Catholic school, sports part of childhood in Pittsburgh

| May 17, 2016 | 0 Comments

BabyHebda

Archbishop Bernard Hebda’s parents, Bernard and the late Helen Hebda, were married for seven years before he was born on Sept. 3, 1959, in Pittsburgh. Both having come from devout Catholic families — Polish and Irish, respectively — the couple was excited to have a family of their own, Archbishop Hebda said.

“They were just at that point where they thought they might not have any children, and someone said, ‘Have you ever asked St. Anthony for help?’ And so, my parents made a St. Anthony novena, and I came along,” Archbishop Hebda said. “So, my middle name is Anthony.”

For five more years, there were no more children. His parents thought he would be their only one.

“And then, my sister and two brothers came three years in a row,” Archbishop Hebda said, “so, I’m a little bit older than my siblings, but it was a very happy household.”

In Pittsburgh, Archbishop Hebda described growing up in a “densely populated” parish and school, Resurrection in the Brookline neighborhood. He remembers the school having around 1,600 students; there were 250 students in his first-grade class. He later attended a Christian Brothers high school, South Hills Catholic High School (now Seton-La Salle Catholic High School), graduating in 1977. He noted the encouragement and support from his parents, who made sacrifices to send him and his siblings to Catholic school.

“The school was very important for my parents, so even when they were moving, they always wanted to make sure that we had a good school that was available,” he said.

While his father worked for the morning newspaper in Pittsburgh, his mother managed the household. Because his father worked nights, he was able to attend the children’s school activities and sporting events.

“They were both very present to us,” Archbishop Hebda said.

From an early age, Archbishop Hebda was an altar server at his parish and later became involved in the youth group and a lector. He recalled having a good relationship with all the parish’s priests.

“It was one of those big parishes where we had four priests taking care of the parish, providing pastoral care,” he said. “They gave an excellent example for what it means to be a priest.”

Down in Florida, Patrick Hebda already has the weather for St. Paul-Minneapolis on his smartphone. His children, ages 15, 12 and 10, are excited to visit their uncle, Archbishop Bernard Hebda, who was installed for St. Paul and Minneapolis May 13.

“He’s a great uncle,” Hebda, 50, said of his older brother. “He never misses a birthday or graduation. He’s just very thoughtful.”

Family, Hebda said, has always been his brother’s top priority. “He calls my dad every day. Between 9:30 and 10:30, he checks in every day,” Hebda said.

In addition to Patrick, the Hebda siblings — Yvonne and Terrance, and his wife and three children — and their father, Bernard, all live in Florida and are accustomed to the geographical distance between them and their older brother. When they are together, they prefer low-key family time. “We don’t need much entertainment with our family,” Hebda said, laughing.

He remembers a kind and considerate older brother who would help his younger siblings type reports for school, sometimes at 5:30 a.m. Yvonne Hebda, 51, a teacher, recalled, “When I got my way, we’d play school. When Bernard got his way, we’d play church. We had a cellar with a laundry room and an old piano. Bernard would use the piano bench for his altar and any item from the clothes line for his priestly attire. The pews were the steps, and Necco wafers were the hosts of choice.”

It was no surprise he was a good athlete, especially skilled in tennis. “But he’d never say so,” Patrick noted. “I think it was in ’76, he was playing tennis when all the new kids were coming out from the country clubs with their little aluminum rackets, and Bernard still used a wooden racket . . . old Jack Kramer — he’d beat them with that.”

Archbishop Hebda’s siblings were still young when he went off to college. But every Friday night, they’d line up in the kitchen around 11:01 p.m. “when rates went down” to talk to him on the phone.

Recently, Hebda watched a video clip of his brother celebrating Easter Mass at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis, just three days after being named to his new archdiocese. “What a smile,” Patrick said. “I know him. He can be with a blue-collar worker or an MIT scientist, and he’s going to fit in wherever he goes. He just knows how to talk to people. Whatever neighborhood, whatever town. . . . Wherever he goes, he embraces it.”

Calling her older brother “assertively diplomatic,” Yvonne noted how he brings a variety of experiences to his leadership. “He has many gifts, but is happiest when celebrating the ministry of the Good News in the local schools and churches,” she said. “He shines brightest as God’s servant among the people.”

Patrick said his first concern about the new appointment was the “firestorm” his brother was entering — the archdiocese’s clergy sex abuse issues, subsequent bankruptcy and pending criminal charges in Ramsey County. But he knows his brother as a peacemaker and bridge-builder and believes those qualities will serve the archdiocese well.

“He’s going to do his best. He has the passion to make it work,” he said. “There’s no one who works harder than my brother. There aren’t enough hours in the day for him. He somehow finds time to make it a point to be where he needs to be at all times. He’ll be up for the task.”

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