Sunday, July 23, 2017

(191) Irene Kobak Surber (1931-2017).........She was ready to personally meet her Good Shepherd

Charles and Irene Surber
      The following are excerpts of the letter Irene wrote to her family, friends, and fellow members of the Secular  Franciscan Order a month before she died.  As requested, parts specifically addressed to her extended family are omitted.


My Dearest Charles and Friends:

My earthly pilgrimage has ended.  As my life drew closer to the 11th hour, I felt a need to share some final thoughts with those who have touched my life in so many meaningful ways and supported me along the journey HOME….I re-wrote this message several times…..this is my final revision.  I return to the ONE who fashioned the stars, wove the tapestry of the skies, crafted the universe with HIS word alone and created all of us in His Image and Likeness.

Countless graces and blessings energized my life of Faith, sustaining me through joys, questions, sorrows, doubts and challenges.  Believing that Jesus’ life, teachings and resurrection set us free, that we are a redeemed people, made it comforting to listen expectantly for the voice calling me HOME.  Like all faith-filled Christians, I realized life is a brief journey in which we walk hand in hand with life’s companions, reaching for the PEARL of great Price, trusting in God’s eternal promise.

As the years wore on, the lessons our dear parents, Joseph and Helen instilled were never forgotten.  We were raised in a home where prayer, Church attendance, Mass, the Holy Eucharist, religious practices and expressions were of primary value.  Ours was a faith-filled Catholic Christian home.  Mom and Dad set an example to the best of their capability and understanding.  What a joy to be seeing them again, meeting our deceased relatives and above all……meeting our Grandparents for the very first time.

Religious life added a rich spiritual and social dimension on the Journey affording innumerable opportunities for spiritual and professional growth and guidance…..As we know, vocations are nurtured in a family setting.  We were not short on encouragement.  We grew up being challenged and reaching for the IDEAL!

I was accompanied on my journey by members of the Secular Franciscan Order.  They provided the companionship, challenge and Franciscan spirituality that filled my heart and enlivened my spirit.  We walked the journey with freedom and fraternity, inspired by the example of our dear St. Francis and St. Clare.

I can never thank you enough for all your love and generous FORGIVENESS.  I beg you to remember me in prayer and ask you to rejoice with me.
And like the repentant thief, I beg YOU, Lord Jesus, for mercy and forgiveness.  I pray that I am worthy to hear Jesus’ reassuring words:

(Luke 23:43)

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd (John10:11)
EULOGY (Delivered at Irene Kobak Surber’s Funeral at St. Louis Church on July 17, 2017)

       As an Extraordinary Eucharistic Minister since 2009, I had the opportunity to know Irene well.  In fact it was Irene who encouraged me to volunteer for that ministry and my wife Jaga joined me.  It was an awesome privilege to bring Christ Himself and His love to her in Holy Communion every Sunday, to pray with her, and to help her in a little way for her encounter with the Lord in eternity.

I was supposed to minister to Irene, but she ministered to me more than I did to her.  She placed great value on the Eucharist and she did a lot of spiritual reading.  She was faithful to her Catholic Church to the very end.  She kept coming to Sunday Mass until only a couple of months ago when it became practically impossible since she was dependent upon oxygen.  Even then she would assist at Mass via EWTN television and we would complement that by bringing her Holy Communion.

Irene never bore any children of her own, but over a career of some 40 years she was like a mother to hundreds if not thousands of children, most of whom were developmentally challenged.  She recognized their great dignity, created according to the image and likeness of God.   She loved them dearly; she saw their potential; and helped to make them productive members of society.  In retirement she visited the aged as a volunteer in nursing homes in the area.  She was a Third Order Franciscan and emulated St. Francis as well as St. Clare.

