Father Robert Weiss, or Father Bob to those who know him, grew up in North St. Louis, the second of four children. His father was the owner of a hardware store and Father Bob worked at this father's store during his childhood and adolescence. "I think my father would have liked for me and my brother to have taken over the store," Father Bob said. However, Father Bob focused on his studies in high school, attending a Jesuit school on a scholarship. "This was during the Great Depression, so being able to go to high school with the help of a scholarship was very helpful to my family," he said. He enjoyed high school and thrived academically. In 1943, at the age of 18, he entered into the Army about to embark on one of his most difficult lessons.
After boot camp at Jefferson Barracks, he was selected to continue his education at the University of Kansas with the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP). "I was only there seven and half months when the whole training group was reassigned to the Rainbow Division," Father Bob said. "So, I was off to Camp Gruber."
He was assigned to a heavy weapons company. One day his duties, while the other men in the company did field training, were to stay behind and act as a fireguard. "I had to clean the toilets and do other maintenance," Father Bob remembered. While he was doing these tasks one day, a sergeant from personnel showed up. "He asked me if I could type and write in shorthand. I really couldn't do either, but he said that I would do. From then on, I did all the paper work for our company and the first sergeant," he said.
Father Bob said that his company was part of a wave of replacement soldiers that was sent over to Europe in an attempt to fill the void of those seasoned soldiers that were fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. When they reached Strasbourg, Father's Bob's boss left his assignment for officer training. His vacancy in the 222nd Company M was filled by Father Bob. At the age of 20, Father Bob became the youngest first sergeant in the regiment and was suddenly in charge of 150 men. "I was in charge of keeping everyone in line and giving them things to do," Father Bob said. "Mostly, I felt like I had to keep everyone safe."
Father Bob remembered that the first mail he received from home was on Christmas Day 1944. "It sure was a nice distraction to get a little piece of home," he said of receiving the letters. "Getting reminders that life was still going on at home kept many of us going during tough times." Father Bob said it was hard missing a lot of the comforts from home, including something so simple as taking a shower. "I think it was 73 days before we were able to take a shower after arriving in Europe," he said. "The Germans could probably smell us!"
The war progressed, and Father Bob and Company M continued to move through southern Germany and were near Austria when the war was finally declared over. "We were all just so thrilled that the war was over," he said. It was after the war, before his company moved to Vienna, that Father Bob was able to take leave to England. "That was a lot of fun," he remembered.
When Father Bob returned home from the Army, he followed a calling he'd had since high school and entered studies for the priesthood. He received his PhD in education and educational psychology in 1964 from the University of Minnesota.
Father Bob built a career in education administration, as Dean of Rockhurst College (now University) 1964 to 1972, President of St. Louis University High School, 1972 to 1977, and then back to Rockhurst University as President, 1977 to 1988. He has also leant his time to a variety of community organizations, serving on many boards both nationally and now internationally. Father Bob travels to Belize a few times a year as a member of the board at St. John's College. He has served terms as president and national chaplain of the Rainbow Veterans Association.
"I remember we had stopped for a bite to eat one day in a village," Father Bob said during his annual Catholic Mass at the National 42nd Reunion in New Orleans this past July. "I saw a buddy of mine sitting on the steps of a building and I joined him." As Father Bob walked away from him, a mortar went off, killing his buddy. "I had a hard time understanding why this had not happened to me, and why I had been spared," Father Bob said quietly. "In the end though, I had to rely on my faith to get me through." During his time in the 42nd Rainbow, Father Bob was awarded the Bronze Star, the Combat Infantry Badge and two Battle Stars.
It was that same faith that helped Father Bob recover from open heart surgery on May 7, 2010. "I wasn't feeling so well before the surgery, but I do feel great now," he declared as he sat in the hospitality room at the hotel in New Orleans with a big smile on his face as he mingled with his Army buddies. For anyone who has had the privilege of knowing Father Bob knows that his smile never seems out of place. "I am just so happy to be here."
In August 2010, Father Bob celebrated his 86th birthday and, with his health in good shape, he has no plans on slowing down.