October 2, 2020

‘An absolute and marvelous surprise’

Father Clement Davis revels in God’s blessings in 50 years of priestly ministry

Father Clement Davis stands on Sept. 4 in St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus. Ordained a priest as a Benedictine monk in 1970, he has been an archdiocesan priest since 1983. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Father Clement Davis stands on Sept. 4 in St. Bartholomew Church in Columbus. Ordained a priest as a Benedictine monk in 1970, he has been an archdiocesan priest since 1983. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

COLUMBUS—Overseeing a multi-million-dollar church construction project might be a hallmark accomplishment for a parish priest in his decades of ordained life and ministry.

Father Clement Davis did that twice, leading St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis in the construction of its 780-seat church some 30 years ago and St. Bartholomew Parish in Columbus in building a 900-seat church about a decade later.

Yet when he was ordained a priest 50 years ago on Aug. 8, 1970, parish ministry—let alone overseeing such large capital projects—was the farthest thing from his mind.

At the time, Father Davis was a Benedictine monk, a member of the former St. Maur Priory in Indianapolis, which closed in 2004, and expected teaching Scripture in a seminary to be his primary ministry in the future.

Father Davis, lovingly known as Father Clem to the many people for whom he has been pastor, looks back on his 50 years of priestly ministry and says, “God had a strange sense of humor when it came to my calling.”

‘A Church of all peoples’

Raised in a Chicago suburb, Father Davis began to discern a possible call to the priesthood and religious life when he was a student at St. Mary College in Winona, Minn., and later at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minn., in the early 1960s.

He was drawn in particular to St. Maur Priory, which had been founded in 1947 in Kentucky to be an interracial religious community.

“Martin Luther King, Jr., became a hero of mine,” Father Davis recalled. “I was so impressed by what he was doing and following the non-violent principles of Gandhi when so much violence had been wrought. He was a real spiritual hero to me.”

Showing academic talent, his superiors sent Father Davis to Munich, Germany, to receive priestly formation and to study Scripture. During that time, St. Maur moved to Indianapolis, hoping to operate a seminary there.

When he returned from his graduate studies in the mid-1970s, Father Davis assisted in parishes and taught at Cathedral High School in Indianapolis in addition to teaching Scripture at

St. Maur’s fledgling seminary.

Father Davis saw parish ministry as “energizing.”

“The liturgy had opened up,” he recalled. “It was in English. People were really encouraged to participate. And in the parishes where people were encouraged to participate, the liturgy was a lively, joyful, wonderful thing.”

Even though parish ministry was the farthest thing from his mind when he had discerned his vocation, Father Davis felt God calling him to it.

So, with the permission of his superiors, Father Davis took a leave of absence from his community and began to live with archdiocesan priests and minister in the archdiocese, first in the former archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education and then as associate pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis.

He became a priest of the archdiocese in 1983, the same year that he also was appointed pastor of St. Monica.

The racial and ethnic diversity that had in part drawn him to religious life was present at the Indianapolis West Deanery faith community, too, with many Black members and other members who came from various parts of the world.

“We just reveled in that sense of the Church in its richness is a Church of all peoples, from everywhere, regardless of color or language,” Father Davis said. “That just energized me, a white kid who grew up on Elm Street in all-white River Grove, Ill. I just felt like this was a better picture of the kingdom of God, and I was part of it.”

He enjoyed leading the St. Monica community so much that he didn’t want to leave when he was asked to become pastor of St. Bartholomew Parish in 1997.

He soon discovered though, that the Columbus faith community was also made up of ethnically diverse Catholics, in part because Cummins, the city’s main employer, drew employees there from around the world.

“To be really part of Columbus, you’ve got to embrace an international sense of welcome,” Father Davis said. “We are welcoming everybody, not just people who look like us. Everybody has a place. Everybody has something to offer.”

‘He believed the best about me’

Father Joseph Moriarty ministered with Father Davis at St. Monica, first as a seminarian and then for four years as a newly ordained priest. He gratefully recalls how Father Davis treated him like he had something to offer.

“I had the deepest sense from Clem that he believed the best about me,” said Father Moriarty. “That really helped me believe more about myself and to have confidence in my ability as a minister. He always affirmed whatever effort I made and always was able to offer advice and affirm strengths without division.”

For more than 20 years, Father Moriarty has had the chance to pass on the gift he received from Father Davis to young men discerning a priestly vocation or in priestly formation. This occurred in Father Moriarty’s previous ministry as archdiocesan vocations director and director of spiritual formation at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in

St. Meinrad, and in his current role as rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis.

“His style of leadership, as far as meeting people where they are and challenging them to be more, to be the best that they can be, is really the gift he imparted on me,” Father Moriarty said of Father Davis. “What a blessing. He believed the best about me. He was truly a pastor, a mentor and a friend. And that prepared me to do the work of [priestly] formation.”

Father Davis also did much to form the faith of his parishioners through the years, taking great joy in leading Bible studies, helping engaged couples prepare for marriage and especially in celebrating Sunday Mass with the faith communities he led.

Marilyn Clerc, a St. Bartholomew parishioner, appreciated these contributions and more in the 21 years that Father Davis led her Seymour Deanery faith community.

She was received into the full communion of the Church just a year before Father Davis began his ministry there. Her participation in Bible studies he gave lectures for led her more deeply into her faith.

“They were helpful in my spiritual development and growth,” said Clerc of Father Davis’ presentations on the Bible. “They were detailed and spiritually based. We got to know him quite well. It was a moving and connecting part of my spiritual development.”

But it was in the celebration of the Mass by her former pastor that Clerc really felt drawn closer to God.

“I have always appreciated Father Clem’s approach to the Mass,” she said. “You know that it’s a holy event, a sacramental event, just by the way he approaches it. He becomes Christ when he walks up to that altar.”

Although he retired from administrative ministry in 2019, Father Davis continues to serve as senior parochial vicar at St. Bartholomew and as a sacramental minister at Holy Trinity Parish in Edinburgh.

Looking back on his 50 years of priestly life and ministry, Father Davis continues to be surprised at just how much God has blessed and surprised him.

“So much of it has been an absolute and marvelous surprise,” he said. “There’s so much that comes from just being in a place where you can see other people at worship who love the Lord, are loved by the Lord and who you are privileged to minister to. It’s beyond what I can liken to anything else.”

(For more information about a vocation to the priesthood in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, visit www.HearGodsCall.com.)

About Father Clement Davis

Born: July 30, 1943, in Chicago.

Parents: Earl and Greta (Nelson) Davis.

Religious life: Became a Benedictine novice at the former St. Maur Priory, then in Kentucky, in 1963; professed solemn vows in 1968.

Ordination: Ordained a priest as a Benedictine monk on Aug. 8, 1970, by Archbishop George J. Biskup in SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Became an archdiocesan priest in 1983.

Education: Earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy at St. Procopius College (now Benedictine University) in Lisle, Ill., and a theological diploma at Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich, Germany.

Favorite Scripture verse: “You did not choose me. I chose you and appointed you to go and bear much fruit, the kind of fruit that endures” (Jn 15:16).

Favorite saints: St. Thomas the Apostle; St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Clement of Rome; St. Benedict; St. Teresa of Calcutta.

Favorite prayer or devotion: The Mass and “the variety and familiar rhythms” of the Liturgy of the Hours.

Hobbies: Reading and listening to classical music and jazz.

Local site Links: