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(Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Year for Priests, The Criterion is publishing a monthly feature titled “Faithful Fathers.” We plan to profile a priest from each deanery during the next three months.)
Born in Richmond, he grew up in St. Mary Parish there, attended St. Mary School and graduated from the former Saint Meinrad High School in St. Meinrad.
He studied theology at the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, the former St. Mary College in Lebanon, Ky., and St. Maur Seminary in South Union, Ky., then was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 6, 1962, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church.
Vatican Council II priest—During a March 10 interview in his office at St. Christopher Parish, Father Lawler talked about his ordination to the priesthood at the time of the Second Vatican Council in Rome.
“I’m proud of the fact that I was clearly a Vatican Council II priest,” he said, “and I let everybody know that.”
Father Lawler smiled as he paged through a bound volume of the council’s decrees, which he keeps with his other reference books.
“These are beautiful documents,” he said. “They are very easy to read. The Church changed dramatically during the 1960s. Vatican Council II changed everything from the liturgy to involvement by the laity to ecumenism.
“That was clearly the most exciting time of my priesthood—the ’60s and early ’70s—because we were implementing and catechizing and helping our people with this new way of understanding the Church,” Father Lawler recalled. “Father Raymond Bosler [who served as a council adviser for Archbishop Schulte] would come back from Rome and tell us about it. He told us, ‘We’re going to have Mass in English.’ I said, ‘Are you serious?’ And he said, ‘Yes. It’s going to happen.’ ”
Pope John XXIII, who convened the Second Vatican Council, is one of Father Lawler’s heroes in the Church.
Focus on racial equality—The 1960s were historic years for the international Catholic Church with the Vatican Council, and historic years for the civil rights movement in the United States.
“We are all created in the image of God,” Father Lawler said. “We are all equal. I don’t think we ought to look at a person’s skin color. I think we ought to be color-blind. … Priests are supposed to preach the Gospel, and I did that.”
In 1965, while he was serving as associate pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis, Father Lawler and several other priests responded to Father Raymond Bosler’s invitation to march in support of racial equality with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, Ala.
“We were only there for 24 hours,” Father Lawler said. “We stood with thousands of people to see Martin Luther King. He came in an armored car, surrounded by federal marshals, to the black part of Selma where the marchers had assembled. There were no paved streets. We couldn’t get in the chapel, but they had speakers set up outside. He gave a beautiful talk, a very moving talk. It could not have been any more electrifying than a papal audience. That’s how excited we were. He was saying what needed to be said to this country.”
Participating in that civil rights march changed his priestly ministry, Father Lawler said, because he felt called to preach the Gospel message of equality.
Years later, while serving as the pastor of Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Indianapolis, he marched for racial equality again with other priests and Protestant ministers outside a segregated swimming club then later testified in a federal deposition on behalf of a discrimination lawsuit related to the club’s restrictive membership.
Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter, a former archbishop of Indianapolis, is another Church hero, Father Lawler said, because he integrated the Catholic schools in Indianapolis and St. Louis.
Two priests in the family—Father Lawler’s older brother, Richard, also answered God’s call to the diocesan priesthood.
“Dick went to the seminary first then a couple of years later I decided that I wanted to go,” Father Lawler said. “I never felt any pressure from my mom or dad to become a priest. I wanted to be a priest.”
Father Richard Lawler was the pastor of St. Mark the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis at the time of his illness and then his death on Aug. 9, 2001.
During his nine-year battle with cancer as well as after his death, many diocesan priests and lay people supported the Lawler family with prayers, which still means a lot to Father David Lawler.
“His priests’ support group and all his parishioners prayed for him,” Father Lawler said. “Having a brother who was a priest helped immensely in my ministry. We concelebrated Mass together at times, and I enjoyed that. I had great respect for him.”
Parish ministries—Father Lawler enjoyed his early pastoral assignments at St. Andrew the Apostle Parish, St. Joan of Arc Parish and Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, all in Indianapolis, and St. Ann Parish in Terre Haute as well as 21 years of ministry as the Catholic chaplain at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, the state’s largest hospital.
“I enjoy helping people in their everyday lives,” he said. “I love being a parish priest, and I love being at St. Christopher Parish. I’m very happy here.”
Prayer life—“My prayer life is focused with my parishioners,” Father Lawler said. “I love to celebrate the Eucharist and be with people in prayer. I love the Scriptures, and enjoy meditative prayer on the [daily] readings. … The priest works in the person of Christ. I firmly believe that, whether you know it or not, God is here.” †