March 28, 2014

Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter: ‘A man of humility, a man of courage,’ visiting prelate says at lecture

Mary Ritter and Paul Scales study a display in a museum room now located in the restored birthplace and boyhood home of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter in New Albany on March 13. They traveled from Cincinnati to hear Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and see the restoration of Mary Ritter’s great-uncle’s New Albany childhood home. A portrait of Cardinal Ritter graces the wall behind them. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

Mary Ritter and Paul Scales study a display in a museum room now located in the restored birthplace and boyhood home of Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter in New Albany on March 13. They traveled from Cincinnati to hear Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and see the restoration of Mary Ritter’s great-uncle’s New Albany childhood home. A portrait of Cardinal Ritter graces the wall behind them. (Photo by Patricia Happel Cornwell)

By Patricia Happel Cornwell (Special to The Criterion)

NEW ALBANY—Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville characterized New Albany native Cardinal Joseph E. Ritter as “a man of humility and a man of courage” in a March 13 lecture delivered at the birthplace of Indiana’s only cardinal.

The occasion was the second annual Irish Coffee Night at the Cardinal Ritter House at 1218 Elm St. in New Albany, where the 1874 structure is home to several nonprofit organizations, including Home of the Innocents, New Directions Housing Corp., ElderServe, and InfoLink of Southern Indiana.

Cardinal Ritter, one of six children and former Archbishop of Indianapolis, was born in the home, which also accommodated the family’s bakery business. A crowd of about 100 people packed the community room—added in 2011—and enjoyed exhibits in the museum room, dedicated in 2013.

The home was restored, and added to, over the course of several years through funds raised by the Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation.

Cardinal Ritter (1892-1967) attended the former St. Mary School in New Albany and received priestly formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad. He was ordained a priest in 1917. From 1933 to 1946, he served the Indianapolis Diocese (which became an archdiocese in 1944) as auxiliary bishop, bishop and eventually archbishop.

He served as archbishop of St. Louis from 1946 until his death. Blessed John XXIII named him a cardinal in 1961.

Archbishop Kurtz noted that March 13 was the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis and drew similarities between Cardinal Ritter and the Holy Father.

“Pope Francis has taken the world by storm,” he said. “He’s saying we should not be pushy, not be preachy. We should be creative. There is so much attention on the Church right now, and what a great opportunity it is to renew our own faith.

“The genius of Pope Francis is that he has said so much about the simple but profound link between faith and service. Faith that is not infused with service is not going to be long-lasting. And that makes me think of Cardinal Ritter.”

The archbishop continued, “Cardinal Ritter embodied humility, loving kindness and simplicity, and that attracts people. Pope Francis is focused on others, and so was Cardinal Ritter. He was a man of humility and a man of courage.”

Archbishop Kurtz cited Cardinal Ritter’s concern for the individual, his desegregation of Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana and the Archdiocese of St. Louis, and his promotion of the passage of the Vatican II document “Dignitatis Humanae” (“Declaration on Religious Freedom”).

He told his audience, “We need to honor the person in front of us. We need to honor the conscience of that person. It’s the voice of God in our hearts. Cardinal Ritter understood that we need to respect the religious convictions of others. He understood that we need to respect the dignity of the individual, regardless of color.”

In 1938, then-Archbishop Ritter ordered an end to racial segregation in all Catholic schools in central and southern Indiana. This occurred 16 years before desegregation became federal law. The Ku Klux Klan protested the action outside SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

In St. Louis, one of his first actions as archbishop was to announce the immediate desegregation of schools in that archdiocese. He declared, “The cross on top of our schools must mean something.”

High schools in both Indianapolis and St. Louis bear his name. The Knights of Columbus Council 1221 in New Albany is also named for Cardinal Ritter.

In introducing Archbishop Kurtz, Father Eric Johnson, pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, noted, “It’s been a long day for you, Archbishop. You had a television appearance in New York this morning.”

Archbishop Kurtz has been recently interviewed on several national TV and radio programs in his role as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

The archbishop spoke about the work of the USCCB, saying its three purposes are “to engage with other episcopal conferences throughout the world, to support local bishops in their pastoral duties, and to address national issues of great importance, such as immigration, abortion and marriage.”

Archbishop Kurtz cited three goals for his term of office as president of the conference: “the new evangelization, being a voice for the voiceless and vulnerable, and working for robust religious freedom.”

He represented the USCCB when he recently visited the devastated Philippines after a typhoon struck in December.

The archbishop will be one of four American clergy members to participate in the Oct. 5-19 meetings at the Vatican of the extraordinary meeting of the Synod of Bishops called by Pope Francis. During the meetings, they will discuss the pastoral challenges to the family.

Archbishop Kurtz said the gatherings will address “challenges of the family, including divorce, cohabitation, children not being raised by their parents, the economy and poverty.”

Archbishop Kurtz’s talk at the Cardinal Ritter House was one of the efforts to highlight the birthplace. The Ritter board is selling T-shirts and books, including Joseph Elmer Cardinal Ritter: His Life and Times by Msgr. Nicholas A. Schneider, to help raise funds for a planned rose garden, the final project of the home’s restoration. An avid gardener, Cardinal Ritter grew roses, his favorite flower.

Board member Kris Wilberding said the board wants the rose garden to be “a place of contemplation, a place of prayer.”

In the building’s museum room, Charlene Fessel of New Albany examined a landscape drawing of the proposed garden. “I just wanted to hear Archbishop Kurtz. It was inspiring,” she said. “I liked the way he connected the lives of Cardinal Ritter and Pope Francis.”

Two visitors, Mary Ritter and Paul Scales, drove from Cincinnati to hear the archbishop and to see the restored Ritter home place.

Ritter reminisced about her great-uncle Cardinal Ritter. “First, we called him ‘Uncle Archbishop,’ ” she said. “That was hard for me as a 4-year-old to say. And later we called him ‘Uncle Cardinal.’ He was a very kind man.”

After his talk, Archbishop Kurtz took a photo of the gathering and immediately “tweeted” it on Twitter, surprising and delighting his mostly older audience.
 

(Patricia Happel Cornwell is a freelance writer and a member of St. Joseph Parish in Corydon. For more information about Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation, go to www.cardinalritterhouse.org. To make a donation, checks should be made payable to Cardinal Ritter Birthplace Foundation, 1218 E. Oak St., New Albany, IN 47150.)

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