will never forget his wonderful greetings at the end of mass. His handshake, greeting, and presents were powerful

  • Denise

    When Father Reiser was the assistant priest at St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear Lake, he helped my dad overcome alcohol addiction.  I know he saved my dad, mom, and their 5 children from suffering.

  • Lulu23

    He would always give you a firm handshake and everytime he sat down in mass he would look like he was asleep…to this day I don’t know if he waited so long to stand up because he was asleep or deep in thought. I haven’t seen him in years and can’t make it to the funeral, I will miss him dearly.

  • Kate

    He truly was a great father! When I was young, I thought he was God. As he walked down the aisle at the start of Mass, he had such a grand presence about him that helped to raise your mind to higher things. He spoke with authority yet with gentleness & of love, kindness, goodness. As I grew up & figured out he wasn’t really God, he was so beautifully fatherly as you felt drawn to him b/c he let you know …he was always there for you – literally day or night he would answer his phone or stop whatever he was doing to listen. He never made you feel like he was in a hurry, even with all the hundreds of things he had going on. You felt like you were his one and only child as he was fully present to each person. It is such a GIFT to have this beautiful image of fatherhood from him – both God the Father & also earthly fatherhood. He poured his life out for his people, for the Church with incredible love & joy & a great sense of humor. Thank you, Father! You are loved & appreciated by countless people!

  • Maryfroghopper

    I left church right after communion one day and Fther Reiser was still completing the mass. I went straight to Mercy Hospital. Father Reiser was leaving the hospital as I entered. I asked him how he did that and he just smiled. I am still baffled.

  • Dorothy Nelson

    How do you describe such a special man… He gave his all to the people of Epiphany and whoever needed him. He really was a saint and will be missed dearly.

  • Gregsellshomes

    All the angels in Heaven are saying “excellent” job my good and faithful servant!!! My family has been members of Epiphany for over 20 years and Father Reiser would always ask the kids how they were doing to which they would respond “EXCELLENT!!” He was so good with the kids and so focused on the Lord. I remember at the celebration of his 50th year as a ordained priest he wept when they carried in a photo of his mother. I’m sure she is welcoming her son to heaven with arms wide open as proud as she could be! Greg W.

  • Sk66tb

    Father Reiser is the main reason we are members of Epiphany.  Our daughter was married by Father and 14 years later we still have friends and relatives talk about the wonderful ceremony he performed.

  • kathleen

    He had broken his leg and was laying in bed when I needed to see him.  That visit literally saved my life.  During the visit he got a phone call from a potential employer for one of his parishoners .  Father quickly turned the conversation around from giving a reference to interviewing the employer.  I remember his asking “Are you going to provide a living wage for this man?”  I can just picture him bustling around heaven!!!

  • Cpkp531

    He helped our famly through so many tough times when I was a child, gave both of my parents jobs when they needed them, he was there to help keep them strong. My dad passed away last year and when we called on him to do his memorial service he did not hesitate to help us out even though it was hard for him to get around. He never stopped being there when we needed him. I am so grateful he was there for my father one last time, now they may meet again in heaven.

  • maggie

    Fr. Rieser saved our marriage. Many years ago when my husband and I were somewhat new to Epiphany, Fr. Rieser took the time to counsel us during a rocky spot in our marriage. He taught us that no matter who we are or what we do for a living we can bloom where we are planted. This world is a much better place because of his devotion and charity. Thank you Fr. Rieser.

  • Szukauska

    Father reiser was a marvelous human being
    Marvelous being One of his favorite words
    He was indeed a holy man
    I will miss him very much
    I have always remembered his ability to speak with such
    Enthusiasm and conviction as to hold his audience sPellbound
    Best sermons ihave ever heard were delivered by him
    He married and buried many members of my family
    He will be missed
    We loved him
    We were blessed to have him in our lives
    Rest in peace

  • One of many

    I could fill an entire encyclopedia with stories of Fr. Reiser. All praise and thanksgiving to almighty God for the awesome gift of this holy and saintly priest!! He was always so humble- I remember once my husband and I stood up when Fr. entered the room (we had been raised in the generation that does that!) and Fr. said, “Sit down, you don’t stand up for inferiors.” I especially remember his unwavering, unyielding commitment to life- particularly the unborn. While I love him and will miss him, at the same time I am filled with joy just thinking of that moment when the Lord said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

