February 2, 2018

Archbishop Buechlein was ‘grounded in true love for the poor’

Emily Able, right, director of community and youth services at the archdiocesan Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis, guides Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, center, archdiocesan vocations director Father Eric Johnson, standing behind the archbishop, and a group of archdiocesan seminarians on an Aug. 11, 2010, tour of the shelter for homeless families. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Emily Able, right, director of community and youth services at the archdiocesan Holy Family Shelter in Indianapolis, guides Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, center, archdiocesan vocations director Father Eric Johnson, standing behind the archbishop, and a group of archdiocesan seminarians on an Aug. 11, 2010, tour of the shelter for homeless families. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Natalie Hoefer

When Bill Bickel considers what it meant to Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein to help those in need, his thoughts drift back to Dec. 6, 2009, the day when the archbishop blessed the new Holy Family Shelter facility in Indianapolis.

A week before the event, says Bickel, “Archbishop Daniel had fallen and sustained a serious injury. Despite being frail and clearly suffering from the fall—along with being advised to rest—he insisted on being present for the opening and blessing.

“And he did not just show up to make an appearance. He very painfully walked through the entire shelter welcoming the homeless families to their new home.”

That story is one example of Archbishop Buechlein’s passion for helping people in need, says Bickel, director of program evaluation and development for Catholic Charities Indianapolis.

“It was very evident that Archbishop Daniel … was grounded in his true love for the poor,” he says. “He would frequently say everything the Church does needs to begin with care for the poor. ... He never stopped reminding all of us we are a Church for the poor.”

David Bethuram, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities, shares a memory exemplifying the archbishop’s embrace of this cause.

“I remember distinctly when Pope Benedict XVI [published] his encyclical ‘God is Love’ [in 2005], Archbishop Buechlein embraced how the Church has a three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments and exercising the ministry of charity,” says Bethuram. “He really encouraged and challenged us in Catholic Charities to see charitable acts performed by the Church as an ‘indispensable expression of her very being’ [“God is Love,” #25].”

To make this ideal a reality, says Bethuram, Archbishop Buechlein encouraged combined efforts and support among parishes, the archdiocese and Catholic Charities agencies throughout central and southern Indiana. He created a special board to work with the councils of the Catholic Charities agencies in Bloomington, New Albany, Tell City and Terre Haute to “enhance communication, development and advocacy,” says Bethuram.

“As Catholic Charities, and as parish communities, we are never isolated, alone or independent,” the archbishop said at a Catholic Charities summit in Indianapolis on Oct. 5, 2005. “We are not islands unto ourselves, but rather we are sisters and brothers united in faith and hope and charity.”

Joan Hess, agency director for Catholic Charities in Tell City for the last 12 years, felt the importance Archbishop Buechlein placed on charitable missions through the support of her direct supervisors in the Secretariat for Catholic Charities.

They were “always supportive of me and how I wanted to grow [the ministries in Tell City],” she says. “Martin’s Cloak [food pantry] was the only thing we really had when I started. We’ve grown a lot, and that’s because of the support I’ve received and the leeway I’ve been given.”

On a personal level, she witnessed the archbishop’s care and concern for those in need in his visit to her brother, who had worked in the development office at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad when the archbishop served there as president-rector. Hess’s brother developed cancer not long after Archbishop Buechlein was appointed to lead the Diocese of Memphis.

“I was talking with my brother on the phone when he said, ‘Oh! I’ve got to go—the bishop of Memphis is walking up my sidewalk,’ ” Hess recalls. “I laughed, and he said, ‘No, really, he’s walking up my sidewalk.’ [Archbishop Buechlein] was in the area and took time to visit with my sick brother. It meant so much to him, and to me,” she says.

Visits to St. Elizabeth | Coleman Pregnancy and Adoption Services in Beech Grove by the archbishop impressed Renee Hummel, the agency’s director of pregnancy and adoption services.

“He genuinely cared about St. Elizabeth Coleman,” says Hummel. “He would tour the facility [for unwed expectant mothers, now closed], talk with the women, see if we needed anything. He just had a wonderful presence. He cared about our mission and wanted to help us move forward.”

Bethuram notes that Archbishop Buechlein also supported the growth of Catholic Charities’ Immigrant and Refugee Services. Under the archbishop’s leadership, this ministry grew from resettling about 100 refugees and immigrants annually to resettling 500 per year, thus serving “some of the world’s most vulnerable persons,” he says.

It was also during Archbishop Buechlein’s tenure that another group came to the archdiocese seeking better lives—those of Latino origin.

“It was at that time Archbishop Buechlein gave his blessing on Catholic Charities beginning to explore providing legal immigration services, which now serves over 1,200 people annually,” Bethuram notes.

Archbishop Buechlein’s passion for serving those in need can be seen in the number of times he wrote on the topic in his “Seeking the Face of the Lord” column in The Criterion. During the 19 years he wrote the column, he dedicated 180 of them to charity, poverty, immigration and variations of those themes.

The archbishop’s passion for serving those in need is perhaps best demonstrated in his own words, as spoken during the Oct. 2005 archdiocesan Catholic Charities summit.

“Christ’s message is clear,” he said. “Service to the poor is not optional, it’s not incidental to Christianity; it’s mandatory and central to our mission. ...

“As women and men who seek the face of the Lord to satisfy our own restless hearts, we’re instructed to look for him in the faces of those who are truly poor—materially, emotionally and spiritually. ...”

“Wherever we are, we serve in the name of Jesus Christ, who became poor, and who suffered, died and rose again, so that all men and women might become spiritually rich and enjoy the fullness of life.” †

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