CROMWELL—The Rev. Thomas E. Berberich Jr., 91, of Cromwell, died Tuesday, Dec. 26, 2023, at the Pilgrim Manor in Cromwell with his loving family at his side.
He was born Aug. 22, 1932, in Norwalk, son of the late Thomas E. and Theresa (Nesline) Berberich. He was a 1950 graduate of Simsbury High School, where he was named a Hometown Hero and was educated at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, and graduated from St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md., in 1959.
He was ordained to the priesthood on May 7, 1959, at St. Lawrence O’Toole Church in Hartford by Bishop John F. Hackett.
Father Berberich assisted at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Washington Depot, and at Our Lady of Victory in West Haven, before being assigned to assist at St. Mary Parish in Derby. It was there that he first became involved in the fire service, joining Storm Engine Company as a volunteer firefighter and ambulance driver.
He became the first and only priest to graduate from the New Haven Fire College and went on to serve the Connecticut State Firefighters Association as Catholic chaplain for 40 years. In 1994, the CSFA named him “Firefighter of the Year,” and in 2012 inducted him into the Connecticut State Firefighters Association Hall of Fame.
After two parishioners of his parish died in Vietnam, he decided to begin a long career in the U.S. Army. He enlisted and served as chaplain from November1966 until October 1967, HQ 5th CST BDE, Fort Dix, N.J.
Father Berberich then requested to be transferred to Vietnam, for active duty, to serve alongside the men who were fighting. He would accompany them into battle, minister to their spiritual needs at night. He served as the 1st Infantry Division chaplain during Vietnam, where he was the recipient of three bronze stars and the Air Medal Award for courage and bravery, during the Tet Offensive of 1968.
Upon his return home, he served as temporary assistant at St. Aedan Parish in New Haven. That same year he was assigned as resident chaplain at the Rocky Hill State Veterans Home and Hospital, where he served as chaplain for 24 years.
While serving at the Veterans Home and Hospital, Father Berberich began its alcohol rehabilitation program. He also worked with veterans who suffered from PTSD.
He continued his military career serving as the 43rd Brigade chaplain of the 26th Infantry Division of the Connecticut National Guard in Hartford. In 1990, he was recalled to active duty, where he was stationed at Fort Bragg in support of Operation Desert Storm, and in 2001 retired from the Connecticut National Guard with the rank of brigadier general.
He was a lifetime member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion, serving many years as their chaplain, and in 2012 was inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame.
He was also pastor at St. Francis of Assisi Church in New Britain from 1992 until 1997. In 1997 he began the final chapter of his service in the church, when he was named as pastor of the Sacred Heart Church in Kent. He retired as pastor emeritus of Sacred Heart Church on Aug. 12, 2013.
Father Berberich volunteered his time serving many organizations. He served on the Archdiocese Senate of Priests; board of incorporators of Friendship House in New Britain; Archdiocesan Commission for Justice and Peace and the Office of Conciliation. He served on the board of directors of the Connecticut Catholic Conference, and as executive director of the Archdiocesan Office of Due Process.
He served on the Social Services Task Force in Kent, on the advisory board of Kent Affordable Housing, the Kent Veterans Memorial Committee, and was a trustee of the Kent Historical Society.
He is survived by his sister, Patrica L. Berberich of Cromwell; and his beloved nieces and nephews, Steven and Jenny Jahn, David and Susan Jahn, Joseph and Catherine (Jahn) Solomon and Margaret Jahn; and great-nieces and great-nephews Patrick Jahn, Elizabeth Townsend, Justin Conant, Zachary Jahn, Megan Solomon, Kristen Solomon, Michael Solomon and Trevor Jahn.
He was predeceased by a sister, Jacqueline Jahn and her husband Robert.
Calling hours will be at the Vincent Funeral Home, 880 Hopmeadow St. in Simsbury, on Wednesday, Jan. 3. The rosary will be prayed at 3 p.m., with visitation from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Funeral Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated by the Most Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, coadjutor archbishop of Hartford, at 11 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 4, at St. Mary Church, 942 Hopmeadow St. in Simsbury. Burial with military honors will follow in St. Bernard’s Cemetery in Tariffville.
In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to The Tunnels to Towers Foundation, 2361 Hylan Blvd., Staten Island, NY 10306; or The Wounded Warrior Project, P.O. Box 758516, Topeka, KS 66675-8516.
Visit Father Tom’s Book of Memories at vincentfuneralhome.com for online tributes.