History of the Office

Ecumenical gatheringThe focus on ecumenism in the Archdiocese began in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.  It was April 30, 1970, when Father Bernie Head (then on faculty at Marian College, now University) went to Archbishop Biskup requesting the formation of an Ecumenical Commission.  In his letter he made proposals for purpose, membership, and effective diocesan-wide structure.
By 1972, the Commission was meeting.  Initially, the majority of members were clergy.  But rather quickly local lay folks (e.g, Richmond, Terre Haute, New Albany) were added, as were religious women, as had been suggested by Father Head.

Notable names soon emerged: Fathers Richard Terrill (first chairperson), Mike Albright (second chairperson), Tom Murphy (third chairperson), Msgr. Ray Bosler (expert at VCII for Archbishop Schulte), Glenn Tebbe (now director of the Indiana Catholic Conference), and Sister Antoinette (secretary), among others. 

The first years were spent raising the consciousness of clergy, religious and laity to the “signs of the times” in the ecumenical movement.  By January 1975, Ecumenical Guidelines for the Archdiocese were promulgated.  Contemporaneously, a formal Constitution and By-Laws of the Archdiocesan Commission were written and approved.

By 1976, an Ecumenical Action Plan for parishes and institutions in the Archdiocese were in the works.  Subsequent workshops were planned throughout the deaneries.  Resources for pastors and parishes were produced to help Catholics undertake and understand the significant change in attitude toward ecumenical activities and relationships, and help the same understand what acceptable and unacceptable ecumenical practices were.  Local dialogues were encouraged.  However, the winters of 1977 and 1978 were not kind to these efforts, forestalling much of the hoped progress.

In the meantime, Father Albright, Glenn Tebbe and Sister Antoinette began attending the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) in 1974 in South Carolina. Each year the Archdiocese was represented at this national meeting of Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian ecumenists.  In fact, the Action Play begun in 1976 was featured prominently at the 1977 (February) NWCU in Pittsburgh, PA.

Further efforts for local dialogue were set in motion.  A clergy retreat for Lutheran and Catholic pastors was planned and executed by November 1976.  A comparable retreat for Lutheran and Catholic Laity was to take place, but again the weather conditions of two winters seem to have retarded these efforts.

By 1977, Fathers Terrill and Albright had resigned for various reasons, and Father Murphy took up the mantel of chairperson.  Msgr. Bosler remained active as well, being the “face” in the “office of ecumenism”. 

1977 also saw the beginnings of the formal Dialogue between Roman Catholics and Disciples of Christ in the United States; the Disciples international headquarters were, and remain, here in Indianapolis. 

It was in this same time period that a series of city-wide Prayer for Christian Unity prayer services began.  Often co-sponsored by the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis and the Archdiocese, these prayer services continued for many years each January, moving from church to church of various Christian denominations.

As is wont to happen, the passionate urgency which impelled the creation of the Commission and its work began to wane.  By 1980, the Commission was moving to dormancy.  And the Office became the work more or less of Father Tom Murphy, assisted by Msgr. Bosler.  Their efforts kept the Archdiocese involved in dialogue both Ecumenical and Inter-religious (the first Catholic / Muslim gathering was the work of Father Murphy). 

The Archdiocese remained a member of NADEO (National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officers – now CADEIO).  But the concerns of diocesan life, the reduction in the number of priests and religious, and the struggle to focus ecumenism and inter-religious efforts in the vast and varied reality of the Archdiocese seem to have undermined the effectiveness of both Commission and Office.

From the mid to late 1990’s until 2012, the majority of ecumenical and interreligious interactions were confined to

  • local ecumenical and interfaith prayer services, often at Thanksgiving, in parishes or deaneries;
  • ecumenical “moments” (e.g, the installation or ordination of a new Episcopal Bishop or new Roman Catholic Archbishop);
  • the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.
  • the participation by Archbishop Buechlein in the national dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ.

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