By Dave Schleck, Daily Press
Tuesday, Feb. 15, 2000
NEWPORT NEWS - Kevin Wright was hungry, and Father Bob fed
Bessie Powers was sick, and Father Bob cared for her.
Lisa Porter needed shoes, and Father Bob found a pair for
Some of the neediest people of Newport News are mourning
the loss of the Rev. Robert Steilberg, who died Friday after
a sudden illness. He served St. Paul's Episcopal Church in
downtown Newport News for about six years.
A block away from St. Paul's Church on Monday, people gathered
for a free lunch at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church on
33rd Street and talked about the 68-year-old minister they
knew as "Father Bob." They described a man who was a living
example of Jesus' words:
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. ... I
was a stranger and you invited me in. (Matthew 25:35)
Father Bob's heart was bigger than a church building, said
Kevin Wright, a homeless man who sought help from the minister
about four years ago. "The first time," Wright recalls, "I
didn't have anything to eat. And he fed me. The second time,
I was on drugs, and he sent me to get treatment. I've been
at his home. I laughed with him and ate a meal at his table."
I was sick and you looked after me. (Matthew 25:36)
"I will never forget him," said 79-year-old Bessie Powers,
who used to ask Father Bob tough questions -- like why God
let her survive two strokes. "He said the Lord kept us here
for a reason," she said. "He called me Ms. Bessie. He didn't
I needed clothes and you clothed me. (Matthew 25:36)
Lisa Porter came to Father Bob last week, needing shoes so
she would look good for a court appointment. "He opened up
the clothes closet at the church," Porter said. "He offered
to call the judge on my case to tell him I was on the right
track. He was a very good man. He's going to be missed."
The Rev. Steilberg earned the respect of his peers in the
ministry, said the Rev. Pamela Webb, an Episcopal priest in
Smithfield. "Bob, he didn't just talk about what the Gospel
commands us to do -- he really did it," Webb said. "He reached
out to people that society usually classified as outcasts."
Steilberg spoke openly about the challenge of opening up
the church to the poor while at the same time respecting the
needs of longtime congregation members. A ministry partner
with his wife -- the Rev. Isabel Steilberg, who is rector
of the parish -- Father Bob started several outreach programs,
including a weekly "Good Friday" party at the church to keep
recovering addicts from spending their paychecks on drugs.
He started a "Christ Over Cocaine" program and volunteered
for Freedom House, an inner-city ministry in Richmond. Father
Bob was an active participant in the homeless shelter program
of the Living Interfaith Network (LINK), a Newport News-based
Participants in a meeting of the Episcopal Diocese of Southern
Virginia in Williamsburg last weekend read a statement honoring
the Rev. Steilberg.
St. Paul's Church parishioner Cathy Penfield said she would
remember Steilberg for his meaningful sermons and caring attitude.
"I was born and raised at St. Paul's," said Penfield, who
is 42. "I've always loved my minister. But Father Bob and
Isabel are the first ministers that I've ever really been
able to relate to."
The Rev. Steilberg was checked into the hospital Thursday
and died of multiple health problems just before noon on Friday,
according to friends of the family.
Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance,
the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
Wright, one of the many people who seek food and shelter
from St. Paul's Church, said he hopes God rewards Father Bob's
generous spirit. "If there's any such thing as a better place,
a heaven, Father Bob is there," Wright said.
A funeral service for the Rev. Steilberg was held at 3 p.m.
on February 15 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 221 34th Street,
Newport News. The Rt. Rev. Donald Hart, assistant to the bishop
of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, was the celebrant. The
Rt. Rev. Frank Vest, retired bishop of the diocese, delivered
The Rev. Steilberg was buried at 11 a.m. Wednesday, February
16, in Wicomico Episcopal Church Cemetery in Northumberland