February 2, 2018

Love of priesthood led Archbishop Buechlein to be daring in promoting it

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein gives a thumbs up to the seminarians and guests who applaud him after an April 21, 2013, prayer service at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. The retired archbishop was honored after the service for founding the seminary in 2004. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein gives a thumbs up to the seminarians and guests who applaud him after an April 21, 2013, prayer service at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis. The retired archbishop was honored after the service for founding the seminary in 2004. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Swimming against a strong tide. Daring.

Those are ways of describing Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein’s choice to found Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis in 2004.

At the time, there were far more college seminaries closing nationally than opening. And there really wasn’t anyone in the archdiocese promoting the idea of starting one here.

Archbishop Buechlein was, nonetheless, convinced of its necessity.

“We all thought it was daring,” recalled Msgr. Joseph F. Schaedel, who was archdiocesan vicar general at the time. “He did not think so. He had confidence that this was the thing to do and absolutely the best thing to promote vocations to the priesthood.”

As it has turned out over the past 14 years, Archbishop Buechlein was proven correct. After starting with only a handful of seminarians from just the archdiocese, Bishop Bruté is now near its capacity at nearly 50 seminarians from 10 dioceses and one religious community across the Midwest.

And during that time, 21 men who received priestly formation at Bishop Bruté have been ordained priests, including eight for the Church in central and southern Indiana.

“He used to joke, ‘I hope they don’t call it Buechlein’s folly.’ It’s far from that,” said Msgr. Schaedel, now pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis.

Founding Bishop Bruté may be a significant part of the legacy of Archbishop Buechlein in the priesthood and priestly formation, but there are many other aspects of that legacy that continue to bear fruit in the life of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

‘I wasn’t planning to look back’

Perhaps Archbishop Buechlein knew what so many others didn’t about the importance of founding Bishop Bruté because he had nurtured from a young age a love of and commitment to both the priesthood, which he has described as “the guiding force” in his life, and priestly formation.

After graduating in 1952 from the eighth grade at St. Joseph School in Jasper, Ind., Archbishop Buechlein enrolled as a high school seminarian at the former Saint Meinrad High School in St. Meinrad.

“When I came after the eighth grade, I wasn’t planning to look back,” Archbishop Buechlein recalled in a 2014 interview with The Criterion. “That’s kind of the way I came at it.”

During his first years of priestly formation, he discerned a call to religious life and entered Saint Meinrad Archabbey’s novitiate in 1958.

Although he entered the monastery because he “felt at home there,” he also had an intuition that he would eventually serve in the seminary the monastery operated.

“I was pretty sure that I’d end up either teaching or helping staff the seminary,” he said.

After completing graduate studies in Rome, Archbishop Buechlein returned to Saint Meinrad in 1966, teaching Latin, religion and philosophy and serving as assistant dean of students in the former Saint Meinrad College.

In Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, he served early on as director of spiritual formation and taught courses on systematic theology, canon law, priestly ministry and spirituality.

Then in 1971, when he was only 33, Archbishop Buechlein was appointed president-rector of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology. Beginning in 1982, he also served as president-rector of Saint Meinrad College. He continued to lead both schools until 1987, when St. John Paul II appointed him the third bishop of Memphis, Tenn.

Archbishop Buechlein looked back over the early years of leading the seminary and reflected on the challenges he faced at such a young age as the Church was beginning to implement the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.

“It was at a very difficult time,” Archbishop Buechlein said. “It was when all the changes were happening. I was looking for supervision. I talked to other bishops who were rectors. We were all looking for help.”

Centrality of prayer

A constant for him in the midst of the changes happening in priestly formation at the time was prayer, recalled Father Lawrence Richardt, a retired archdiocesan priest who served in Saint Meinrad’s administration from 1975-86 and 1992-96.

“He would always remind us as a community how important prayer and paying attention to your relationship with God was to preparing for priesthood and in helping people being formed in the priesthood,” said Father Richardt. “It was kind of a constant there.”

And Archbishop Buechlein practiced what he preached, said Archbishop Charles C. Thompson in a 2014 interview with The Criterion when he was serving as bishop of Evansville, Ind.

“Several times, I’d go to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, and he’d be in there a lot of nights and mornings in silent prayer or praying the [Liturgy of the Hours],” said Archbishop Thompson of his days as a seminarian in the mid-1980s at Saint Meinrad.

Archbishop Buechlein’s priority on prayer in the priesthood was one of the reasons that Father Robert Robeson became a seminarian for the archdiocese instead of his home diocese in upstate New York. Father Robeson became familiar with Archbishop Buechlein when he was a graduate student at Indiana University in Bloomington.

“I just felt like he was very holy and focused on the spiritual dimension and the challenges of evangelization,” said Father Robeson, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. “He was much more focused on prayer and putting Christ at the center of your life.”

Father Robeson kept this priority on prayer in mind when he led Bishop Bruté as its first rector.

“His presence and his leadership as a bishop continuously reminded me that that was a priority,” Father Robeson said. “Because of his commitment to prayer and his willingness to talk frequently about it just kept that on the burner all the time. I was always thinking about how we can improve the spiritual formation, the life of prayer and how to encourage guys to pray.”

Prayer wasn’t separated from the rest of life for Archbishop Buechlein, though, said Father Richardt.

“Prayer is an invitation to deepen our relationship with God,” Father Richardt said. “It’s never an end in itself. He would talk about prayer in those kinds of terms, as one of the safeguards for us, because the deeper and stronger our relationship with God is, that would free us, making us available for loving all people instead of just one person.”

Being present to seminarians

Father Eric Johnson knew well how much Archbishop Buechlein loved and knew the future priests of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

He knew it as an archdiocesan seminarian from 1996 until he was ordained a priest in 2002.

“While I didn’t see him all of the time, he took time to be present to us,” Father Johnson said. “He knew what was going on with me. I always felt like when I was in his presence … that he was interested and involved in the decisions involving me.”

When Archbishop Buechlein asked Father Johnson in 2005 to serve as archdiocesan vocations director, he took him to the office of Father Joseph Moriarty, the vocations director he was to succeed.

Archbishop Buechlein looked at a poster featuring photos of all the archdiocesan seminarians and began to speak in detail about each man—their history, their struggles and gifts.

“I was really taken aback by that,” said Father Johnson, now pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany. “He very much cared about what was going on with his seminarians. It was important to him.”

Coming to know his future priests also allowed Archbishop Buechlein to invite them, when appropriate, to grow in their faith.

“He was not afraid to challenge you spiritually and to focus on the spiritual life,” Father Robeson said. “He loved his priests and always wanted to do the right thing for his priests. He was a good father to priests and seminarians.” †

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