St. James’ Rev. Deacon Bert Berding retires
By Stephanie Johns
The Rev. Deacon Bert Berding of St. James Catholic Church in Madison celebrated his retirement on Nov. 11. Several hundred people attended, according to Berding.
Berding served at St. James for 23 years.
“It’s been exciting,” he said. “There’s always something going on.”
Poor health prompted his recent retirement.
“Otherwise, I wouldn’t have retired,” he said.
Monsignor Peter Dora said Berding and he have known each other for 25 years and worked together for the past 12.
“He’s the backbone of the ministry of St. James Catholic Church,” Dora said, adding that Berding has been involved in every public religious service in the church.
Berding was instrumental in starting the Hispanic ministry there and invaluable in stewardship personal support of church members, Dora added.
“The entire congregation is eternally grateful to Deacon Berding for his faithful ministry,” he said.
Berding retired from Honeywell in 1985 and decided to have a ‘pick your own’ farm in Madison. He and his family moved to Madison in 1986.
He and his wife of 62 years, Jean, have three daughters and three sons: Mary Marjean, an art teacher at Morgan County Middle School; Mary Christina, a physician’s assistant in Knoxville; Mary Martha, who handles her husband’s business and works for the Fulton County Board of Education; Bert Jr., a doctor in Roanoke, Virginia; Mark, a business owner in Athens; and Terry, a banker in Macon.
Berding read something about ‘permanent deaconate’ training in a church paper. After three years of training primarily at the Cathedral School in Atlanta, Berding became a “permanent deacon.”
He could then baptize people as well as perform marriages and funerals. He said there was nothing in Madison at that time and as a result, he became involved with everybody.
There were about 30 people at St. James then; a priest came from Covington to say Sunday mass.
The church grew and moved from its location between the Baptist and Presbyterian churches in Madison to the what is now the home of the Morgan County Citizen, which formerly served as a funeral home.
Berding said the church had four children in religious education classes while at the funeral home site, then 27 in their new building, and 100 by the end of their first year there.
“And a lot of people to go with that,” he said, adding that he then began to go over to the church in Covington to help them.
Berding then saw a need to reach out to the growing Hispanic population in the area and went looking for someone to say mass for them.
At one point, they had up to 150 Hispanic people attending the Spanish mass on Sundays.
“It’s amazing how many people are looking for a church to go to,” he said.
He then became involved with the Ministerial Association, which has representatives from Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, and was elected treasurer of that group.
At first Berding did not have much money to look after but that changed once someone donated a building to be used for a “good purpose.”
Berding said they looked around and saw a couple of places that took in clothing donations but not one for food. Thus began The Caring Place.
“Then all of a sudden the money became a big thing,” he said.
The first year they almost went broke so they held a yard sale.
“That gave us momentum needed to get going,” he said.
He added that the yard sale has become a yearly event, “If you want something, it’s there.”