Diocesan News

Dwight native Bishop Alfred Novak dies in Brazil

Story by S.L. Hansen

(SNR) - Bishop Alfred (Alfredo) Ernest Novak, C.Ss.R, of the Diocese of Paranaguá died Dec. 3. He was 84 years old.

Originally from Assumption Parish in Dwight, Bishop Novak was the youngest child born to local banker Frank Y. Novak and his wife, Mary. The family moved to Omaha after his father’s bank failed during the Great Depression. They lived in Holy Name Parish, where Mrs. Novak attended daily Mass as often as her health and the weather allowed.

Of the six Novak children, four went into religious life. Elizabeth, the oldest, became a School Sister of Notre Dame. The two oldest sons, Francis and Henry, joined the Redemptorists in Liguori, Mo. Alfred followed them, making his profession of vows in 1951. He was ordained a priest in 1956. 

Each of the priest-brothers was called to a different mission. Alfred was sent to Brazil, where he ministered to native people along the Amazon River, traveling by boat to reach the remote communities.

He grew to love the Brazilian people. Indeed, his niece, Margaret Wagner of Cathedral of the Risen Christ Parish in Lincoln, recalled her mother teasing “Father Al” that, “He was more Brazilian than he was American because he had been away so long.”

Wagner said she remembers her uncle being “a people person” who had an abiding devotion for Our Lady and a great love for the rosary.

“He could make every single person feel special,” she said. “He had a lot of love for people.”

In 1979, Pope Saint John Paul II named Father Alfredo titular bishop of Vardimissa and auxiliary bishop of São Paulo. Ten years later, he was made the second bishop of Paranaguá. Fittingly, Bishop Novak took the motto, “Evangelizare misit Me,” which means, “He has sent me to proclaim the Good News.”

During one of his home visits, he was able to meet Bishop Fabian W. Bruskewitz in Lincoln. While chatting, Bishop Novak revealed his frustration of being unable to visit some islands off the coast of his diocese.

“He needed a boat to get there and didn’t have one,” said Bishop Bruskewitz.

Always willing to help a brother ordinary, Bishop Bruskewitz contacted a woman he knew in Milwaukee, where he served as a pastor before being named Bishop of Lincoln. Agnes Ryan was zealously devoted to Catholic missions, raising more than $1 million annually to support various programs.

Once she learned of Bishop Novak’s plight, she was able to acquire a boat in Seattle for $50,000. She also arranged to have the U.S. Navy deliver it to Bishop Novak by way of the Panama Canal.

Understanding the importance of raising children in the faith, Bishop Novak – locally known as Dom Alfredo – established a Catholic school in his diocese. He also worked to have the chapel of Our Lady of Rocio established as a shrine, as there is a great devotion to Our Lady of Rocio in Brazil.

Dom Alfredo remained devoted to the poorest of the poor, finding creative and practical ways to help each person or family. For example, when caretakers were needed for the diocesan retreat house, he hired the parents of one of the religious sisters in the diocese, a couple who was in desperate need of income.

Shortly afterward, the couple’s son became gravely ill with a hereditary disease. Bishop Novak personally drove the child and his mother to a hospital in Campina Grande to ensure the boy would be properly treated. The boy is now a grown man with a family of his own.

Until Bishop Novak was made bishop of Paranaguá, the entire region was served by missionary priests. He began raising up diocesan priests out of the local population. These priests and many seminarians were part of the Masses celebrated for Dom Alfredo’s soul in the seven days following his death.

Bishop Novak served his diocese for 17 years before Pope Benedict XVI accepted his retirement in 2006. He returned to the states several more times for home visits, and once for a specialized cardiac operation, but he never stopped serving the Brazilian people.

“He kind of belongs to them,” Wagner said. “They did love him.”

As is customary, Bishop Novak was buried at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary in Paranaguá.

On behalf of the Redemptorist Missionaries, Father Joaquim Parron, C.Ss.R., expressed “strong feelings” in regards to Bishop Novak’s passing.

“[P]raise the good Lord for sending this apostolic man to evangelize in Brazilian territory, as a missionary and as a bishop in São Paulo and especially in the Diocese of Paranaguá. We praise the Lord for the life and mission of this man of God among us,” he wrote.

Father Parron continued, “Don Alfredo preached with us and will stay at the heart of every person who knew him. Herein we join with our dear diocesan Bishop João Alve, O.F.M.Cap., with the clergy and all the people of God in this evangelizing spirit that Don Alfredo left for us!”

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