  • Andy

    A great and holy priest Fr. Bernard Reiser has entered eternal life at 86 years of age, on Dec. 27. He was a lifelong servant of God also working seemingly day and night, was founding Pastor of the Church of the Epiphany and Catholic school, also the Reiser Relief Inc., a mission in Haiti that helps meet the needs of the poor, has and showed great faith in the Eucharist and the Mother of Jesus, countless good works and mighty deeds, a true friend to everyone and an authentic Saint. He baptized me into Christ and administered to me and many others the Sacraments.  Full of wisdom and common sense, his sermons would touch hearts and sometimes would almost bring water out of the eyes.  He was also a healing listener and everything improved or just be strengthened after seeking his counsel, my spiritual father and friend at heart, God bless you forever! Thank you for being there for everyone you could possibly reach, and for me with kindness and understanding when I sought you out in times of tribulation.  I believe, best guess, the main thing he would want everyone to do is to make a good confession, reconcile with God and begin or continue to practice faithfully the Catholic faith, be a good Christian, and also to listen to and respond to the messages of Fatima, Sacred Scripture and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.  For example, repent and sin no more, pray continuously, continue faith formation, attend church, love God and others, and do good works.  That was the formation he gave in his own excellent fashion.  You will be missed yet, you will always still be here for us and able and to hear our prayers.  Thank you again, and I hope God will increase your power to answer, and help those you left behind as you enjoy your everlasting reward.  We will keep praying for you also.

    Grant them eternal rest, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon them.
    A hymn becomes you, O God, in Zion,
    and to you shall a vow be repaid in Jerusalem.
    Hear my prayer;
    to you shall all flesh come.
    Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord,
    and let perpetual light shine upon them.
    Lord have mercy;
    Christ have mercy;
    Lord have mercy.

    Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord :
    and let perpetual light shine upon them.
    He shall be justified in everlasting memory,
    and shall not fear evil reports.

    Forgive, O Lord,
    the souls of all the faithful departed
    from all the chains of their sins
    and by the aid to them of your grace
    may they deserve to avoid the judgment of revenge,
    and enjoy the blessedness of everlasting light.

    Forgive, O Lord,
    the souls of all the faithful departed
    from all the chains of their sins
    and by the aid to them of your grace
    may they deserve to avoid the judgment of revenge,
    and enjoy the blessedness of everlasting light.

    Deliver me, O Lord, from death eternal on that fearful day,
    when the heavens and the earth shall be moved,
    when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
    I am made to tremble, and I fear, till the judgment be upon us, and the
    coming wrath, when the heavens and the earth shall be moved.
    That day, day of wrath, calamity, and misery, day of great and exceeding
    bitterness, when thou shalt come to judge the world by fire.
    Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord: and let light perpetual shine upon
    them. May Angels lead you into paradise;
    may the Martyrs receive you at your coming
    and lead you to the holy city of Jerusalem.
    May a choir of Angels receive you,
    and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have eternal rest. Amen

  • Mlemoine26

    We left Coon Rapids and Epiphany in 1989.  It was such a wonderful parish.  It had great programs for our young children.  We were a part of Epiphany for 7 years and two of our children received their First Communion with Father.  I was so honored so long ago when Father Reiser asked me to be an Eucharist Minister to serve our Lord.  We were in Coon Rapids a few years ago and went to mass there – we were sorry to have missed seeing Father Reiser but got to see all the work he has done since we left so long ago.  Father, you will be missed but what a wonderful place you will be in our Lord’s Kingdom – I know he will wrap His loving arms around you.  Mary 

  • Ruth

    Father Reiser helped me re-find my faith on a cold & rainy October evening in 1986. I was lost and showed up at the rectory door. He welcomed me, an unexpected stranger, and spent hours talking me through a very painful time and bringing me back to my faith. A most amazing man and priest!

  • One of the Flock

    Yesterday my granddaughter said “Look grandma you have an Owl in your tree!” Although we haven’t had any birds in our backyard lately, only squirrels, ( I think it may be the 7 year old bird food my husband put out!)- soon the back yard was filled with all sorts of birds we hadn’t seen in a couple months.  Cardinals, Chickadees and Bluejays!  The Owl was beautiful!  I haven’t seen one like that before.  It stayed in the same spot for over an hour while the other birds flew back and forth.  It was like the scene  in the beginning of ” Bambi”.  I told my granddaughter the Owl reminded me of Father Reiser and maybe he was making one last appearance! Our family has known Father Reiser since he first became Paster in Coon Rapids.  My First Communion was in the basement of the High School if I remember correctly.  He was always there for any of our family requests, weddings, funerals or just a prayer.  I have never meet a more giving person in my life.  He was as close to a Saint as I will ever know.  He has done more in one lifetime than any of us can imagine and never without  enthusiasm!  I truly hope we can keep “The Wheels Turning” for Father Reiser in Haiti and at the Church of Epiphany.  Father Reiser you were as Majestic as an Owl and we will all miss you! You were Excellent!  P.S. When my son was little he thought Father Reiser was God too!