Irene was a Pollyanna type, always positive, encouraging, kind, and patient.  I really appreciate her encouragement of my writing.  I never heard her make any disparaging remark against anyone. 
       One priest commented that “Those who die of cancer die like saints.  That statement is certainly true in regard to Irene.  She was ready.  She taught us how to live and she taught us how to die.  She confronted her cancer with faith and courage.  Irene did not give up; she really wanted to take care of Charlie and did not want to leave him, her extended family, and friends, but was completely resigned to the will of God with great trust in His Providence……..that no matter what, it would all turn out for the best in the long run.  Each time I saw Irene, there was a certain joy and peace about her……..even a joyful expectation of eternity.

       Irene planned out every aspect of her funeral.  For the first time in my memory, has a laywoman been laid out at the front of our church.  We’re going to have a luncheon this afternoon; the hostess is really Irene and she has invited all of you with typically warm Polish hospitality, entrusting the Catholic Women’s Club and others to put it on.  At some of our Communion services with her, we would say the “Our Father” (Ojcze Nasz) in Polish.  You see, I’m Polish by marriage and proud of it.
Irene had a devotion to Mary, who perhaps interceded that she die on July 13, the 100th anniversary of the third and most prophetic apparition of Our Lady of Fatima.  The whole Fatima series will be on this blog.
In that apparition Mary reiterated her plea: “Make of everything you can a sacrifice and offer it to God as an act of reparation for the sins by which He is offended and in supplication for the conversion of sinners.”  Indeed, Irene offered up her aches and her pains, the effects of chemo, and all of her suffering for that intention.
She united her cross with the Lord’s cross and offered it all up as a dynamic prayer for the Church, the missions, for our country, for a better world and for her loved ones.  God knows how much our country and our world need prayer.  The prayers of the sick and the suffering are most valuable and very effective.  Thus Irene was very productive until the moment she died.

Irene loved the image of the Good Shepherd and liked to imagine herself being a little lamb in His arms.  Her prayers to the Good Shepherd were surely answered as He gave her the strength to carry her cross and led His little lamb to eternity.  The Good Shepherd never sleeps.  The Good Shepherd is real.

Thank you Irene for all that you have done for us and the Church.  We love you.  Good-by until we see you again. I know that you will be waiting for us for one big joyful reunion in Heaven.  Let’s make sure that we all get there by being faithful practicing Christians with our lives……everyone of us!  I’m sure Irene will be praying for us along the way. 


Sunday Times-Sentinel (Gallipolis, Ohio) & Point Pleasant Register July 16, 2017

Irene Surber
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BIDWELL — Irene M. Surber, 85, of Bidwell, passed away on Thursday, July 13, 2017 at her residence.

She was born September 28, 1931 in Cleveland, daughter of the late Joseph A. and Helen Dentkos Kobak. Irene married Charles M. Surber and he survives her. She graduated from St. John's College and received her Master's Degree at Case Western University.

Irene was a member of Third Order of St. Francis as a sister of St. Joseph for 33 years, a member of St. Louis Catholic Church in Gallipolis, worked for Catholic Charities, worked in California at Director of Services for the Developmentally Disabled, worked for Tap Center in California along with Sister Mary Grace, and worked as a special education teacher for 30 years. A faithful longtime friend to Irene was Sister Mary Lou Wojtusik of Garfield Heights., she visited nursing home patients along with Ella Bokovitz for many years in the local assisted living facilities, played organ in the Catholic churches, enjoyed camping, walking, and various activities. She was a great conversationalist and had many friends.

Surviving are her husband, Charles M. Surber of Bidwell, five sisters, Wanda DiVencenzo, of Grafton, Mary Ann Bliss, of North Royalton,, Theresa (Kobak) Bird of El Sobrante, Calif., Christine Berger, of Avon, and Helen Smith of Horshoe Bay, Texas.

In addition to her parents, she was preceded in death by a sister, Sister Clementia.

Mass of Christian Burial will be 11:30 a.m., Monday, July 17, 2017 at St. Louis Catholic Church with Father Thomas Hamm officiating. Entombment will follow at Ohio Valley Memory Gardens. Friends may call 10 – 11:30 a.m. at the church prior to the mass. In lieu of flowers donations can be made to the St. Louis Catholic Church building Fund. Please visit to send e-mail condolences.

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