The history of auxiliary bishops in Indianapolis

To learn more about the history of auxiliary bishops in our diocese, read the article below originally published in our official archdiocesan newspaper, The Criterion.

Archdiocese of Indianapolis has had two previous auxiliaries

By Sean Gallagher

History was made on Jan. 14 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed Father Christopher J. Coyne, a priest of the Boston Archdiocese, to be an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

Bishop-designate Coyne will be only the third auxiliary bishop in the 177-year history of the archdiocese, and the first since Pope Pius XI appointed Father Joseph E. Ritter as an auxiliary in 1933.

Bishop Ritter served as an auxiliary, however, for less than a year. Bishop Joseph Chartrand, the bishop of Indianapolis at the time, died later that same year and Bishop Ritter was chosen to succeed him on March 24, 1934.

Bishop Ritter was born in 1892 in New Albany, and grew up as a member of St. Mary Parish. He was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Indianapolis in 1917.

Retired Father Hilary Meny, 96, was a student in the minor seminary at Saint Meinrad Seminary in St. Meinrad when Bishop Ritter was appointed an auxiliary bishop.

However, he has no memory of the appointment because, at the time, he was not yet affiliated with the Diocese of Indianapolis as a seminarian.

“They didn’t want any more people on the roster than they could support,” said Father Meny of the financially challenging times during the Great Depression.

He recalled seeing Bishop Ritter “at a distance” when he would come to the seminary for ordinations.

After studying at Saint Meinrad for eight years, Father Meny finally became a seminarian for the Diocese of Indianapolis. Bishop Ritter ordained him to the priesthood in 1940.

Bishop Ritter would later become an archbishop in 1944 when the Diocese of Indianapolis became an archdiocese. Two years later, Pope Pius XII appointed him as archbishop of St. Louis. He was made a cardinal in 1961 and died in 1967.

History, in a sense, repeated itself with the appointment of Bishop-designate Coyne. At the Jan. 14 press conference, Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein acknowledged that the health challenges he has experienced in recent years precipitated the appointment.

In 1900, Father Denis O’Donaghue was appointed the first auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Indianapolis.

According to a February 1910 issue of The Indiana Catholic newspaper, Bishop Francis Chatard had requested an auxiliary bishop at the time because of his failing health.

Bishop O’Donaghue, who was born in 1848 in Daviess County, Ind., was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Indianapolis in 1874.

Pope St. Pius X appointed him as bishop of Louisville on Feb. 9, 1910. He died in 1925. †


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