September 14, 2007

Father William Cleary was first principal of Cardinal Ritter High School

By Mary Ann Wyand

Father William D. ClearyFather William D. Cleary, a retired diocesan priest who also ministered in Catholic education and served as dean of the Connersville Deanery for many years, died unexpectedly on Sept. 7 at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove, where he was a resident. He was 81.

In addition to his parish assignments, Father Cleary served as the founding principal of Cardinal Ritter High School in the Indianapolis West Deanery, rector of the former Bishop Bruté Latin School in Indianapolis, and instructor, guidance director and assistant principal at Father Thomas Scecina Memorial High School in the Indianapolis East Deanery.

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for Father Cleary on Sept. 12 at St. Mary (Immaculate Conception) Parish in Rushville, his home parish and also his last assignment as pastor before he retired in 1996.

Father William Turner, pastor of St. Mary Parish, and Father J. Joseph McNally of Ninevah, a retired diocesan priest, assisted the archbishop with the funeral liturgy.

Burial followed at the parish cemetery in Rushville, where Father Cleary’s body was interred beside the grave of his cousin, Father James Byrne, who also was a longtime diocesan priest.

Wake and prayer services for Father Cleary were held on Sept. 10 at St. Paul Hermitage and on Sept. 11 at Todd Funeral Home in Rushville.

Father McNally preached the homily for his longtime friend and mentor.

For the Gospel reading, Father McNally chose a

passage from Matthew—“But of that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father alone” (Mt 24:36)—because he had visited Father Cleary at the hermitage on the morning of Sept. 7.

“How amazing that was,” Father McNally said. “I stopped over to see him and he was getting ready to go to physical therapy, but I spent about a half hour with him. He was in good spirits and thanked me for coming. … He said, ‘Be sure and come back,’ and I said, ‘I’ll be back next week.’ It just hit me so hard when I found out that God had taken him about an hour and a half after I left. You just don’t know the day or the hour.”

Their friendship dates back to Father McNally’s senior year in high school. Years later, they pursued master’s degrees in counseling one summer at the Catholic University of America in Washington and enjoyed going on vacations together.

In his homily, Father McNally discussed suggestions that he believes Father Cleary would offer as advice.

“The first one was to live each day, enjoy each day, make the most of it and enjoy the work that we’re doing,” he said. “Then my second point was to love our friends. Don’t take them for granted.”

As a Catholic school educator and pastor, Father Cleary knew countless people during 52 years in priestly ministries, Father McNally said. He was a very dedicated priest who spent hours writing, recording and memorizing each of his homilies.

“He had a devotion to the rosary and was very faithful in praying the Divine Office every day,” Father McNally said. “He was certainly there for any brother priest who ever needed him.”

During a Criterion interview on May 11, 2006, at St. Paul Hermitage, Father Cleary talked about concele-brating Mass at the hermitage chapel and ministering to

residents as often as possible despite his declining health.

“You’re a priest wherever you are,” Father Cleary said. “… [When] you say your breviary, [you’re joined] with priests all over the world. … The faith is always there.”

William David Cleary was born on May 2, 1926, to Michael and Kathryn (McKee) Cleary and grew up in St. Mary Parish in Rushville. He attended St. Mary School then graduated from Rushville High School

in 1944.

During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army in France and earned the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, he graduated from Saint Meinrad’s minor and major seminaries.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on Feb. 2, 1955, at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

His first assignment was as associate pastor of St. Bernadette Parish in Indianapolis on Feb. 9, 1955.

Also in the Indianapolis East Deanery, he was named assistant pastor of Holy Cross Parish as well as an

instructor, guidance director and assistant principal at Scecina Memorial High School on May 20, 1958, then assistant pastor of St. Philip Neri Parish on Jan. 9, 1964.

Father Cleary was assigned to serve in the Indianapolis West Deanery on May 19, 1965, as assistant pastor of St. Michael the Archangel Parish and principal of Cardinal Ritter High School.

On July 18, 1972, he was named pastor of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish and the rector of the former Latin School in Indianapolis.

Father Cleary returned to his home parish in Rushville as pastor on Aug. 1, 1978, where he served until July 3, 1996, when he retired from active ministry.

He also served three terms as dean of the Connersville Deanery from Jan. 1, 1981, until his retirement in 1996.

Surviving are many cousins. †

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