ESCANABA - As a young man going to school, Gilbert Neurohr had dreams of travel and high adventure.
He got his wish but not quite in the way he anticipated.Shortly after his graduation from high school in 1942 at the age of 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Force and he did, indeed, fulfill his desire to travel by being shipped out to the South Pacific, and he certainly lived a life of high adventure for the next two years while serving in the Philippines and Australia during World War II.
"Because Neurohr is a German name, I wasn't sent to Europe. I was sent to the South Pacific instead," he explained.
Rev. Gilbert Neurohr
Dorothy McKnight | Daily Press
Rev. Gilbert Neurohr, seated in center, was honored on his 90th birthday in September 2013 with a celebration held at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Escanaba. He is surrounded by other members of the clergy, including, Rev. Emmett Norden, OSF?St. Francis Hospital Chaplain, seated at left; and Rev. Rick Courier, pastor of St. Anthony/St.?Thomas Parish. Standing are, from left, Rev. Jacek Wtyklo, pastor of St. Joseph Church in Perkins; Rev. John Longbucco, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Flat Rock; and Rev. Francis DeGroot, pastor of St. Anne Parish in Escanaba.
It was during his years of military service that Neurohr's focus totally changed and he left the military determined to pursue a career as a medical doctor.
"I grew up real fast," he stated. "During the war, I saw a whole lot of suffering and saw all those things that war does to people. I wanted to help people. I had such a good life while I was growing up with so many good people around me and I wanted to try to make a difference."
After his discharge, he enrolled in Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., to study medicine. But it was the Jesuit priests who ran the school that caused his life to go in a different direction.
"They told me I could either be a doctor of the body or doctor of the soul and I came to the conclusion that the soul is more permanent," he said. "The body is only temporary."
One of three sons, Neurohr was born Sept. 20, 1923, in Brampton to Fredrick and Helen Neurohr. The family worshipped at St. Joseph Parish in Perkins. He attended school in the Powers-Spalding area, as well as Hyde, Bark River and Brampton and graduated in 1942 from Gladstone High School.
After obtaining a bachelor's degree in philosophy in 1948 at Marquette University, he later graduated from St. Francis Major Seminary in 1954. He was ordained a Catholic priest at the age of 30 on June 5, 1954, by Bishop Thomas L. Noa in Marquette.
"Fr. Gil" was appointed by the Marquette Diocese to serve as the assistant pastor of St. Ignatius Loyola Parish in St. Ignace on June 30, 1954. He also served St. Mary Parish in Norway beginning on June 22, 1956, and was appointed to serve St. Mary & St. Joseph Parish in Iron Mountain. While in Iron Mountain, he served as chaplain at the Veterans Administration Hospital. He was later transferred to American Martyrs Parish in Kingsford in early 1964.
He took a leave of absence from the diocese in 1964 to serve as full-time chaplain at the Veterans Hospital in Brecksville, Ohio, and on Sept. 2, 1973, became the chaplain at Audie L. Murphy Memorial Veterans Administration Hospital in San Antonio, Texas.
Two years later, Neurohr received his master's degree of sacred theology in scripture from Trinity University in Texas.
In August 1981, he retired as the veterans administration chaplain and moved to Gladstone. Shortly after his retirement, Neurohr began working on his doctorate and earned his doctor of ministry and theology from St. Mary's Seminary and University in Baltimore, Md.
Neurohr formally retired in 1985 but still made himself available to assist local parishes when a priest was needed. A year later, he went on to serve as temporary parochial administrator at St. Joseph Parish in Perkins, a position he maintained until July 14, 1987.
He later served as chaplain at the Bishop Noa Home from 1990 to 2004. During that time, he also served as chaplain to the Knights of Columbus 640 in Escanaba and as a representative of the senior priests on the Diocesan Priests' Council from 1992 to 1998.
Even with his pastoral duties, Neurohr found time to serve as a member of the Knights of Columbus, Disabled American Veterans, Catholic War Veterans, Veterans Foreign Wars, American Legion, Military Avocation, Association of Health Clergy, and Doctrinal Catholic Welfare Conference.
On June 4, 2004, Fr. Gil celebrated his 50 years as a priest with a Jubilee Mass, attended by 38 priests, at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Wells. Now, 10 years later, the priest marked his 60th year as a member of the clergy by celebrating the milestone at a celebratory Mass at St. Thomas Church in Escanaba on June 5. More than 1,000 well-wishers turned out for the event.
Over his career, Fr. Gil has served at numerous VA hospitals and nursing home facilities, with residents totaling anywhere from 1,000 to 3,000 patients. Each has presented its own lasting impressions on Neurohr and only added to the brutal sights of death and suffering he experienced during the war.
"You see so much death that you get to the point where the sight of dying no longer bothers you any more and you have to help others deal with it," he said.