Brother Romard (Paul) Barthel, CSC

April 8, 1924 – December 7, 2016

The prayers of the members of the Congregation of Holy Cross are requested for the repose of the soul of Brother Romard (Paul) Barthel, CSC, a member of the Moreau Province of Brothers and Priests. Born in Evansville, IN, Br. Romard died in Austin, TX, on December 7, 2016. He was in his 72th year of religious life in the Congregation.

On April 8, 1924, in his family’s home on W. Iowa Street in Evansville, Indiana, the youngest child of Alois and Elizabeth Froelich Barthel was born. The next day, at St. Boniface, the parish church just down the street, he was baptized as Paul Joseph. He had two older brothers and four older sisters. His father Alois grew up in St. Philip, Indiana, which was farm country just west of Evansville. Alois eventually left the farm for the city, where he gained a high school education and taught school for a few years. He also learned business skills and gradually rose through the ranks at a wholesale hardware company. Elizabeth Froelich, a seamstress, met Alois at a church dance; they dated and soon married.

Exercising an active faith, Alois and Elizabeth imparted religious values to their children and early on instilled in them a desire to do God’s will. When Paul was in elementary school, his oldest brother, Aloysius, entered the seminary and eventually was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Indianapolis.  In 1938, his other brother, Carl, left home to become a Benedictine at St. Meinrad’s Abbey, taking the religious name Brother Benedict.

A good student both in grade school and high school, Paul attributed his academic success to the encouragement he received from his family.  At home, his interest in science was sparked by helping his uncle Tony repair radios and household appliances. From his mother, he gained a lifelong love of music. While in grade school at St. Boniface, Paul learned to read music and play the piano. He also sang in the choir and played the sousaphone in the band. He continued playing the sousaphone when he went on to Reitz Memorial High School where he was taught by the Brothers of Holy Cross. He had Brother Charles Andersen for English, Loyola Christoph for band, Bonaventure Foley for Latin, Albertus Smith for math and tennis, Benedict Gervais for physics.

Coming into close contact with the Brothers, Paul liked their lifestyle and decided he wanted to be a teacher like them.  Brother Charles Andersen chose him as editor of the school newspaper and worked with him. In his senior year, recognizing Paul’s love of science, several of the Brothers encouraged him to participate in the first Westinghouse Science Talent Search. He had to take a test and write a 2000-word paper on “How Science Will Win the War.”  The year was 1942, and war was raging in Europe. Paul was one of forty national finalists sent to Washington, DC, for interviews. Although he didn’t capture the top prize, he caught the attention of several colleges around the country. The high school senior turned down their scholarship offers since he had already decided on his life’s vocation.

In the fall of 1942, Paul took the night train from Evansville to Watertown, Wisconsin, and entered the Holy Cross postulancy program. He was received into the novitiate at Rolling Prairie, Indiana, on January 15, 1943, and made his first profession there on February 2, 1944, taking as his religious name Brother Romard.

Three years later, Brother Romard received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Notre Dame and professed his final vows there on August 16, 1947. He was then assigned to Austin to begin studies at the University of Texas, earning his Ph.D. in Physics in 1951.

Upon his arrival as a graduate student in Austin, Brother Romard also began a professional career of teaching physics and mathematics at St. Edward’s University, his home for most of the rest of his life.  Along the way, he was called to leadership as the local superior at St. Joseph Hall, as Provincial Superior of the South-West Province and, at the international level, as First Assistant General of the Congregation of Holy Cross. He also served as superior of the Vincent Hall Scholasticate, as the director of candidate formation at Moreau House, and in numerous capacities at St. Edward’s University, including Board Chair.

Brother Romard was never happier nor more fulfilled than when he was teaching in a classroom or laboratory. Keen on equipping his students with deeper understanding, he taught them not only how to solve a problem, but how to know how to solve it. Other keys to his successful teaching ministry of over forty years were his availability and the obvious care he showed toward his students inside and outside the classroom.

A disciple of Father Basil Moreau, Brother Romard strongly believed in the power of education to transform the lives of people and ultimately to change the world for the better. Reflecting on his role in the process, Brother Romard once said, “Teachers are key players on the team that is carrying out the Holy Cross educational mission. I am inspired by the great teachers – past and present – with whom I have shared this mission as well as the outstanding students I have worked with, students who have understood the Holy Cross mission and work at developing a similar mission in their own lives.”

Brother Romard was a very thoughtful person, not only in his consideration for others, but also in the sense of thinking deeply about things. He served as Provincial starting in the late 1960s, turbulent years for culture and society, the Church and religious life, and certainly for anyone in leadership. In the heaving seas of questioning, pessimism and deconstruction, he remained anchored by his enduring homegrown desire to do God’s will. In the face of declining vocations, Brother Romard wrote circular letters reflecting on every aspect of religious life including apostolic effectiveness, the witness of the vows, community life, prayer and the call to renewal.

