May 8, 2015

Msgr. John M. Wright, priest who served as Navy chaplain for 30 years, dies

By Sean Gallagher

Msgr. John M. WrightMsgr. John M. Wright, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and U.S. Navy chaplain, died on April 11 at his home at Nazareth House, a Catholic retirement facility in San Diego, Calif.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on April 16 at the Nazareth House chapel. A memorial Mass for Msgr. Wright will be celebrated at 11 a.m. on June 19 at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Indianapolis.

Burial of Msgr. Wright’s cremated remains will take place at a later date in a family plot at the Stilesville Cemetery in Stilesville, Ind.

Msgr. Wright served for 30 years as a Navy chaplain from 1967-97, retiring with the rank of captain.

Early on in his service, he ministered as a chaplain in the Vietnam War.

“When you have been in combat, you appreciate what it is to be alive,” said Msgr. Wright in a 2013 interview with The Criterion. “I administered many, many last rites, and it increased my faith. I knew that what I was doing was very important.”

Msgr. Paul Richart, a retired archdiocesan priest and U.S. Air Force chaplain, entered the armed forces at the same time that Msgr. Wright did.

In 1967, Archbishop Paul C. Schulte assigned both priests to serve in the U.S. Archdiocese for Military Services.

The assignment surprised both priests, and set them on a course of service that affected them for the rest of their lives.

“God often works in ways that we don’t think of,” Msgr. Richart said.

At the same time, he recognized the great value of the service that he and Msgr. Wright gave to the men and women in the armed forces.

“His was a special ministry to people who were often away from home, away from their families on ships and in different areas,” Msgr. Richart said of Msgr. Wright. “I’m sure it was a very meaningful ministry for him and a service to the people he served.

“It’s a calling. It’s not a job.”

John M. Wright was born on Sept. 23, 1936, in Huntington, Ind., to Dennis and Mildred Wright. The family moved to Indianapolis in 1941.

After his father died unexpectedly of a heart attack at age 45, his mother was received into the full communion of the Church in 1948 at Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Indianapolis. Msgr. Wright was baptized the following year on Dec. 1, 1949, at Our Lady of Lourdes.

After spending two years at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis, Msgr. Wright became a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and enrolled at the former Saint Meinrad High School in St. Meinrad.

He graduated from the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad in 1958, and completed his priestly formation at the Theological College of the Catholic University of America in Washington. He was ordained a priest by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 6, 1962, at the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrard.

He celebrated his first Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes Church on May 13, 1962.

Msgr. Wright’s first pastoral assignment was as assistant pastor of St. Pius X Parish and as a teacher at Bishop Chatard High School, both in Indianapolis, serving at both from 1962-65. He then served as assistant pastor of Holy Spirit Parish and as a teacher at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, both in Indianapolis, from 1965-67.

In 1967, Msgr. Wright began his service as a chaplain in the U.S. Navy.

During his 30 years in the Navy, he served in Vietnam, on an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea, and at Navy installations in Arlington, Va., Honolulu, Norfolk, Va., and Orlando, Fl.

In 1994, St. John Paul II named Msgr. Wright a prelate of honor, which was ritually conferred upon him on Feb. 19, 1995, at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

After retiring from the Navy in 1997, Msgr. Wright settled in San Diego where he provided part-time sacramental assistance at parishes in the San Diego Diocese.

Surviving is Msgr. Wright’s sister, Phoebe Alfke of Highland Ranch, Colo.

Memorial gifts may be sent to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202; the San Diego Diocese, P.O. Box 85728, San Diego, CA 92186-5728; Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, 200 Hill Drive, St. Meinrad, IN 47577; and his sister, niece and nephew, 4764 Copeland Circle, Unit 102, Highland Ranch, CO 80126. †

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