April 10, 2020

Father John Beitans served archdiocesan parishes and Latvian Catholics

By Sean Gallagher

Father John BeitansFather John Beitans, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, died on April 3 at St. Vincent Hospice in Indianapolis. He was 72. At the time of his death, he was providing sacramental assistance at Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis.

Because of measures prohibiting large public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, a private committal service was celebrated at the priests’ circle at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis. A memorial Mass for Father Beitans is expected to be celebrated at a later time.

Father Robert Robeson, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove and administrator of Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis, got to know Father Beitans well over the past few years while they served together at Good Shepherd.

“He was very conscious about how his relationship with individuals could impact their faith and was conscientious about treating others with dignity and respect, especially those who were isolated or lonely or alienated in some way,” Father Robeson said. “He had a very tender heart and great compassion for those who were on the margins. That was something I really respected about him.”

Father Beitans’ concern for people on the margins of society may have been rooted in his experience of isolation and alienation early on in life. He was born in 1947 in a displaced persons camp in Geesthact, Germany, to Latvian parents who fled their home country during World War II. They emigrated to the U.S. in 1952, arriving at Ellis Island before settling in Terre Haute.

“He was a huge figure within the Latvian community in Indiana and throughout the world,” Father Robeson said. “He was frequently called upon to travel all over the world to celebrate sacraments for Latvian families who were connected to him in some way and to celebrate Mass in the Latvian language.”

Retired Father Joseph Rautenberg said Father Beitans had an interest in various cultures around the world that may have been rooted in his own experience as an immigrant.

“He traveled widely,” said Father Rautenberg, an ordination classmate of Father Beitans. “He had an extensive collection of books on foreign sites and their history, art and culture.”

Father Beitans’ thirst for knowledge was wide and varied. He had an interest in music and astronomy, earned a pilot’s license and even did skydiving.

“He was not afraid to try new things,” Father Rautenberg said.

Through it all, though, Father Beitans was dedicated to parish ministry. Ordained an archdiocesan priest in 1973, Father Beitans spent 47 years of priestly life and ministry in faith communities across central and southern Indiana, while also at times leading archdiocesan ministries.

“He was kind, generous and a faithful pastor of his people,” Father Robeson said. “He had a deep love for life, and a deep appreciation for the beauty of the world. He genuinely cared about his parishioners.

“He would often talk about his previous parishes with great fondness and became very close to quite a number of people over the years … who have often expressed their love for him.”

John Beitans was born on June 24, 1947, to the late August and Adele (Spila) Beitans in Geesthacht, Germany.

After he and his parents emigrated to the U.S., Father Beitans was educated in Terre Haute before becoming an archdiocesan seminarian. He received priestly formation at the former Saint Meinrad College in St. Meinrad, and at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, also in St. Meinrad.

Archbishop Paul C. Schulte ordained Father Beitans a priest on June 10, 1973, at Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Terre Haute. Father Beitans celebrated a Mass of Thanksgiving the following day at the church.

His first pastoral assignment was as associate pastor of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville, where he served from 1973-74. He then ministered as associate pastor of St. Patrick Parish in Terre Haute from 1974-77.

In 1977, Father Beitans became associate pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis, continuing there until 1982.

During that time, Father Beitans also served as archdiocesan director of activities for the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, from 1982-83.

After serving at St. Michael, Father Beitans ministered as associate pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis from 1982-83.

In 1983, he became a pastor for the first time, leading St. Ann Parish in Indianapolis from 1982-88.

Father Beitans then began a series of pastoral assignments in the New Albany Deanery. He led St. John the Baptist Parish in Starlight from 1988-99. He also served as administrator of St. Mary Parish in Navilleton from 1995-96, and of Most Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Jeffersonville from 1998-99. Father Beitans also ministered as dean of the New Albany Deanery from 1996-99.

From 2000-10, Father Beitans served as pastor of St. Lawrence Parish in Indianapolis, while also ministering as chaplain of the Latvian Catholic Association from 2006-10.

His last assignment as a pastor was of Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburg and St. Rose of Lima Parish in Franklin, leading those two faith communities from 2010-14. During that time, he also served as director of the archdiocesan Office of Ecumenism.

In 2014, Father Beitans was appointed sacramental minister of Good Shepherd Parish in Indianapolis. He was granted retirement in 2017 while continuing to provide sacramental assistance at Good Shepherd.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, 3001 E. 30th St., Indianapolis, IN 46218. †

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