Later in life, he offered his personal reflections on the “Permanent Core of Religious Life.” He wrote, “Through our religious vows we profess that God is enough for us. We express this spousal love for God in radical love and service of neighbor.” Despite our human incapacity to live religious life perfectly, what characterizes fidelity to our vocation, he counseled, is the constant striving after the lifestyle, the persistent effort to need only God.

An active promoter of the Brother’s vocation, Brother Romard shared his conviction that religious life, a charism of the Church, will not disappear. In collaboration with the Spirit, religious men and women will continue to be needed to evangelize the world and the Church through their witness, ministry and commitment. And, he wrote, “The desire for a spousal relationship with God is deeply written in the human heart, and is not likely to disappear – and God is not an uninterested partner.”

In 2005, Brother Romard retired from teaching at St. Edward’s University, but even as a Professor Emeritus, he continued to make himself available to tutor students. In 2012, at age 88, he moved from St. Joseph Hall to the Brother Vincent Pieau Residence which provided assisted living support services.  From his new room across campus, he continued to monitor events and maintain contacts with his beloved St. Edward’s University.

On December 7, 2016, at 1:50 a.m., after many months under hospice care, Brother Romard passed on to eternal life.  At that time, Brothers Sam Robin and John Doran were present, along with Debbie Summers, RN, and Leslie Wilson, who were providing medical care.  Expecting his passing, several other Brothers were able to come and spend time with him throughout the evening.

Summing up his own life, Brother Romard wrote: “Expressing and growing in love for God by doing his will has been the unifying concept that puts my whole life together – religious, personal, professional.”

In a talk to the scholastics at Vincent Hall, he said: “I believe that the life of a Brother of Holy Cross is a good channel for doing God’s will. More specifically, I believe that being a Brother of Holy Cross is God’s will for me. I have found great happiness and a sense of fulfillment as a Brother of Holy Cross (and happiness is not inconsistent with suffering). With the grace of God, I expect to die as a Brother of Holy Cross. And I expect to live forever as a result.”

In a letter dated November 19, 1976, Brother Romard wrote: “When we are young we have many options; when we are old we have very few. This is life. One can associate the increase of years with the deprivation of potential, and hate it; one can see aging as an aspect of the development of an actual life of love, and take satisfaction in it. God grant that we may see it as the latter. In this we will find our peace.  If we want joy and peace in our religious life, we ought to look forward to completing the giving of ourselves to God and to the service of our neighbor. Giving up alternate options is part of moving toward eternal union with God. Having put our hand to the plow, we ought not to look back.”

May our Brother Romard rejoice forever in the presence of God.

This reflection on the life of Brother Romard Barthel, CSC, was a collaborative effort by Brother Donald Blauvelt, CSC and Brother Richard Critz, CSC. It was also adapted by Brother Donald Blauvelt for use as the eulogy at the funeral Mass on December 13, 2016.

A Cultural Icon

Dr. Gary Morris, Dean of the School of Natural Sciences at St. Edward’s University, pays great tribute to Brother Romard the educator when he says: “Brother Romard significantly impacted the trajectory of the School of Natural Sciences and St. Edward’s University. In the history of an institution, there are but a precious few who truly earn the distinction of being recognized as a cultural icon, and they usually do so with the greatest modesty imaginable. I can assure you that in the case of Brother Romard, that recognition as an icon of the Natural Sciences at St. Edward’s University is richly deserved.”

-Cited by Br. Donald Blauvelt, CSC, in the eulogy.

Brother Romard (Paul) Barthel, CSC served the Lord faithfully in the following ministries:

  • 1947-1968 Teacher, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
  • 1953-1955 Assistant Superior, Vincent Hall Scholasticate, Austin, TX
  • 1958-1961 Staff, Vincent Hall Scholasticate, Austin, TX
  • 1964-1968 Superior, St. Joseph Hall, Austin, TX
  • 1968-1979 Provincial Superior, South-West Province
  • 1968-1968 Superior, Vincent Hall Scholasticate, Austin, TX
  • 1979-1980 Staff, Casa Guadalupe Candidate Program, Austin, TX
  • 1979-1980 Teacher, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
  • 1980-1986 Vicar General, Congregation of Holy Cross, Rome, Italy
  • 1986-2005 Teacher, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
  • 1986-1992 Candidate Director, Moreau House, Austin, TX
  • 1992-1997 Director of Formation, South-West Province
  • 2005-2016 Professor Emeritus, St. Edward’s University, Austin, TX
  • 2012-2016 Retired, Brother Vincent Pieau Residence, Austin, TX