Main Site Navigation
(Editor’s note: In conjunction with the Year for Priests, The Criterion is publishing a monthly feature titled “Faithful Fathers.” Click here for previous installments in the series)
MADISON—Twenty-five years have passed, but the tragedy still shapes the priesthood of Father John Meyer as he cares for the faithful in many ways in this southern Indiana community.
The tragedy unfolded on Aug. 31, 1985, when an early morning fire spread through the rectory of St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight and killed the beloved pastor, Father Richard Smith, and two friends who were visiting him, Father William Fisher and Father Kenneth Smith.
Just ordained in 1982, Father Meyer was assigned to be the administrator of the parish following the tragic loss—his first assignment in leading a parish. It was a daunting challenge considering the circumstances and the fact that Father Meyer had a fear of speaking in public.
“With the people grieving for their pastor and worrying about their future, I started to worry less about how scared I was as a young priest,” he recalls. “I left the podium that day, stood with the people and said, ‘My heart is with you. I’ll do my best to let go of my own insecurities and be there for you.’
“That’s what I want to be as a pastor. My focus is to love them. While I know that sounds simplistic or a very common Gospel theme, that’s pretty much my daily prayer—that I be nourished with God’s love, and that I can take that gift of love to whoever I met that day and whoever I serve that day.”
That approach continues to guide the 54-year-old priest today as he serves the archdiocese in multiple roles—the pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison and Most Sorrowful Mother of God Parish in Vevay, chaplain of Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison, dean of the Seymour Deanery, and the priest who attends to the spiritual needs of students at Hanover College in Hanover.
A native of southern Indiana who has served most of his priesthood in that part of the archdiocese, Father Meyer recently received an Honored Alumnus Award from the parish and school of his youth—St. Mary of the Immaculate Conception Parish in Aurora.
Life in the fast lane—“I drove a sports car until I was assigned to Starlight. I always felt the need for speed. I’d mention that sometimes in my homilies. The parishioners at Most Sorrowful Mother of God picked up on it and gave me the gift of 30 laps on the Kentucky Speedway in the Richard Petty Driving School. I got up to 150 miles per hour over 30 laps. It was intense, a real thrill. I’d like to do it again.”
Closeness of family—“I’m lucky to have my mom [Ruth] in the parish and the youngest of my three sisters [Carla] in the parish. And I’m close to her two daughters, Abbey and Audrey. I don’t have a lot of time to spend with them, but it’s nice to have them close.”
The joy of ministering to young people at Shawe and Hanover—“Early on in my priesthood, I was worried about how to relate to young people. But I feel very comfortable ministering to them. I’m always thinking back to how I felt in high school and as a young adult in college. I want them to feel they can talk to me about their day-to-day struggles and their lives. I want to make them feel the Church is theirs, and to have a role in it.”
Coming full circle in the faith—“If I was to pin down a sacramental moment, it was in my junior year of high school. My uncle, Father Benedict Meyer, was in the missions in Peru and Brazil for most of his priesthood. That summer, he took me and my cousin, Benny, down to Mexico City. We drove down there. We got to serve Mass in the original Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. That was cool.
“Over the years, I’ve been here [and connected to Shawe], we’ve done lots of mission trips to Mexico with our youths and adults. As a priest, I’ve been able to go back there and show the kids the new basilica. I celebrate Mass with them in a little chapel.”
His most unusual job—“After my senior year in high school, things got confusing for me as far as my future. I took a year off and worked most of that time for the Aurora Casket Company. As I say all the time, that job kind of died out.”
Pivotal moment in his vocation—“I was still kind of lost after that year. I went back to St. Mary’s and talked to Father Harold Ripperger about helping out at the parish. I painted and did some janitorial work. It was during that summer that I started thinking about Saint Meinrad and the seminary. A friend was talking about it, and I thought I’d check it out.
“On my birthday—July 21, 1974—my mom and dad and I went to visit Saint Meinrad. Archbishop Daniel [Buechlein]—Father Daniel then—was the only one in the office on that summer day. I asked him what I should do about coming to the seminary. I really fell in love with Saint Meinrad and the atmosphere there.”
Defining qualities of Catholics in the southern part of the archdiocese—“They’re self-sufficient, they’re independent, they’re close to one another, and they look out for one another.”
Special interests—“Due to a recent failed foot surgery, many of the things I like to do, I can’t do now. In the summer, I like to jet-ski. In the winter, I like to snow ski. On a regular basis, I like to listen to a variety of music. I’ve had some fun with scuba diving, too. The priesthood has enabled me to participate in a lot of awesome activities.”
Favorite activity as a priest—“I love the Sunday Mass, daily Mass, any Mass. Celebrating the Eucharist is just life-giving for all of us. It makes me realize my calling is authentic.” †