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On March 2, during a quiet, prayerful celebration at Saint Meinrad Archabbey in St. Meinrad, surrounded by a few close friends and his Benedictine brothers in monastic life, Indianapolis Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated 25 years as a bishop. It was a rare opportunity to look back on the many moments of grace that the archbishop experienced in his service to the Church during the past quarter century.
Daniel Mark Buechlein, a monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, was ordained a bishop and installed as Bishop of Memphis, Tenn., on March 2, 1987.
Five years later, Pope John Paul II appointed him Archbishop of Indianapolis, and he was installed here on Sept. 9, 1992.
Nineteen years later, on Sept. 21, 2011, Pope Benedict XVI accepted Archbishop Buechlein's resignation for reasons of health.
The Criterion's photo essay in the March 2 issue brought back wonderful memories and illustrated many of the thematic highlights of Archbishop Buechlein's episcopal ministry. Here are just a few of the defining characteristics of the archbishop's service.
• He was—and still is—a man of prayer. On the day of his ordination as bishop 25 years ago, he told the standing room only gathering at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Memphis that his first duty was to pray for and with his people. Twenty-five years later, this remains Archbishop Buechlein's top priority.
• He was—and still is—a teacher. The archbishop frequently refers to the personal message he received from Pope John Paul II at the time he was appointed bishop. "He asked me to pay special attention to my responsibility as a teacher," the archbishop recalled. "I take this responsibility seriously." In his "Seeking the Face of the Lord" columns, his homilies, and in many talks, pastoral letters and publications, Archbishop Buechlein has consistently dedicated himself to teaching the Catholic faith as it has been handed down to us by the Apostles and their successors for the past 2,000 years.
• He was—and still is—a witness to the Gospel in his words and his example. There has never been any question about Archbishop Buechlein's position on the sanctity of human life or the value of a Catholic education, especially for children in poverty.
The archbishop's personal support for vocations and seminary formation, for the work of Catholic Charities, for ministry to youths and young adults, for the centrality of worship and the sacraments, and for the stewardship of all God's gifts has always been evident in his episcopal ministry.
Now Archbishop Buechlein's witness has shifted, and he has been called to show us what it means to grow older and suffer serious physical infirmities without losing hope.
In this, the archbishop is following in the footsteps of Blessed John Paul II, Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, and many other holy men and women who teach humility and acceptance by their ability to "let go" of the demands of active ministry and "let God" work in and through their suffering.
• Archbishop Buechlein was—and still is—a Benedictine monk who observes the vows of obedience, stability and conversion of life. He is a priest wholly dedicated to the Eucharist and to pastoral ministry, and he is a bishop who carries on the work of the Apostles through his prayer, teaching and participation in the pastoral governance of God's people, the Church.
Highlights of Archbishop Buechlein's ministry to the Church in central and southern Indiana surely include "Celebration in the Spirit of Hope: The Great Jubilee" Mass at the former RCA Dome in September 2000, and the canonization of St. Theodora Guérin, foundress of the Sisters of Providence of Saint-Mary of the Woods, in October 2006.
But there have also been many quiet moments—moments of grace—the archbishop calls them. Moments of prayer, moments of joy, moments of healing and moments of comfort during times of frustration, pain or sorrow.
God has blessed the Church with Archbishop Buechlein's 25 years of episcopal ministry.
God willing, may we experience many more of these moments of grace in the years to come.
"Ad multos annos"—to many years!
(Daniel Conway is a consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc., and led the archdiocese's Office of Stewardship and Development from 1993-97.) †