September 30, 2011

‘An extraordinary archbishop for us’: Priests pay tribute to their shepherd for his spirituality, vision and legacy

Fathers Peter Marshall, from left, James Farrell, Robert Robeson and Patrick Beidelman stand and applaud Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein after he announced his early retirement for health reasons during the Sept. 21 press conference at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Fathers Peter Marshall, from left, James Farrell, Robert Robeson and Patrick Beidelman stand and applaud Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein after he announced his early retirement for health reasons during the Sept. 21 press conference at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Mary Ann Garber

Msgr. William Stumpf felt mixed emotions of pride and sadness as he sat next to Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein during a Sept. 21 press conference that announced the archbishop’s early retirement for health reasons.

“I’m just so proud of him and everything that he has accomplished,” said Msgr. Stumpf, moderator of the archdiocesan curia. “I’m so glad for him to now see all the burdens lifted from him so that he can actually go and just have some well-deserved rest and time for prayer, and go back to the place that he loves. And yet I’m filled with real sadness.

“He’s been a big part of my own personal priesthood in terms of work here at the archdiocese,” Msgr. Stumpf said, “and I also worked with him very closely for a long part of that, and I’m going to miss him terribly.”

His emotions reflected the reactions of many of the archdiocesan priests who attended the press conference at the Archbishop O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis.

The priests expressed happiness that the archbishop’s early retirement at age 73 will allow him to return to live at a place he loves—Saint Meinrad Archabbey in southern Indiana.

In mid-October, the archbishop will move back to the monastery where he professed his solemn vows as a Benedictine monk on Aug. 15, 1963, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1964.

The priests just wished that his return there wasn’t the result of the effects of a stroke he suffered in March of 2011.

“Inevitably, there’s a certain sadness today accentuated by the fact that his health condition has prompted his retirement,” said Msgr. Frederick Easton, who retired as vicar judicial of the archdiocese on July 6.

“And yet, as he said toward the end of his talk, God’s Providence is at work,” Msgr. Easton said. “… Having this illness probably made his letting go of his administrative duties and his shepherding of the Church of central and southern Indiana a lot easier because he accepts it as God’s Providence. I’m happy that he is going to Saint Meinrad, which is like a full circle for him, coming back to his original [Benedictine] vocation in a sense, but yet maintaining his vocation as bishop.”

Father John Hall was among the priests who shared their appreciation for the archbishop’s support of their ministry.

The archbishop was president and rector of the seminary when Father Hall began his priestly formation at the former Saint Meinrad College in 1972 then at the School of Theology.

Father Hall now serves as the pastor of St. Martin of Tours Parish in Martinsville and administrator of Our Lady of the Springs Parish in French Lick and Christ the King Parish in Paoli.

“I want to thank him for all that he did, all the support that he gave to me and to my brother priests,” said Father Hall, who also serves on the archdiocesan council of priests and the Catholic Charities board.

“I just wish him well in this new chapter in his life, and that he be comforted and be at peace,” Father Hall said. “He came across that way today, and I just pray and hope that continues on.”

Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, was a young priest when he was asked by Archbishop Buechlein to minister to Hispanic Catholics. He has studied the Spanish language and cultures in five Latino countries.

“When I was at Saint Meinrad, [then Father] Daniel was considered one of the best spiritual directors available,” Father O’Mara said. “He has … encouraged me to do more than I thought that I could do.”

Father O’Mara was pleased when the archbishop completed a cultural immersion and language experience in Guadalajara, Mexico, to better minister to Hispanics.

“He opened up a … relationship with the Archdiocese of Guadalajara,” Father O’Mara said. “Because of his vision, we now have a priest working here in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from Guadalajara. … Archbishop Daniel … was very supportive of our efforts to recruit young Hispanic men for seminary studies so we have two young men from St. Mary Parish that are studying.”

Father William Ernst, a retired diocesan priest, went to the seminary with Archbishop Buechlein at Saint Meinrad. They were ordained on the same day there.

“I joke to people at times that if I had known then what I know now, I would have carried his books for him,” Father Ernst said during a Sept. 21 telephone interview. “I think he’s had a good business sense. … It’s the end of an era.”

(Reporter Sean Gallagher contributed to this story.)

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