Services for Monsignor Aloys Conrad Gruber, who served at Our Lady of Fatima in Modesto and St. Mary’s in Oakdale, begin tonight in Oakdale and will conclude with a funeral Mass in Stockton on Friday.
The Catholic priest, 71, died Thursday from unspecified causes.
“Father Groovy,” as he was known in his early years because of his Afro hairstyle and Birkenstock sandals, was a Modesto native who traveled extensively and climbed mountains in Nepal and the Sierra, but had been in ill health for several years because of complications from diabetes and heart problems.
“Conrad was premature (at his birth on Dec. 3, 1941),” said his cousin, Margaret Kleinhans Crawford of Fresno. “He only weighed a little over a pound. He was born at Modesto Hospital. He stayed there for quite a while. That was during the war, and all the lights in the hospital were off at night, but he had to have the light to keep his incubator warm. He survived. He was a wonderful brother, a wonderful priest, a wonderful man.”
She said he came from a devout Catholic family that originated in Bavaria, Germany, and immigrated to Wisconsin before part of the family moved to Visalia. Gruber’s parents later relocated to Modesto.
“We have 19 nuns in our family, eight priests and two brothers,” Crawford said.
Connie, as he was known to family, “had a Mensa IQ,” she said. “He was very intelligent.”
Diane Siegfried, a St. Mary’s parishioner and longtime friend, agreed. “He had one of the best intellects in the (Stockton) Diocese,” she said. “He was extremely well read. He was a wonderful counselor and a great spiritual leader.”
The priest’s humor also was well-known.
“He had a real dry wit,” Siegfried said. “He was a very concerned person and had a real empathy for people, but he also loved adventure. Before he got ill, he traveled into the Himalayas and hiked into the backcountry of the Sierra.”
Monsignor Gruber was a member of the Sierra Club, chaplain for the Knights of Columbus and past president of the Oakdale Ministerial Association. He was named one of Bishop Stephen Blaire’s “Bright Lights” in 2011, when he received the “Life of Courage” award. He served as an altar boy beginning as a third-grader and was the first St. Stanislaus Catholic School graduate to be ordained as a priest.
“There were several layers to the monsignor,” said Shirley Du Val, a St. Mary’s parishioner. “He was more than our priest. He was our friend as well. My husband and I never had a relationship with a cleric like we had with him. He was like part of our family. He loved hearing about our children and our grandchildren, and they all loved him.”
She said Monsignor Gruber had more than 10,000 books on his shelves.
“He was very well read,” she said. “His interests were so varied; there is not a topic you could bring up that he couldn’t speak to in a very humble way. We teach the adults in our parish and we’d ask him about something and he’d say, ‘You’d need such and such a book and it’s on this shelf.’ He was phenomenal and very spiritual. We loved him.”
A visitation for Monsignor Gruber will be held today at 7 p.m. at St. Mary’s Church of the Annunciation in Oakdale, 1225 Olive St. Another visitation will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday at St. Stanislaus Catholic Church, 1200 Maze Blvd., Modesto. A funeral Mass will be celebrated Friday at 11 a.m. at the Cathedral of the Annunciation, 400 W. Rose St., Stockton. Burial will follow. For more information, call (209) 847-2715.