Nothing can quench firefighter’s flame of faith

Each month, The Central Minnesota Catholic will feature a story about a modern-day “Good Samaritan” from the diocese — someone who exhibits the work of the Gospel through their life and service, and who exemplifies the teachings in Pope Francis’ newest encyclical, “Fratelli Tutti.” This month’s Good Samaritan is Bruce Gerads of All Saints Parish in Holdingford.

As assistant fire chief, Bruce Gerads may put out fires but nothing can quench his flame of faith.

It was his daughter’s plea that rescued him. And his friend who turned up the heat. But the blaze of God’s glory that followed was something he never expected.

Bruce Gerads, member of All Saints Parish in Holdingford, is assistant fire chief in his community. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Bruce Gerads grew up in Freeport in a solid Catholic family. Because they lived near the church and school, he was often called to serve at funeral Masses. He also helped his dad dig graves in the parish cemetery. He attended the Catholic school for six years before enrolling in Melrose Public Schools.

After high school, he attended St. Cloud Technical College for auto mechanics and met his wife, Charlene, who was studying to be a medical transcriptionist. When they were engaged, they began to look for a place to call home. Bruce’s dad suggested the Holdingford area.

“We jumped in the car, pulled into town, saw a house for sale, drove up and bought it,” Bruce said. “And we’ve been there ever since.”

At first, they didn’t really know anyone in town. Bruce, whose father is a retired firefighter, decided joining the local fire and rescue was a way to get involved in the community. So he joined the team.

Despite their Catholic upbringing, he and his wife had somewhat fallen away from the Church as some young adults do and considered themselves “Chreasters,” attending Mass only at Christmas and Easter. But as their family grew, they wanted faith to be part of their four children’s lives. The kids attended faith formation and participated in the local youth group.

About 11 years ago, their oldest daughter, Chelsey, approached Bruce to chaperone a youth group trip that she and her older brother, Brent, wanted to attend.

“My life was a lot different then than it is today,” Bruce said. “My life revolved around fixing cars. I went to work in the morning, came home in the evening, drove into my garage and started working on cars. About 10 o’clock, I’d go inside and take a shower, eat and go to bed. Then I was back up at 5 a.m. working on cars until it was time to go to work. I did that six days a week and on the seventh day, I cleaned the shop so I was ready for the next week. I never even saw my family.”

Bruce carries his faith every day in all that he does. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

Bruce said everything had become a blur. That was when Chelsey approached him about chaperoning the youth trip to a Steubenville Catholic youth conference held in St. Paul.

Gloria Brinker, the youth leader at All Saints Parish in Holdingford, knew Bruce from working on her car.

“She told me that she thought I’d be a good fit for a male chaperone. She was one of my customers so she knew me pretty well. I told her I just didn’t have the time. She said, ‘You need to make some time, because if you don’t, it’s all going to be gone and meaningless.’ That just turned my whole life upside down,” Bruce said.

On top of that, his marriage was struggling.

“I didn’t have God, I didn’t have anything directing me, and it was just a really bad deal,” he said.

Feeling like he was on the brink of something, he decided to go on the youth trip.

“What else did I have to lose? I might as well go on this trip and at least spend some time with my kids,” he thought.

Bruce assumed he was just along to make sure everyone stayed safe. He didn’t think he would be asked to participate and he had no idea what would happen next.

[perfectpullquote align=”full” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”14″ size=””]“Your good deeds don’t get you to heaven. You have to know God to get there. If you have him, good deeds are easy.” — Bruce Gerads[/perfectpullquote]

“In one of the sessions, they asked, ‘How many adults here really know what your backyard looks like?’ It hit me that I had no idea what my backyard looked like. The speaker said, ‘If you don’t know what your backyard looks like, if you’re not taking in the beauty around you, then you’re the problem.’ That really hit me,” Bruce said.

When he came home from the trip, he pulled right into the backyard and took a good look around.

“I couldn’t believe it. It was beautiful. [My wife] had put in apple trees and she was there doing the flowers. I walked up and gave her a hug. I told her about my 180-degree turnaround and she said, ‘That’s for today, let’s see about tomorrow.’ But it never stopped. I continued going to church, loving the Church, and really turned my life around,” Bruce said.

He attended many more youth group trips, some with his younger daughters, Marissa and Kendra.

“Gloria kept me pretty busy. That’s what got me back to the Lord,” he said.

Bruce’s faith was reignited when he chaperoned his daughter’s trip to a Steubenville youth conference in St. Paul. (Dianne Towalski/The Central Minnesota Catholic)

All along, he had been serving on the fire and rescue squad, but that, too, ignited a new spark when his faith life changed. Now, with 24 years on the team, when a call comes in, he prays. He prays on the way to the call. And he often prays on scene.

“I carry my faith with me every day, in all that I do,” Bruce said. “And I know I’m not the only one out there that does this. I want people to know that there are people who are willing to get up in the middle of the night not only to save their lives but to pray for their souls.”

What makes Bruce a Good Samaritan? He literally kneels on the side of the road with those who are wounded and afraid, and he is sometimes there at the very moment their soul leaves their body. In one instance, he visited a family the day after an accident.

“That’s a long driveway to go down when someone has lost their son,” he said. “The mother of the victim said she wanted to know what happened. I said, ‘I don’t really think you do but all I’m going to tell you, and I think this is really what you want to know, is that your son was with me and I was with him and I prayed for his soul before he passed on. I stayed with him as long as I could. He didn’t die alone. And hopefully that’s comforting to you.’ She gave me a hug. To them that was everything to know that someone was there to pray for his soul.”

When the call comes in, the first responders go, no matter what. They don’t care who it is, every life matters, and they go.

“When my pager goes off I could be doing anything,” Bruce said. “I could be cutting grass, I could be eating supper, I could be at my kid’s birthday party. When the call comes, you drop it all and you leave. Sometimes there are 25-30 people who show up. That many people wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning, race out into the cold, and it doesn’t matter what the call is. It could be anything from shortness of breath to something much worse. And we all show up. Talk about Good Samaritans. These people on the team are the real Good Samaritans.

“We are out there to save lives, of course, but if they can’t be saved, we still have the chance to save the soul. That’s the biggest reason I’m out there,” he added.

Do you know a Good Samaritan? Email us at and tell us about them!

To learn more about Pope Francis’ encyclical “Fratelli Tutti,” visit

Author: Kristi Anderson

Kristi Anderson is the editor of The Central Minnesota Catholic Magazine for the Diocese of St. Cloud.

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