For nearly four decades, Bishop Gilberto Fernandez was a humble parish priest, serving first in Cuba, then in South Florida. That's what he aspired to be all his life, since following his two older brothers into the priesthood.
"Sometimes people talk about the loneliness of the priests, but when you are in a parish you don't feel that loneliness because you are surrounded by love and warmth," he said June 24, 1997, when his appointment as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami was announced. "I never thought about doing anything else but being a parish priest," he added. "But man proposes and God disposes. That's the situation here."
In accepting his new responsibilities, Bishop Fernandez pledged to follow the saintly example of a fellow Cuban, Miami Auxiliary Bishop Agustin Roman, whom he called "our local Mother Teresa." With characteristic humility, he accepted his new appointment, "knowing that many others among my brother priests are better qualified than me."
He also credited the faith of his parents, a faith which nurtured eight children, five boys and three girls. Four of the boys became priests, and one of the girls became a religious. All of them ministered in South Florida. "This appointment is not an honor bestowed on me, but one on my family, for the total dedication of my mother, my father, and brothers and sister," Bishop Fernandez said.
In his new role as bishop, he pledged to be "a servant of the people." For his episcopal motto, he chose "amor ultima ratio" -- love is the supreme reason.
His episcopal coat-of-arms features two clasped hands in front of a golden cross. The hands represent Miami, a meeting place and a place of welcome. Stars above the cross symbolize the Virgin Mary as well as the Cuban and U.S. flags. The bottom half features blue and white waters, representing the Caribbean Sea and the Catholic Church, which is often portrayed as the "bark of Peter."
Born in Havana, Cuba, on Feb. 13, 1935, Bishop Fernandez was ordained for the Archdiocese of Havana on May 17, 1959. He served in four parishes in the Havana area, including as administrator of the cathedral, before coming to Miami in July, 1967.
His two older brothers, Msgr. Orlando Fernandez (deceased) and Father Nelson Fernandez, had arrived here in 1961. Another brother, Fausto Fernandez, served for a long time as administrator of Marian Towers, an archdiocesan apartment complex for low-income elderly. Sister Lilia Fernandez is a Sister of St. Joseph of St. Augustine who ministers at Mercy Hospital. Two other sisters, Ondina (deceased) and Teresita, also lived in Miami. Another brother, Miguel Angel Fernandez, lives in Mexico with his wife and two daughters.
Among his assignments in South Florida, Bishop Fernandez ministered to migrant farmworkers in Naranja, Homestead and Delray Beach. In 1996, after six years as pastor of St. Kevin Church in southwest Dade County, he was named spiritual director of St. John Vianney Seminary in Miami.
Auxiliary Bishop Gilberto Fernandez
- Feb. 13, 1935, in Havana, Cuba
- Sept. 30, 2011, Miami
- To the priesthood, May 17, 1959, for the Archdiocese of Havana, Cuba
- Appointed Titular bishop of Irina and Auxiliary Bishop of Miami, June 24, 1997
- Ordained to the episcopacy, September 3, 1997
- Retired for health reasons, Dec. 11, 2002
- Buen Pastor Seminary, Havana, Cuba
Archdiocese of Havana, 1959 to 1966
- Assistant Pastor, El Salvador Church, Cerro, Havana (1959 to 1960)
- Administrator, St. Peter's Church, Batabano, Havana (1960 to 1961)
- Administrator, Cathedral of Havana (1961 to 1962)
- Pastor, El Cerro Church, Havana (1962 to 1966)
Archdiocese of Miami:
- Assistant Pastor, St. Ann's Mission, Naranja (September, 1967 to October, 1969)
- Administrator, Our Lady Queen of Peace, Delray Beach (October, 1969 to September, 1971)
- Assistant Pastor, St. Patrick Church, Miami Beach (September, 1971 to June, 1974)
- Pastor, Sacred Heart Church, Homestead (June, 1974 to May, 1979)
- Pastor, Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Miami (May, 1979 to April, 1988)
- Pastor, San Pablo Church, Marathon (April, 1988 to December, 1989)
- Pastor, St. Kevin Church, Miami (December, 1989 to June, 1996)
- Spiritual Director, St. John Vianney Seminary, Miami (June, 1996 to June, 1997)
Past and current appointments include membership in the Archdiocesan Worship Commission; Personnel Board; Presbyteral Council; and Advisory Boards for Permanent Diaconate and Catholic Cemeteries.
- Parents: Jose Fernandez and Consuelo (nee Villar) Fernandez, both deceased
- Brothers: Msgr. Orlando Fernandez, (deceased Jan. 13, 2000), Archdiocese of Miami; Father Nelson Fernandez, retired, Archdiocese of Miami; Fausto Fernandez, former administrator of Marian Towers, Miami Beach; Sister Lilia Fernandez, Sisters of St. Joseph, Mercy Hospital, Miami; Miguel Angel Fernandez, Mexico; Teresita Fernandez and Ondina Fernandez (deceased September 2011), Miami.