March 1, 2024

Father Mark Weaver ‘died like he lived,’ setting ‘his sights on Jesus’

By Natalie Hoefer

Conventual Franciscan Father Mark WeaverReflecting on the life of Conventual Franciscan Father Mark Weaver, the pastor of St. Mary Parish in New Albany who died on Feb. 19 at the age of 72, an image came to the mind of parish volunteer coordinator Ruth Houghton.

“A few years ago he asked me to arrange for him to visit all of the [parish’s] shut-ins,” she recalled. “I joined him on the visits.

“One lady was sitting on the side of her bed. Father Mark sat down on the floor with his legs crossed and looked up at her, smiling, and just sat there and talked with her. He said he didn’t need a chair, he was fine on the floor.”

The story encapsulates several traits about Father Mark repeated by each person who spoke about him with The Criterion: his embrace of poverty, his joy, his determination and his complete giving of self to serve others.

Deacon Martin Ignacio, who serves at St. Mary, offered this simple summary of the priest: “We met Christ through him.”

‘Not one to do things halfway’

Father Mark’s 46-year journey as a priest took him to three parishes in central and southern Indiana, one in northern Indiana, two years studying in Rome—and 23 years as a missionary priest in Central America.

The foundation of faith that led to this journey began in Tiffin, Ohio, on July 2, 1951. The oldest of 12 children, Father Mark grew up on the Weaver family farm, not far from the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio.

It was there that his faith was influenced by the priests of the Order of Friars Minor Conventual—the Conventual Franciscans.

In 1969, he graduated from the former minor seminary run by the Conventual Franciscans at Mount Saint Francis in Mt. St. Francis—the seat of the order’s Our Lady of Consolation Province.

After his novitiate, Father Mark professed his first vows on Aug. 17, 1973, and his solemn vows on Aug. 23, 1976. Less than a year later, on June 25, 1977, Father Mark was ordained a priest at the basilica in Carey.

“He was a brilliant student,” said Conventual Franciscan Father Tom Merrill, Father Mark’s friend for 53 years. “I was convinced he would follow an academic career.”

Father Tom was surprised, then, when Father Mark told him in 1979, just two years into serving as associate pastor of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis, that he wanted to become a missionary.

From 1979-97 and 1999-2004, Father Mark served as a missionary priest in Honduras and El Salvador. He ministered there as an associate pastor and pastor of various parishes while simultaneously serving in several leadership roles for the Custody (or developing province) of Mary, Mother of the Poor, now called the Custody of Mary, Mother of Mercy.

From novice director to formation team member, missionary delegate and head of the custody, Father Mark “made a huge impact on the young friars,” said Father Tom.

“There aren’t many people who could’ve adjusted to the poverty he had to live in in Central America,” the priest noted. “But he didn’t get happiness from having a lot of things. His family and the people he served were really his treasures.”

Living in community with Father Mark in Terre Haute and Clarksville, Conventual Franciscan Father John Bamman was a firsthand witness of the priest’s embrace of the Franciscan vow of poverty.

“He only owned one trunk at the foot of his bed,” said the pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville. “Everything he owned he could pack up in 15 minutes.”

Father Tom noted another trait of his friend that helped him succeed in his roles in Central America and in adjusting to an “entirely different culture.”

“He had a stubbornness, a stick-to-itiveness,” the priest said. “He would carry out a thing to the very end. He was not one to do things halfway or lukewarm.”

‘He’d drop everything to take care of you’

Father Mark took a two-year sabbatical to study in Rome from 1997-99, and a one-year sabbatical at a Conventual Franciscan friary in Louisville from 2004-05.

Then it was back to doing what he loved: serving others and drawing others to love God through his ministry as a priest.

His first assignment was as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Lagrange, Ind., in the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, from 2005-2010.

Father Mark next served as pastor of St. Joseph University Parish in Terre Haute from 2010-2018. Father John spent the first four years of his priesthood, 2010-14, serving there with Father Mark and living with him at the local friary—where he and Father Mark would “josh around” with folks who rang the doorbell.

“He was very joyful,” Father John recalled. “We’d be joshing around with them, and later on they would say, ‘Well, I’m here to see Father Mark,’ and were shocked to find out that was him. He had a way of breaking down defenses and just meeting you eye-to-eye with no pretenses.”

Houghton admired the priest’s joy, too.

“He had a constant smile,” she said. “You could see the joy of the Lord through him.”

And you could see his love of the Lord, added Deacon Martin, especially when celebrating Mass.

“He’s looking at the bread and wine as if he’s talking to the person of Jesus and not the bread and wine,” he recalled, moved to tears at the memory. “That made a huge connection with everyone [at St. Mary] and how the celebration [of Mass] unites us all,” particularly in a parish with English- and Spanish-speaking communities.

Father Mark’s decades in Central America helped in his service to the parish’s Hispanic community, Deacon Martin also noted.

“He knew the culture, he knew the language, and he knew the suffering of the community,” he explained. “He was able to embrace all that and look at their needs and serve them.”

But then, Father Mark served everyone. It was one of his strongest qualities—each of those interviewed noted it.

“He’d drop everything to take care of you, to hear you,” Houghton recalled. “It’s not like, ‘I’m busy.’ It was, ‘You need to talk—I’m here.’ ”

The same was true of the friaries where Father Mark lived, said Father Tom, calling him “very giving of himself in community.”

Through tears, Deacon Martin said Father Mark lived John 15:13: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

‘He died like he lived’

Despite his rapid decline after being diagnosed with leukemia last fall, Father Mark expressed that love to the very end. His dying wish was to preach one last time at all of the Masses at St. Mary.

And so he did on Feb. 10-11, the weekend before he died. The Gospel reading that weekend presented a leper telling Christ, “If you are willing, you can cleanse me” (Mk 1:40).

Deacon Martin shared the message of hope and love Father Mark offered the congregation in his homily.

“He said, ‘I was reflecting on this exact Gospel with Jesus. He told me he would heal me, but it’s not going to be on this side. It’s going to be on the other side.’

“He said, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready to see all the people, all those loved ones I’m missing. But mostly I’m ready to have that encounter with Christ, open arms waiting to take me to the Father’s embrace.’ ”

The words encapsulated Father Mark, said Father Tom.

“He set his sights on Jesus—he did that all his life,” the priest said of his friend. “He died like he lived.”

(Father Mark is survived by 10 of his 11 siblings. A memorial Mass was celebrated at the Basilica and National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation on Feb. 24. Father Mark’s Mass of Christian Burial took place at St. Mary Church on Feb. 27, followed by burial at the Conventual Franciscans’ cemetery at Mount Saint Francis. Memorial donations can be made at or sent to the Province of Our Lady of Consolation, Office of Mission Advancement, 103 St. Francis Blvd., Mt. St. Francis, IN 47146.)

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