February 28, 2014

Widower and father, Father Elmer Burwinkel was devoted to Mary

By Sean Gallagher

Father Elmer J. BurwinkelFather Elmer J. Burwinkel, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, died on Feb. 18 at Franciscan St. Francis Health Hospital in Indianapolis. He was 93.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Feb. 24 at the chapel of the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove, where Father Burwinkel had, in recent years, been a resident.

Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin was the principal celebrant of the Mass.

Father Stephen Giannini, archdiocesan vicar for clergy, religious and parish life coordinators and vice chancellor of the archdiocese, was the homilist.

Burial followed at St. Patrick Cemetery in Madison.

Ordained a priest at age 63 in 1984, Father Burwinkel was perhaps the oldest man to be ordained in the history of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He was also one of the first priests of the archdiocese to be ordained after having been a husband and father.

At the time of his ordination, he was the father of seven children and had grandchildren. Father Burwinkel’s wife of 32 years, Mary (Benkert) Burwinkel, had died in 1980.

He was also a retired teacher, having spent nearly 30 years teaching social studies in public schools in Cincinnati and at Father Michael Shawe Memorial Jr./Sr. High School in Madison.

Msgr. Joseph Schaedel was ordained just two years before Father Burwinkel. He said that Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara appreciated Father Burwinkel’s willingness to begin service in the Church as a priest at his age.

“I think Archbishop O’Meara admired him very much because at that point in his life, Elmer Burwinkel could have just taken his retirement and taken it easy,” Msgr. Schaedel said. “But he had such a devotion to the Church and such a good work ethic that he wasn’t about to stop working and wanted to get involved in the priesthood.”

Father Burwinkel’s eldest child, Bob Burwinkel, said that his father had been a seminarian before marrying his mother.

And because of his father’s history, he wasn’t caught off guard after his mother’s death when his father began to discern a possible call to the priesthood.

“It wasn’t a big surprise to me anyhow,” Burwinkel said. “He had taught grade school and high school religion classes as a volunteer in his parish for a lot of years.”

Once ordained, Father Burwinkel wasted no time in working hard to serve the faithful.

“Being a little older coming into [the priesthood], he was very hard working, very dedicated,” Msgr. Schaedel said.

Burwinkel was glad to see his father experience such fulfillment in his priestly life and ministry.

“I was happy to see that he was enjoying the work that he was doing,” Burwinkel said. “He put his whole heart and soul into it. That was his life.”

In addition to his dedication to priestly ministry, Father Burwinkel was also known for his love for the Blessed Virgin Mary, which flowed out of his participation in the Schoenstatt Apostolic Movement, which developed in the Catholic Church in Germany about 100 years ago.

“It was particularly interesting when devotion to Mary had been on the wane a little bit, and was just coming back into style,” said Msgr. Schaedel of Father Burwinkel’s devotion to Mary. “And I think this Schoenstatt devotion was also a new devotion that people had not heard of.”

Father Giannini reflected on Father Burwinkel’s love for Mary in his homily at the priest’s funeral.

“Father Elmer called us all to enter into a relationship with Mary, the Mother of God, the Queen of Angels and Saints, to know her as our Mother and Queen, confidant and friend, intercessor and companion on our journeys of faith with her son,” Father Giannini said. “Mary, the Mother of our Savior, a name shared with Father Elmer’s wife, Mary, was the one to whom Father Elmer sought out to aid us in his and our struggles.”

Many Catholics across central and southern Indiana came to learn about devotion to Mary through Schoenstatt, and Father Burwinkel constructed a Marian shrine on a farm he owned in southeastern Indiana between Versailles and Madison.

Father John Meyer, who was pastor of Prince of Peace Parish in Madison during part of the time that Father Burwinkel promoted devotion to Mary at his shrine, was impressed when Father Burwinkel would periodically come to the parish in Madison.

“He lived a very simple, Christ-like life at the [shrine],” Father Meyer said. “It was pretty moving that someone who lived a full life as a husband, father and grandfather chose to fulfill another vocation as a priest.”

Elmer J. Burwinkel was born on Aug. 28, 1920, in Mt. Healthy, Ohio, to Henry Burwinkel and Ottilia (Wilhelm) Burwinkel. He was baptized on Sept. 5, 1920, and confirmed on May 21, 1928, at St. Michael Church in Sharonville, Ohio, by Archbishop John T. McNicholas of Cincinnati.

After graduating from St. Gabriel High School in Glendale, Ohio, Father Burwinkel studied for two years at the University of Notre Dame in northern Indiana and two years at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

He married his wife, Mary (Benkert) Burwinkel, in 1948. They lived for the next three decades in and around the Cincinnati area, and were parents to seven children while Father Burwinkel taught in public schools in Cincinnati before retiring in the late 1970s. Mary died in 1980.

After discerning a call to the priesthood in the early 1980s, Father Burwinkel received his priestly formation at Sacred Heart School of Theology in Hales Corners, Wis.

Archbishop O’Meara ordained him a priest on June 23, 1984, at the former St. Mary Church in Madison. Father Burwinkel celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving later that day at St. Patrick Church in Madison.

Beginning on July 5, 1984, Father Burwinkel served for a year as associate pastor of St. Malachy Parish in Brownsburg.

He then served from 1985-87 as pastor of St. Pius V Parish in Troy and St. Michael Parish in Cannelton.

From 1987-93, Father Burwinkel served as pastor of St. John the Baptist Parish in Dover and St. Peter Parish in Franklin County.

He then ministered as pastor of the former Holy Guardian Angels Parish in Cedar Grove from 1993-95.

From 1995-20005, Father Burwinkel was retired from active ministry. But from 2005-06, he served as administrator of St. John the Baptist Parish in Osgood and the former St. Mary Magdalene Parish in New Marion.

Surviving are seven children: Mary Jo Kimble, Bob, Bill and Mark Burwinkel, all of Cincinnati; Judy Strzelecki of Oxford, Mich.; Jim Burwinkel of St. Louis and Larry Burwinkel of West Chester, Ohio. Also surviving are seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Memorial contributions can be made to the St. Paul Hermitage, 501 N. 17th Ave, Beech Grove, IN 46107. †

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