August 9, 2013

Love of history helped priest through 50 years of ministry

In this file photo, retired Father Clifford Vogelsang elevates a chalice during an April 2010 Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

In this file photo, retired Father Clifford Vogelsang elevates a chalice during an April 2010 Mass in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

(Editor’s note: Two archdiocesan priests are celebrating their 50-year jubilees in 2013. This week, we feature Father Clifford Vogelsang.)

By Sean Gallagher

From an early age, retired Father Clifford Vogelsang has nurtured a love of history.

“I think the first book I read was a child’s biography of Abraham Lincoln,” said Father Vogelsang, 76.

But in the 50 years that he has lived and ministered as a priest, Father Vogelsang has more than just studied history—he’s been a part of it.

He was ordained a priest on May 5, 1963—just months after the conclusion of the first session of the Second Vatican Council.

In his first years as a priest, Father Vogelsang witnessed up close the years—at times exciting and at times tumultuous—during and immediately after the council.

His love and knowledge of history, he said, helped him navigate through those often stormy years.

“I can see pretty well how things have come about and have a fairly good idea of how things are going,” Father Vogelsang said. “Having that sense of history has been a big aid to me. I’ve been able to keep things in perspective without running off in one extreme or another.”

He grew up in the 1940s at St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis and said that its pastor at the time, Msgr. Clement Bosler, and associate pastor, Father William Morley, helped open his heart and mind to a priestly vocation. So did his parents.

“They didn’t push it, but they encouraged it,” Father Vogelsang said.

He entered Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad in 1951 as a high school freshman. In the years leading up to Vatican II after Blessed John XXIII called for it in 1958, Father Vogelsang said that the seminary’s rector, Benedictine Father Theodore Heck, helped prepare him and his fellow seminarians for the historic council.

“I think Father Theodore did a good job in keeping us informed,” Father Vogelsang said. “I think he was very open to things. He didn’t agree with some things, but he was open. He listened. And I think he was a rather holy man.”

For the first nine years after his ordination, Father Vogelsang was a history instructor at the former Latin School in Indianapolis, a high school seminary operated by the archdiocese from 1955-78.

Father Rick Ginther, pastor of St. Patrick Parish and St. Margaret Mary Parish, both in Terre Haute, was one of Father Vogelsang’s students at the Latin School. He said that Father Vogelsang “set me on fire for history.”

“By opening up history in a way that I could truly appreciate it, he began to open up for me a full appreciation of the priesthood, of the life of the Church, the history of the Church,” Father Ginther said, “and how important knowing where we have been is to understanding where we are and therefore to know where we can go.”

This love of history has helped Father Ginther in practical ways in leading the various parishes where he has ministered.

“One of the first things that I do going into a parish is listen [and] learn,” Father Ginther said. “I want to know the history of the place, of the people. I listen to their life stories.”

Father Ginther also appreciates how Father Vogelsang did groundbreaking work in the 1970s and early 1980s in the three parishes that now make up the Richmond Catholic Community by helping them to combine their grade schools and other educational programs.

“I saw that it could work and that’s because Cliff helped make it work,” Father Ginther said. “And that comes over here to the Terre Haute Deanery with what we’re doing with our deanery plan and the fact that I have two parishes.”

Father Vogelsang said that the efforts he helped lead to combine the educational ministries of the Richmond parishes “laid the foundation” for the highly integrated manner in which the three faith communities today live out their entire mission.

While he helped pave the way for changes in parish structures decades before they became commonplace, Father Vogelsang looks back with appreciation on the ministry he did one-on-one with individual parishioners in the various faith communities where he has been assigned.

“You can see God’s grace at work in people and see people move along [closer to God],” he said. “You can also see people rejecting God’s grace. And that’s not so happy.

“It makes one grateful for the grace that God has given us.”

Ann Northam is grateful for the 14 years that she ministered with Father Vogelsang at St. Augustine Parish in Jeffersonville.

“Father Cliff had a very quiet and humble way. He was very intelligent and up on things,” said Northam, who still serves as St. Augustine’s director of religious education. “You never knew, because of his quiet, gentlemanly manner, that he could be so much fun. He had a dry sense of humor. Things would seem very serious and then all of a sudden, he’d throw in a zinger.”

One particular memory of Father Vogelsang, though, still brings tears of gratitude to Northam’s eyes.

“When my mother-in-law died, I found her. It was on the feast of the Assumption,” she said. “Right after Mass, Father came. He stayed with us.” She paused and added with emotion, “It was like you knew Christ was there.”

Although ministering as a seminary instructor and in parish ministry across the archdiocese has been life-giving for Father Vogelsang, when he looks back over his 50 years as a priest, he simply said, “I’m a survivor.”

“I think, for my generation, that’s a big thing,” Father Vogelsang said. “So many of the men ordained in my period left. That was very discouraging at times. And, in the long run, it added to the workload.”

When he retired in 2007, Father Vogelsang willingly took up part of that workload by frequently assisting in various parishes by celebrating Mass and hearing confession.

“I think sacramentally I probably do more work now than I did as a pastor,” he said.

When asked why he wanted to continue to keep up a busy schedule in retirement, Father Vogelsang replied, “I think it’s better to wear out than to rust out.”

He credits his own stubbornness as part of the reason why he remained a priest when so many others left ordained ministry.

“Honestly, I think that [stubbornness] helped me,” Father Vogelsang said. “I just wasn’t going to go down that path. And I feel that once you make a commitment, you keep to it.”

Despite the difficulties of the first years of his life and ministry as a priest, he sees good years ahead when considering the archdiocese’s seminarians.

“I think the future is great,” Father Vogelsang said. “I think the college seminary is a big step forward. I think they’re doing a good job. I just think that we’re on the right track.”

He looked to history when considering what words of encouragement he might share with men who are considering following in his footsteps as a priest.

“Take the long view,” Father Vogelsang said. “In general, the things we fear the worst don’t happen or they don’t happen the way we think they will. And, in general, things turn out better than we think they will. Take the long view. Don’t let one incident discourage you.”

(For more information on a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, log on to

More about Father Clifford Vogelsang

  • Age: 76
  • Parents: The late Clifford R. and Katherine (Kald) Vogelsang
  • Childhood parish: St. Joan of Arc in Indianapolis
  • Current residence: Indianapolis
  • Seminary: Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad
  • Ordained: May 5, 1963
  • Favorite Bible passages: Elijah hearing God in a tiny whispering sound (1 Kgs 19:11-13); Jesus calming a storm on the Sea of Galilee (Lk 8:22-25)
  • Favorite saint: St. John Vianney
  • Favorite hobby: Collecting art
  • Favorite authors: Somerset Maugham, Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh

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