The Saintly Work of Dr. Gertrude Barber
The shamrock has always served as the symbol of the Barber National Institute. It honors the heritage of the Institute’s founder Dr. Gertrude Barber. Everyone at the Institute celebrates St. Patrick's Day. Could you imagine the celebration if there was a Saint Gertrude Barber Day?
It could happen. The late Dr. Barber is revered for educating children and adults with mental and physical disabilities. Her goal was to integrate them into the community. She started her work in the 1950s...a time when those individuals were treated as second class citizens. The Barber National Institute now serves 6300 children and adults throughout Pennsylvania.
After Dr. Barber's passing in the year 2000, a group of her friends approached Msgr. Tom McSweeney about the possibility of making Dr. Barber a saint.
"The more we talked I began to realize, ‘Boy, from what I already know, she fits the bill. She lived the Gospel. She is a saint,” says Msgr. McSweeney.
"She dedicated her life to God, to bring poor children with disabilities every opportunity to be the best that they could possibly be,” says Dr. Maureen Barber-Carey, Executive V.P. of the Barber National Institute and Gertrude Barber’s niece. “Many people have said she was the Mother Teresa of Erie, Pennsylvania.”
Msgr. McSweeney approached Erie Catholic Bishop Lawrence Persico about the possible canonization of Dr. Barber. The bishop wrote an edict in 2019 to officially begin the process of collecting information on Dr. Barber's life. 150 people were interviewed.
"Especially the people that she had helped so magnificently,” says Msgr. McSweeney.
The gathering of information is the first of four steps in the canonization process. The third stage is the stage where the Vatican will look for proof that a miracle was conducted through the intercession of Dr. Barber. Msgr. McSweeney says the entire process could take 80 to 100 years.
"First of all, this is the Catholic Church. They think in centuries, not months," he said with a laugh.
It's still exciting to think that a person that lived among us, a layperson from Erie, a teacher, a baseball fan, may someday be recognized as a saint. Bob Barber is Chief of Staff at the Barber National Institute and Gertrude Barber’s great-nephew.
"Ultimately, if she is a saint, she is a saint right now,” he said. “All we're waiting for is for the Catholic Church to say, 'OK, we recognize that, she's a saint.' But in my mind, she is a saint."
Dr. Barber began her career with the Erie School District in 1931. It saddened her to tell parents of children with disabilities that their children could not attend school. She opened her first classroom in 1952.