July 25, 2008

50 years of devotion

Father Munshower finds joy in being present to people

Father William Munshower welcomes longtime friends and family members to his 50th anniversary Mass on the feast of Pentecost on May 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis, where he served as pastor from 1994 to 2006. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

Father William Munshower welcomes longtime friends and family members to his 50th anniversary Mass on the feast of Pentecost on May 10 at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Indianapolis, where he served as pastor from 1994 to 2006. (Photo by Mary Ann Wyand)

(Editor’s note: Six archdiocesan priests are celebrating their 50-year jubilees in 2008. This week, we feature Fathers Harold Ripperger and William Munshower. We will feature Fathers Herman Lutz and Joseph McNally in an upcoming issue of The Criterion.)

By John Shaughnessy

During his 50 years as a priest, Father William Munshower has marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., supporting the civil rights movement.

He has strolled through the hallways of schools in the parishes where he was the pastor, stopping to talk and joke with children before he made his way to the eighth-grade classroom where he taught the students the 23rd Psalm.

In 50 years of celebrating baptisms, first Communions and weddings, he has maintained a firm approach to photographs being taken in church during those sacraments, an approach that he sums up simply, “It’s OK, as long as I’m in them.”

One of his longtime parish secretaries described Father Munshower’s personal touch when her husband died of a heart attack while she was out of state: “He took care of everything for me. He’s a very good man and a man of God.”

On St. Patrick’s Day, this priest who often has a glint of Irish mischief in his eyes usually can be found at the parade in downtown Indianapolis, one of his regular stops in a full day of celebrating his Irish heritage at different Irish establishments where most people know his name and smile when they see him.

He is a priest who has been known to walk in protest against abortion and the death penalty, a priest who has traveled around the archdiocese to cheer the sports teams of his parish schools.

All those images are the essence of the approach that Father Munshower has brought to his priesthood for five decades: “If I could say one thing to young priests, it would be, ‘Be present.’ Let others do the directing and the planning. It’s very important to be present. If you believe in your priesthood, you’re bringing a ‘grace’ quality to the gathering that no one else has been ordained to do.”

In his 50 years as a priest, Father Munshower has spent nearly all of his time in parishes, including St. Paul Parish in Tell City, St. Agnes Parish in Nashville and Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis. He served as the pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis from 1994 to 2006. Since then, he has worked as the chaplain of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, the school where his journey to become a priest essentially started.

“I admired the priests and brothers at Cathedral,” said Father Munshower, a 1950 graduate who was the president of his class during his junior and senior years. “They were generous, exciting—the kind of people I wanted to be. One of the great priests in many of our lives was Father George Powers. He was a priest ahead of his time. He was into social justice, social action.”

Now, it’s Father Munshower’s turn to help shape the direction and the faith of students at Cathedral.

“I want to help them have a lifelong commitment to the Lord and the Church, and contribute to their lifelong faith,” he says. “I’m convinced at this point in my life that faith is our life kit, our parachute. Having faith is going to be so essential for young people to meet the challenges they will face.”

He also wants to convey to young people that their faith should be a joyful experience—the kind of experience he has had personally since returning to Cathedral.

“It’s just been wonderful,” he says. “It’s the people there and being present to them in the halls, the chapel, on the football field, the basketball court and the volleyball court. It’s enjoying the company of their parents and families, too, who seem so appreciative of my attention to their children. It’s a community. And I’m a part of that. I’m the spiritual director. The marvelous thing about our Catholic schools is that they are communities.”

Creating that sense of community has always been at the heart of Father Munshower’s priesthood, says his longtime friend, Kitty Jenkins.

“He loves people for themselves,” says Jenkins, who also was a member of Father Munshower’s staff during his time as pastor of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish. “He never finds anyone to be boring. He’ll ask them where they came from, who their grandparents are, where they live. He gets them excited about who they are. It’s wonderful to see how he loves people. He pays attention to them. He gives them his time.”

His giving doesn’t stop there.

“He’s the one person that people would find to be most compassionate, most caring,” Jenkins says. “Even if they try to pull the wool over his eyes, he’ll help them because of his highly compassionate nature.”

Reaching out to people and being a part of their lives is a legacy that Father Munshower willingly embraces. Here’s how he describes the most satisfying part of being a priest:

“Being a part of a Christian gathering, having a hand in the gathering and participating in that gathering, whether it be in the Eucharist or a parish picnic. A priest comes together with people and inspires them, encourages them and prays with them. I think of myself in those terms.”

More about Father William Munshower

Age: 76

Parents: Glenn and Katherine (Ashcraft) Munshower

Parishes where he grew up: Holy Cross Parish and St. Anthony Parish, both in Indianapolis

Education: 1950 graduate of Cathedral High School in Indianapolis then attended St. John’s University in Minnesota for two years and Saint Meinrad Seminary for six years

Hobbies: Reading, playing cards and gardening. “I love to garden. There’s a certain feeling of independence about growing your own stuff and watching it grow.”

Favorite Scripture verse: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad” (Ps 118:24).

Favorite author: C.S. Lewis. “He was very refreshing and inspiring.” †

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