January 6, 2023

Archdiocesan priests shaped by writings and examples of Pope Benedict

By Sean Gallagher

For decades before he was elected bishop of Rome in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI had been one of the Church’s leading theologians.

So, it’s not surprising that three archdiocesan priests ordained during the past 15 years interviewed by The Criterion read his writings during their coursework in seminary.

But they later discovered that Pope Benedict would shape them by his example of faith and pastoral leadership in addition to his profound writings on the faith.

Now that he has died, Pope Benedict’s legacy continues in the way these priests try with God’s help to follow in his footsteps in their parish ministry.

‘A loving pastor to the whole world’

Father John Hollowell was enrolled at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad when Pope Benedict was elected bishop of Rome.

“I immediately went to the bookstore and bought every book by him that they had, which was about five,” Father John recalled. “I read them and fell in love with his teaching and writing style.

“I went on to read about 50 more books by Cardinal Ratzinger, as well as everything that he wrote as pope. I have no doubt that he will be named a doctor of the Church.”

Father John, pastor of Annunciation Parish in Brazil and St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, had many classes at Saint Meinrad in which the pope was required reading, noting that “they had a tremendous impact on my priestly formation.”

“He wrote on every single topic that is covered and taught in the seminary, and so impacted every single aspect of my priestly formation,” Father John said. “He wrote at least one book for every single class I had in the seminary.”

Pope Benedict’s 2008 visit to the U.S. came near the end of his formation in seminary.

“I read every speech he gave while here, and found everything he said while here directly on point,” Father John remembered. “I also remember how absolutely joyful President [George W.] Bush was to meet Pope Benedict.

“I think that visit in particular, for many Americans, dispelled the image of Pope Benedict as a cold theologian and showed him to be a loving pastor to the whole world.”

For Father John, this is the way he will remember Pope Benedict.

“His lasting legacy for me is a deeply spiritual man who radiates joy,” he said.

Fostering a love of liturgy and learning

Father Michael Keucher was discerning a possible call to the priesthood when Pope Benedict was elected bishop of Rome.

At the time, he would watch broadcasts of the pope’s Holy Week and Christmas liturgies.

“His homilies were so powerful, but what captivated me most was the way he would celebrate Mass,” Father Keucher said. “Such humility, such dignity, such solemnity. The way he celebrated Mass made me want to be a priest.”

When he was a seminarian at Saint Meinrad, he recalled Benedictine Father Denis Robinson, the seminary’s president-rector, often reflecting on “the latest insights from Pope Benedict.”

But it was the pontiff’s attention to liturgy that continued to attract Father Keucher, who serves as archdiocesan vocations director, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Shelbyville and sacramental minister of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Shelby County.

“Pope Benedict knew the importance of good liturgy,” he said. “I appreciated how well he knew and loved the liturgy and learned a lot from him about the liturgy.”

Father Keucher has also learned from Pope Benedict the value of continually studying of the faith.

“He fostered in me a desire to always be learning, and that the soul flies on the wings of heart and mind,” Father Keucher said. “He showed me that study is an essential part of life for any person of faith, but especially for us priests.”

He looks in particular to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which Pope Benedict as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger oversaw the writing of in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“I think we take the catechism for granted, but the Holy Spirit used Pope Benedict to put it together,” Father Keucher said. “For us younger Catholics, we don’t remember a day when there wasn’t the catechism as we have it now. We owe a debt of gratitude to Pope Benedict for it.”


Father Anthony Hollowell’s time in priestly formation at the North American College in Rome straddled the end of Pope Benedict’s pontificate and the beginning of the papal ministry of Pope Francis.

Like other archdiocesan priests of his generation, Pope Benedict was often required reading for him in seminary.

“I was always attracted to his lucid thought, the academic underpinning to his writings, and his willingness to address some of the most critical issues in the Church,” said Father Hollowell, who is known as Father Tony, and who is a younger brother of Father John Hollowell.

After being ordained a priest in 2016, Father Tony returned to Rome for graduate studies and eventually earned a doctorate in moral theology. He now ministers as pastor of St. Mark Parish in Perry County and St. Paul Parish in Tell City.

Pope Benedict’s often “academic priesthood” has influenced him.

“Although most priests are not called to active academic ministry, his example influences my priestly life by encouraging me, and all priests, to keep alive an academic foundation to my ministry,” Father Tony said.

Pope Benedict’s decision to step down as pope in 2013 left a deep impression on him.

“His humility, self-awareness, and wisdom in stepping down as the active pope is an example for us all,” Father Tony said. “By this act, he has taught the Church about the need to remove ourselves from a position in the Church if we discern in our conscience that we can no longer serve well in this position.”

For Father Tony, the word “continuity” summarizes Pope Benedict’s legacy for the Church.

“His academic writings sought for continuity among a variety of Jewish, Protestant and Catholic authors whom he harmonized into a masterful synthesis on many topics,” Father Tony said. “After the Second Vatican Council, he dedicated many years of his life to an interpretation of the council as continuous with, and not a rupture from, the previous councils of the Church.

“His papacy solidified the moral and doctrinal legacy of his predecessor, St. John Paul II, and he actively wrote about the moral and doctrinal continuity between his papacy and that of his successor Pope Francis. Whenever he spoke, it was in continuity with both his contemporaries and predecessors. His ability to articulate that continuity and to illuminate its intrinsic authority is a wonderful legacy for the Church.” †


Related story: Pope Benedict XVI was ‘like a second father’ for St. Malachy parish pastor

See all our coverage of the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI

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