  • Marcos

    Baby Rachel abandon on the Hwy to die Father Reiser made a special place for her at Epiphany Cemetery
    40 Years ago my Uncles home was leveled by a gas explosion Father was at his aid to help him, my Uncle did not go to Church
    He not only preached the word “He Lived it” better than any one i have ever known.

  • Husher

    Fr Reiser always loved the Christmas and Easter masses and always wanted everything to be perfect.  I was lead usher at one of those masses and Fr Reiser always wanted 12 ushers.  That mass I only had 8 and not another usher was to be found.  He asked how many I had and said you need to find more – I said there are no more.  He said “there are always more”.  The next man that walked through the door wearing a suit was taken by the arm and presented to me as another usher.  I go an usher badge and boutineer to wear.  After mass I asked him if he wanted to become a full-time usher – he replied he would like to but he didn’t attend Epiphany he was a visitor with a family who were members of Epiphany.  I will never forget that Christmas.

  • husher

    When my father had a severe stroke and was hospitialized at Methodist hospital my mother stayed with us and went to mass with us the next Sunday.  My fathers prognosis didn’t look good and my mother wasn’t taking it very well.  Fr Reiser had met my mother at mass during other visits and he asked what was wrong.  She explained the situation and Fr Reiser said when do you want me at the hospital – she said that my father was not Catholic.  Fr Reiser repeated the question and Tuesday was agreed upon.  We met him the next Tuesday, we said some prayers, he gave him last rites, we took hands & said the Our Father  together – my father died while we were reciting the prayer.  What a blessing.

  • Janessa’s Mom

    In 1989 my daughter was born at St. Paul Children’s hospital after an emergency delivery.  The next day, she passed away.  I will never forget seeing Fr. Reiser walk in my hospital room and praying with us.  I could not believe with all of his responsibilities, he was able to take the time to come all the way to St. Paul to see us.  He assured a very young couple that Epiphany would take care of everything regarding the funeral Mass, burial and luncheon.  This was such a relief to us.  I will always remember Fr. Resier for this and many other reasons that he touched my life in a special way.  Rest in peace Father.

  • Ron Howes

    Back in the early 1960’s, Father Reiser was at the Catholic Church in White Bear Lake and already making a big impression on the people of the community. He was always bringing an ex-convict or someone needing help into the local bank to co-sign for a loan, and he had to make good personally on some of those. Father Reiser drove an old beat-up oil burning car, so one Christmas, several members of the church went around and collected $3,000 from members, so the good Father could buy a new car. Back then, you could buy a good 4-door sedan for that. Well, instead, the week before Christmas, Father Reiser went around and gave $100 to 30 families down on their luck.

    When the call came for Father Reiser to go to Coon Rapids and start a new church, the congregation again raised $3,000, but this time they bought a car and gave Father the keys, figuring he wouldn’t sell it.

    Even back then, Father Reiser was considered a saint on earth, and everyone who ever met him knew it. 

  • Rsficek

    Our 5 children and their families joined Epiphany Parish many years ago when some of them got transferred on their jobs. Father Reiser was definitely the most welcoming and family priest for them and their children-He baptised some of our grandchildren and performed our youngest son Lee and his wife Stacee’s marriage ceremony, and gave a most wonderful homily and gift of a coffee cup with his picture on it and told them they had to keep on their bedroom dresser so that every morning when they awoke they would remember to pray together and remember him also and kiss each other morning and night. He definitely was a saintly, friendly and most gifted man with loving kindness-Our children and grandchildren certainly have been blessed to be able to have had him as their Most outstanding Priest all these past years-May God reward his soul in Heaven to do saintly things for his parishners and relatives.

  • Mark

    Fr. Reiser gave last rites to my grandfather in White Bear Lake in 1953. He will always be fondly remembered by my family. May God give him peace!

  • Sue O

    Father Reiser was around in my life during my school years and after.  I went to Epiphany and he was a person you feard, admired and loved.  He also married my husband and myself and baptised our son when we brought him home from Ukraine.  He never judged anyone or pressured them to join the church.  He took you as you are and never seemed to forget your face.  He always greeted you like an old friend.  He will be truly missed in my family.

  • Guest

    What a great man Father Reiser was! I’ve known him since birth (1964), when he first became a priest at Epiphany. He baptized my brother and I and became a good friend of our family! God Bless you Father Reiser. Say Hi to my mom up in Heaven?