Art Wiser, a member and former pastor of the Bruderhof communities, died in March at 92 at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof in Ulster Park. Art was small of stature, but in living the Christian life and practicing Christian charity, he stood very tall. He had many friends in the New York Archdiocese, especially among those in pro-life and ecumenical work. Those causes mattered deeply to him.
I met Art when I was a CNY reporter covering stories that involved the archdiocese and the Bruderhof. He always had a smile, a kind greeting and a concise comment about a story at hand and its spiritual meaning.
Art and his wife, Mary, who died in 2007, joined the Bruderhof in 1957 after embracing Christianity. The Bruderhof—the name means “Place of the Brothers”—is an international communal movement rooted in the Anabaptist tradition of the Reformation. Members imitate the early Christians by living in community and holding possessions in common. They seek to spread the Gospel and to serve God and neighbor. They oppose war and all other violence, they are strongly pro-life and they adhere to traditional Christian teaching about marriage and sexuality.
In the past few decades, the Bruderhof and the Catholic Church have engaged in dialogue, and friendships have grown among members of the two faith groups. In 1996, Cardinal John O’Connor became the first Catholic cardinal to visit a Bruderhof community. Art Wiser played a key role in bringing that visit about. I covered the event at the Woodcrest Bruderhof in Rifton, and my mother came with me. We were deeply touched by the great warmth and kindness with which we were welcomed. Afterward our friends at the Bruderhof kept in touch with us.
In 2003 the New York Archdiocese and the Bruderhof signed a joint statement on purity. Again, Art was a driving force behind the project, and he was one of the Bruderhof members who attended the signing at archdiocesan headquarters. Joyfully he told me, “We’ve been praying for this for seven years.”
Later our conversation turned to ecumenical dialogue, and Art quoted the prayer of Christ to his Father, that “they may all be one…so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”
“That has to be our ultimate longing,” Art said.
When his wife died after 65 years of marriage—they had six children—Art wrote a note to my mother and me to let us know. He told us that her death had been peaceful, and he added, “Don’t feel sorry for me. I rejoice in her joy.”
That kind of joy was evident at the service for Art on May 18. About 300 people—Bruderhof members and guests—sat on chairs on a wide, tree-shaded lawn at Maple Ridge. Speakers included Art’s son Stephen as well as Father Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R., a founder of the Franciscans of the Renewal, and Mother Agnes Mary Donovan, S.V., superior general of the Sisters of Life. Other Catholic religious orders were represented. There were reminiscences about Art, his vibrant Christian faith and his contributions to the community. There were reflections on the Gospel promise of eternal life and what it means for the faithful Christian.
Later I visited with my friends Martin and Burgel Johnson, who also belong to the Maple Ridge community. That morning, Martin had e-mailed driving directions to me. I sent a quick thank-you, not expecting a reply, but Martin e-mailed back: “I will be watching for you.”
That simple reassurance struck me deeply. It expresses so much of what “Love your neighbor” means. It’s what all of us are called to do as Christians: Take care of each other, anticipate the other’s needs, be there when help is needed, stay attentive.
That’s what Art Wiser did: He watched out for his community, his society and the wider world. In word and deed, humbly and quietly, he promoted love of Christ and love of all God’s people. Doing likewise is a perfect way to honor his memory.