February 24, 2012

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

On the Lenten journey with present-day Apostles

Cynthia DewesBishops are the present-day versions of Christ’s Apostles. Think about that. Bishops and archbishops are to us as Peter, Andrew, James, John and the other eight Apostles were to the people of Christ’s time. As such, they inspire respect, admiration and, sometimes, awe.

Over the years, I have been fortunate to meet, work with or be inspired by five bishops of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. They began with Archbishop Paul C. Schulte, who confirmed me as an adult convert, and they continue today with Bishop Christopher J. Coyne.

Archbishop Schulte was tall, handsome, quiet and imposing. He was the kind of priest who you felt could see into your very soul, noting your faults but also recognizing your virtues. He was a great administrator with amazing foresight. At the time I met him, he was busy buying up undeveloped parcels of land along 86th Street on the north side of Indianapolis. Later, these properties became the sites of St. Augustine Home for the Aged, Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School and St. Vincent Hospital.

Archbishop George J. Biskup followed Archbishop Schulte. He was quiet, unassuming and shy. Still, he managed to create and modernize several Church agencies, although one of his decisions was unpopular with our family.

Because of declining numbers of students at the Latin School, which four of our sons attended, he ordered it closed just before our last son’s senior year. High school seminaries, including the one at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, no longer seemed tenable or useful. Today, seminary schools on the college level are in operation instead, such as Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.

Sadly, Archbishop Biskup was in poor health during the last year or so of his life.

In January 1980, Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara became Archbishop of Indianapolis. He was a large, genial Irishman given to good cheer and optimism. He brought with him experience of the wider Church, having been national director of the Society for the Propagation of the Faith and, while here, continuing to head the Church’s international Catholic Relief Services’ efforts.

Under Archbishop O’Meara, Catholic agencies of the archdiocese were consolidated and housed in the former Cathedral High School, which had moved to another location in Indianapolis. The centralization of

administration in the new Catholic Center offered efficiency and also inspiration since it was right across the street from SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in downtown Indianapolis, the central church of the archdiocese.

Following Archbishop O’Meara’s death in 1992, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was installed. A wag remarked that, “We had an Irish Setter, and now we have a German Shepherd.” The new archbishop was a Benedictine monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, a quiet and prayerful man. Until his retirement, unlike his predecessors, he wrote a popular weekly column in The Criterion.

Last year, the Vatican assigned Auxiliary Bishop Coyne to assist Archbishop Buechlein, whose health was failing. Now, since Archbishop Buechlein retired to Saint Meinrad, Bishop Coyne is the apostolic administrator of the archdiocese. You might say we have an Irish Setter again, following our German Shepherd.

Since its beginning, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis has been fortunate to have wise and spiritual leaders who understood the character and needs of the people they served. They had the “common touch” without neglecting their authority. Some bishops have been sociable, some reticent, some funny, some serious, but all were good leaders.

I like to think they must be a lot like their predecessors—Peter, Andrew and the other Apostles—good companions to have on the Lenten journey.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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