Posted October 08, 2009 in Memorials:
A Life He Didn’t Expect

by Fr. Bob Pelton.

When Albert Osterberger was in the American military, he went on a retreat at a Trappist monastery not far from where he was stationed. That retreat stirred up in him a great desire to find his vocation.

He read Thomas Merton’s autobiography, Seven Story Mountain, and was struck by Merton’s description of Catherine and the way she helped him find his vocation. And he thought, "Too bad that woman is dead because maybe she could help me find my vocation."

Later on when he was working as an engineer for General Electric in Utica, New York, he heard about Madonna House and said to himself, "Maybe I can go there and discover how to find my vocation."

When he discovered that this Catherine Doherty who was very much in evidence there was the same Catherine Doherty whom he had thought was long dead, he was really excited. He was sure she would help him find his vocation.

I don’t know what part she played in it, but he was stunned to find that his vocation was here in Madonna House. It’s not what he expected at all.

Albert struggled for many years in Madonna House. He struggled with his vocation, but mostly he struggled for his vocation.

It’s an amazing tribute, both to the Holy Spirit and to Albert, that as difficult as he found certain aspects of Madonna House, he didn’t just leave. Partly he didn’t leave because he trusted his spiritual director, who kept telling him, "No. This is your vocation."

I’m glad I didn’t have that much trouble, because I didn’t trust anybody enough to tell me that. But Albert did.

Albert worked for fourteen years in our auto shop fixing our vehicles, and then he was put in charge of our farm.

There he had to learn many new skills, and there he struggled with Catherine Doherty as she taught him her vision of farming. Her vision included old fashioned methods, and his training was in science. It took a while before he finally "got" it, and he discovered that this woman, who had helped him struggle, really loved him. They began enjoying one another then.

In 1986, eleven years after he went to the farm, Albert was elected director general of men. At that time, Jean Fox and I were directors of the women and the priests respectively, and so the three of us began to work together for a period that would last seventeen years.

You can do the math easily. In those years we were meeting at least once a week. Often, especially when we were on visitation and other times, too, we would meet more than once a week. But 50 times 17 is 850 meetings.

Then add all the rest of the times we had to meet together, and you could say that we spent a lot of time together in some room or other, talking to each other and trying to listen to each other. We did not always find it easy.

Albert, when he was a new DG, and later on, too, said, "I feel like I’m an engineer with two poets." We had to learn to communicate.

You can imagine that in all those hundreds of hours there were some that were not fun.

You don’t, at least on this earth, arrive at the kind of unity that in Madonna House we call sobornost, communion of mind and heart, oneness of mind and heart in Christ, without struggle, without disagreement and without sometimes saying words that you are sorry for afterwards—words that are angry or too hard.

Besides that, Albert and I lived next door to each other, in two rooms on the same small hallway, for twelve or thirteen of those years.

I am not exaggerating. Whatever difficulties we had had the evening before in a meeting, there was never a time, not one single time, when Albert carried that over to the next day. Not one time of reproach or coldness or any kind of expression of anger or annoyance at me.

Not that he had changed his mind or that I had. It’s just that "he left it in the room," or he put it in the heart of Jesus.

There are many wonderful things I could say about Albert, but that I find truly awesome. It was a work of grace. It was the fruit of Albert’s trust in Jesus and Our Lady and St. Joseph. (Albert was deeply devoted to St. Joseph.)

And as those years went on, it became evident to all of us that the Holy Spirit was really teaching Albert to pray.

Many in Madonna House have little stories about him praying in front of the tabernacle in the main house chapel, talking to Jesus, just talking to him right out there, whether anybody else was around or not, just telling him what he needed or whom he wanted Jesus to help.

Sometimes he knelt at the door of his room, which was quite near the chapel and spoke from there. Other times he went right up to the tabernacle.

Come to me, all you who labor and are overburdened, and I will give you rest. Shoulder my yoke and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls (Mt 11:28-29). Albert lived these words. He went to God with everything, in everything, asking him for everything.

Though there are some exceptions, in this world so shattered by sin, we who are also shattered most often come to intimacy with our Savior and with his Mother through our brokenness, our weakness, our poverty.

Though we certainly have words of praise and gratitude to say to the Lord, it’s most of all in our struggles that we go to him. Why do we have to work at it so much when it’s obvious that he has the goods and we don’t? But that’s the way it works for most of us.

It is in going to him again and again and again, and then again that we discover that the Lord always meets us, not necessarily in consolation, but in simple presence where this problem that seems to us to be as big as an ocean becomes somehow manageable, somehow bearable. And when we enter into that communion with him, that communion becomes our joy.

Albert suffered many losses in his last years—physical losses, mental losses, family losses—but through this suffering came something beautiful and more than beautiful. Albert had always had a childlike heart, but in the last couple of years of his life, he truly became a child. And he attained an intimacy with Love that is only possible when one has become a child.

Lord, we thank you for Albert. We thank you for giving him the heart of a child, and we especially thank you for giving him the awesome courage to live it out.


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