February 2, 2018

Creativity marked archbishop’s commitment to Catholic education

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, breaks ground on Aug. 9, 1998, on the grounds of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis for a new school building for the faith community. It was the first new center-city Catholic school in the U.S. constructed in 40 years. Breaking ground with Archbishop Buechlein are Holy Angels parishioner Ted Gary, left, Father Clarence Waldon, pastor, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, and Holy Angels third graders Evan Carpenter and Jonathan Butler. (File photo by Margaret Nelson)

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, right, breaks ground on Aug. 9, 1998, on the grounds of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis for a new school building for the faith community. It was the first new center-city Catholic school in the U.S. constructed in 40 years. Breaking ground with Archbishop Buechlein are Holy Angels parishioner Ted Gary, left, Father Clarence Waldon, pastor, Indianapolis Mayor Stephen Goldsmith, and Holy Angels third graders Evan Carpenter and Jonathan Butler. (File photo by Margaret Nelson)

By Sean Gallagher

On Sept. 21, 2011, Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein announced in a press conference at the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center in Indianapolis that Pope Benedict XVI had accepted his request to retire early because of his declining health.

When asked what his most important accomplishments were in his 19-year tenure in leading the Church in central and southern Indiana, Archbishop Buechlein didn’t hesitate in identifying his work in supporting Catholic schools across the archdiocese.

“I think it was tough. I said that in my first talk 19 years ago that it was going to be a hard thing, but we were going to keep our schools going,” he said. “We’ve had to be creative in how we do that, and I wish it would have been less difficult. But it’s working. God is blessing us.”

Archdiocesan chancellor Annette “Mickey” Lentz was present at that 2011 press conference and remembers “grinning from ear to ear” when she heard Archbishop Buechlein emphasize his support of Catholic schools.

She worked closely with him in this work during his 19 years of leadership, serving from 1997-2008 as executive director of the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education.

Lentz recalled Archbishop Buechlein’s first press conference in the archdiocese in 1992, a time when he stated that Catholic schools were a top priority for him.

“I was so happy to have heard that,” Lentz said in a recent interview with The Criterion. “Our people heard that and resonated with that. He wasn’t afraid to show his commitment. That’s a legacy that still lives on today.”

Creativity in the face of difficult challenges was necessary for Archbishop Buechlein to help Catholic schools in the archdiocese grow. When he expressed this commitment in the early 1990s, Catholic schools nationally had been in decline for some two decades.

So he reached out to the business community to help keep Catholic schools in the center city of Indianapolis. These efforts included constructing a new building for Holy Angels School in 1999, the first center-city Catholic school built in the U.S. in 40 years.

“To see the new commitment behind it was personally exciting,” said Father Kenneth Taylor, Holy Angels’ pastor and a graduate of its school. “It was a recommitment that the Catholic Church was going to stay in the community.

“Even then, there was a feeling that the Catholic Church was kind of pulling out of the black community because of consolidations and closings of schools and parishes. This was a sign of a commitment that, as Catholics, we’re going to stay in the community and be a part of its life.”

Stephen Goldsmith was mayor of Indianapolis at the time that Holy Angels was built, and worked closely with Archbishop Buechlein to make its building and the support of other center-city schools a reality.

“What it represented to me was that the archbishop’s commitment to the poor was transcendent,” said Goldsmith. “He used his voice and his network to stabilize and refurbish those schools in a way that provided hope and opportunity to children that would have been lost. That was an incredible contribution to the city and the poor children in the city.”

Goldsmith now serves as the Daniel Paul Professor of the Practice of Government at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass.

Archbishop Buechlein’s creativity in supporting Catholic schools was also evident in his 2004 linking of the management of the center-city schools in what is now the archdiocesan Notre Dame ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) Academies: Central Catholic School, Holy Angels School, Holy Cross Central School, St. Anthony School and St. Philip Neri School.

“The fact that we have center-city Catholic schools is his legacy,” said Father Taylor.

Archbishop Buechlein’s creativity also extended to the way Catholic high schools across central and southern Indiana were administered by introducing what is known as the “president-principal model.”

Before his time in the archdiocese, Catholic high schools were led by a principal alone. He recognized that the work in leading the everyday mission of a school, building and maintaining its enrollment and fostering support for it in the broader community was too much for one person.

Joseph Hollowell, president of Roncalli High School in Indianapolis, knew this from experience. He served as its principal from 1990-95 and knew its high demands.

When Archbishop Buechlein proposed that Roncalli adopt the president-principal model, Hollowell was hired as its first president.

Adopting that model alone though wasn’t enough to help Catholic high schools grow, said Hollowell. It was Archbishop Buechlein’s encouragement of strategic planning that spurred Roncalli’s subsequent growth.

“I saw firsthand how powerfully that affected us at Roncalli,” Hollowell said. “We’ve almost doubled the size of the school campus. We’ve raised about $25 million for facilities. All of that sprung out of the strategic planning discipline that Archbishop Buechlein brought to our archdiocese.”

The increase in the size of Roncalli’s campus happened alongside its growth in enrollment. In 1990, it had 625 students. Fifteen years later, it was at 1,225.

While Archbishop Buechlein was innovative in his approach to strategic planning and fostering a broad base of support for Catholic schools, he approached this part of his ministry with the heart of a pastor, said Jerry Ernstberger, principal of Holy Family School in New Albany since 1993.

This was especially evident to him when Archbishop Buechlein celebrated Mass with high school seniors from Our Lady of Providence Jr./Sr. High School in Clarksville.

“It was very evident at those liturgies how highly he valued the faith of youths,” Ernstberger said. “He just really saw that the faith of our young people should not be underestimated or taken lightly.”

Ernstberger also knew from experience that Archbishop Buechlein considered administrators like himself as “unique partners in ministry together.”

“He was always so gracious and appreciative of our ministry,” Ernstberger said. “Catholic education in the archdiocese had a very dear place in his heart.”

Archbishop Buechlein’s untiring commitment to Catholic education produced results that were recognized nationally. During his tenure, 26 archdiocesan Catholic schools were honored by the U.S. Department of Education with its Blue Ribbon School of Excellence award.

Enrollment in archdiocesan Catholic schools also grew 30 percent to more than 25,000 students, reversing a national trend over the past quarter century of decreasing enrollment and school closures.

When Lentz met with Catholic school leaders from across the country, she saw the national reputation that Archbishop Buechlein had gained.

“I would hear people say, ‘You are so lucky, Mickey, that you have a bishop who supports you and supports your schools,’ ” Lentz said. “He did that through thick and thin. He knew what he wanted and he knew what he wasn’t going to give up.”

“We are so far ahead of the curve on so many phases of Catholic education,” Hollowell said. “That’s in no small part because of the leadership and support of Archbishop Buechlein.” †

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