January 10, 2020

Father Gerald Kirkhoff loved being present to parishioners, brother priests

By Sean Gallagher

Father Gerald KirkhoffFather Gerald Kirkhoff, archdiocesan director of advocacy for priests and of the archdiocesan mission office, died on Dec. 30 at the St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. He was 76.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Jan. 6 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was the principal celebrant of the Mass. Father Paul Shikany, pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis, was the homilist.

Burial followed in the priests’ circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

About seven months before he died, Father Kirkhoff celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination. In a Criterion article about the anniversary, he spoke about his approach to priestly life and ministry.

“My vision of the priesthood is walking with people,” Father Kirkhoff said.

“ … A priest walks with people and tries to aid their faith. I try to accompany people. I try to make the Church a little more human.”

Some of the people he walked with are now trying to follow in the footsteps of the beloved “Father Jerry” in ministering to archdiocesan Catholics.

A lifelong member of St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis, Deacon Richard Wagner was impressed by Father Kirkhoff’s personal approach to ministry. It led in part to his discernment of a call to the diaconate.

“He was very much a hands-on, with-the-people kind of a pastor,” said Deacon Wagner, who proclaimed the Gospel at Father Kirkhoff’s funeral. “That was really the type of deacon I wanted to be.”

Father Kirkhoff was Father Eric Augenstein’s parish pastor from the time that he was in second grade at St. Jude School in Indianapolis until his second year in seminary.

“Being present with the people of God is what we are called to be as pastors,” said Father Augenstein, pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis and archdiocesan director of seminarians. “So, certainly I think of the way Father Jerry was present to people in my own ministry today in the way I try to be present to them in all the different moments of their lives.”

Father Eric Johnson’s first pastoral assignment in 2002 as a newly ordained priest was as associate pastor of St. Pius X Parish, where Father Kirkhoff served as pastor.

“Jerry had a particular concern for those who were mourning,” said Father Johnson, archdiocesan vicar for clergy. “He was very present to people at the time of death and loss. He always seemed to be going to funerals—for a variety of people. He was sensitive to those who were suffering with mourning and loss.”

During his five years of serving as an associate pastor of St. Pius X, Father Robert Hausladen learned from Father Kirkhoff’s attitude toward the pressures of parish ministry.

“He didn’t fret over things too much,” said Father Hausladen, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Indianapolis and St. Susanna Parish in Plainfield. “He … didn’t get overly concerned over the day-to-day tasks or even the larger things. He was laid back and handled them as they came.”

Throughout his priestly life and ministry, Father Kirkhoff also showed a great love of and concern for his brother priests. From 2006 until the time of his death, he served as vicar for advocacy for priests, showing special concern for retired priests and priests who were struggling with various problems.

“Jerry was always very supportive,” said Father Johnson. “And, frankly, that was just his way. He was probably more supportive of priests than those I know. He was very interested in their well-being.”

“He always wanted to make sure that they weren’t forgotten, and that they were always connected,” said Father Hausladen. “He always reached out to priests who were either retired or active, but sort of on the margins.”

Gerald J. Kirkhoff was born on Oct. 3, 1943, in Indianapolis to the late Edward and Rose (McHugh) Kirkhoff. He grew up as a member of St. Philip Neri Parish on the city’s near east side.

Father Kirkhoff received priestly formation at the Latin School of Indianapolis, the former archdiocesan high school seminary, the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, the former St. John Seminary in Little Rock, Ark., and the former St. Maur Seminary in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Paul C. Schulte ordained Father Kirkhoff a priest on May 24, 1969, at the cathedral. The newly ordained priest celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving on May 31, 1969, at St. Philip Neri Church.

His first pastoral assignment was as associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Albany. Later in 1969, he became a high school religion instructor and associate pastor of St. Jude Parish in Indianapolis, beginning nearly five decades of parish ministry in the city in which he was born and grew up.

From 1970-73, Father Kirkhoff served as associate pastor of St. Ann Parish and as a religion instructor at Roncalli High School, both in Indianapolis. He ministered as an instructor at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in Indianapolis from 1973-78.

Beginning in 1978, Father Kirkhoff began serving at different times as pastor of four parishes in Indianapolis. From 1978-85, he ministered as pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish.

He served as pastor of St. Jude Parish on Indianapolis’ south side from 1985-2002. Later, Father Kirkhoff ministered as pastor of St. Pius X Parish on Indianapolis’ north side from 2002-10. His final period of serving as a parish pastor was from 2010-14 at Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis.

He also served as sacramental minister of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish from 2004-06 and as its priest moderator from 2005-10.

He retired from parish ministry in 2014.

Father Kirkhoff served the Church in central and southern Indiana for several decades in various pastoral leadership positions. He served on the archdiocesan college of consultors from 1984-88 and as dean of the Indianapolis East Deanery from 1984-85, of the Indianapolis South Deanery from 2001-04 and of the Indianapolis North Deanery from 2005-08.

In 2006, Father Kirkhoff began ministry as vicar for advocacy for priests, a service to his brother priests in central and southern Indianapolis, especially those who are retired. That ministry continued until his death.

He also served from 2012 until his death as director of the archdiocesan mission office and Society for the Propagation of the Faith.

Surviving is his sister, Joan Leucht of Indianapolis and many beloved nieces, nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews.

Memorial contributions may be sent to Holy Family Shelter and Transitional Housing, 907 N. Holmes Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46222; Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School, 5000 Nowland Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46201; and St. Paul Hermitage, 501 N. 17th Ave., Beech Grove, IN 46107-1196. †

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