Fr. Rene’s funeral Mass in St. Augustine, Florida.
Obituary of Father Rene Robert (1944 – 2016)
Father Rene Robert died tragically on April 11, 2016 after attempting to minister to a 28-year-old man who had been recently released from a Jacksonville, FL jail. Father Robert was 71. But as horrific as his death was, Father Rene Robert would not want us to remember him for the way he died but rather how he lived.
“Father Rene was a humble and generous servant of Our Lord and he shared his many gifts with the poor, the deaf community and with individuals whose lives have found themselves in jail or imprisoned. He put his faith into action through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy,” said Bishop Felipe Estévez of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
The adopted son of the late Bernadette and Donat Robert of Waterford, NY, Father Rene was born on Sept. 2, 1944. From the time he was a young boy, he knew he wanted to serve God’s people. He entered the Conventual Franciscan Brothers Seminary in Watertown, NY, after graduating from Catholic Central High School in Troy, NY, in 1962. He discerned his vocation and studied for three years before professing vows.
In 1966, he began ministering to the Catholic deaf community in the Diocese of Albany. He served at Assumption Parish, Syracuse, NY, Queen of Peace Friary, Middleburg, NY, and at the Franciscan Mission House, Rensselaer, NY.
He obtained a bachelor’s degree in deaf education from the University of Alabama in 1975 and a master’s in education from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1977. From 1970 to 1977, Father Rene was named moderator of the Pittsburgh Catholic deaf community where he served for seven years as the director of the religious education program at the Western Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. In 1977, he served for three years at St. John’s School for the Deaf in Milwaukee, Wisc.
On August 30, 1980, Brother Rene Robert was ordained to the permanent diaconate at St. Anthony on the Hudson, Rensselaer, NY, by Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Albany Diocese.
One month later, Bishop John J. Snyder of the Diocese of St. Augustine appointed Brother Rene to serve as a full-time pastoral worker at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine teaching religious education and preparing Catholic students to receive the sacraments. During this period, he served on the National Catholic Office for the Deaf (NCOD) board for four years. He also worked as the representative for the Atlantic Seaboard region for NCOD. In 1987, he answered a call to the priesthood and began studying full time at Pope John XXIII Seminary in Westin, Mass.
On August 19, 1989, Bishop Snyder ordained Father Rene to the priesthood at St. Mary’s Parish in Waterford, NY. In 1990, he obtained his master’s in theological studies from Washington Theological Union, Silver Springs, MD.
In 1995, Father Rene left the Franciscan Order and became a priest of the Diocese of St. Augustine. The Franciscans served in the diocese at San Sebastian Catholic Church from 1980 to 1993.
For the next 12 years, Father Rene continued to serve as chaplain at the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind while also assisting at San Sebastian Catholic Church and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. He served as a parochial vicar at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Fleming Island until his retirement in 2012.
“To those whom he ministered, Father Rene will be remembered for his kindness and endless love for them. He always saw the good in the people he served, reminding them that God created them for greatness with a good and noble purpose for others,” said Bishop Estévez.
Father Rene is preceded in death by his sister Cecile “Terry” Adams who died in 2012 in Waterford, NY. He is survived by Terry’s husband Walter Adams of Waterford, his brother Brian E. Robert (Gina) of Waterford, Deborah A. Bedard (Terri O’Clair) of Watervliet, his half-sister Joan McAndrew of Cambridge, NY, seven nieces and nephews and 12 grandnieces and grandnephews.
There will be a prayer vigil on Monday, April 25 at 7:00 p.m. at San Sebastian Catholic Church, 1112 State Road 16, St. Augustine. The funeral Mass will be concelebrated on Tuesday, April 26 at 11:00 a.m. also at San Sebastian Catholic Church. The principal celebrant is Bishop Felipe J. Estévez.
In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations in Father Rene Robert’s name be made to the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind and San Sebastian Catholic Church to continue his deaf ministry there.
Craig Funeral Home Crematory Memorial Park is in charge of the arrangements.