October 30, 2009

‘Christ Our Hope’ outreach fosters person-to-person ministry

Retired Father Henry Brown prays the eucharistic prayer during a May 11, 2006, Mass at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. Father Brown, who died on June 21, 2009, became a resident at the Hermitage in 1998, and soon became known for his tireless ministry to his fellow residents who were close to death. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

Retired Father Henry Brown prays the eucharistic prayer during a May 11, 2006, Mass at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. Father Brown, who died on June 21, 2009, became a resident at the Hermitage in 1998, and soon became known for his tireless ministry to his fellow residents who were close to death. (File photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

The Archdiocese of Indianapolis is made up of 151 parishes spread out across 39 counties in central and southern Indiana.

Its ministries take place there and in many schools and charitable agencies in big cities, small towns and the rural countryside.

But when you boil it all down, this ministry takes place where one person gives loving care to another.

Father William Stumpf, pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Bloomington, has gained a keen appreciation of this fact over the years.

He saw it in the loving care that a retired priest gave to his dying mother. He also has seen it in the relationship he has with a young man from his parish, who recently became a seminarian and is exploring the possibility that God is calling him to the priesthood.

Both of these groups of people—retired priests and seminarians—give and benefit from the person-to-person ministry that happens every day across the archdiocese and that Father Stumpf has come to value so much.

It is these people that Catholics across central and southern Indiana support through their contributions to “Christ Our Hope: Compassion in Community,” the archdiocesan annual stewardship appeal.

‘Like an angel by his side’

In 2005, Father Stumpf’s mother died while living at St. Paul Hermitage in Beech Grove. He was called when it was clear that she was dying. But the priest was unable to get there before her death.

When he arrived, he saw retired Father Henry Brown sitting by her bedside.

“To know that he was with her when she died and that he had been praying with her was so comforting to me,” Father Stumpf said.

Father Brown died on June 21, 2009, at St. Paul Hermitage, where he had lived for 11 years. He was 82.

According to Benedictine Sister Sharon Bierman, the Hermitage’s administrator, Father Brown ministered at the bedside of so many dying residents that other residents contemplating their final days would frequently ask that he be with them as they experienced the dying process.

She told the story of Mary, a resident who was near death for three days. Father Brown hardly ever left her side during that time.

“Every five minutes, she would say, ‘Father Brown, are you there?’ And he would say, ‘Yes, Mary, I am here,’ ” Sister Sharon said. “We brought him his meals. He was so devoted to Mary that he did not want her to say, ‘Father Brown, are you there?’ and he would not be able to say, ‘Yes, Mary, I am here.’ ”

Father Brown ministered to more people than just the dying. Sister Sharon said that each evening he would visit all the residents’ rooms.

“He’d go in and give them a blessing and say the ‘Angel of God’ prayer with them,” she said.

But it was his ministry to the dying that was the hallmark of Father Brown’s time at the Hermitage.

Although his brother, Robert, died at the Hermitage seven years ago, Charles Doyle still speaks with great appreciation for the ministry that Father Brown gave to him.

“Father Brown was there constantly,” said Doyle, a member of St. Simon the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis. “He was at his bedside. He would constantly go in and check on him. And through the night, on more than one occasion, he would sit with him for hours, even when Bob wasn’t able to talk or recognize anybody. He provided Bob with a real peace.

“… He was like an angel by his side, constantly with him.”

The way in which Father Brown continued to minister in his waning years embodied for Father Stumpf the Catholic belief that when a man is ordained a priest, it becomes a part of his very identity.

“It’s his essence,” Father Stumpf said. “It’s his very being. And out of that, it shapes everything that you do.”

A blossoming vocation

In Father Brown, Father Stumpf saw the great value in the life and ministry of a priest at the end of his life.

In Michael Keucher, he sees the value of the seeds of a possible priestly vocation starting to blossom.

Soon after he arrived at St. Charles Borromeo Parish in 2007, Father Stumpf saw that this young man, now 23, was quite active in the parish, going to daily Mass often and helping out in its youth group, school and religious education, and after-school extended care programs.

“It didn’t surprise me that, within that first year, he wanted to have lunch and said, ‘You know, I think I have a vocation,’ ” Father Stumpf said.

Keucher became a seminarian this year and began his first year of formation at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in St. Meinrad in August.

Before he left, students at St. Charles Borromeo School had a send-off party for him.

“What a powerful witness for the parish community,” Father Stumpf said of Keucher. “To me, it’s just so energizing to have a young person that on fire with his faith.”

Keucher has enjoyed the slower pace of seminary life so far. He has been able to devote a lot of time to prayer, developing good relationships with his fellow seminarians and to his academic studies.

“I’ve really benefited from that,” Keucher said. “The whole way the schedule is structured reflects those values.”

This is in marked contrast to his undergraduate days at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he would work 20 hours a week in the school’s alumni association while carrying a full load of classes.

Keucher is able to devote himself full time to his priestly formation because of the way in which Catholics across the archdiocese support future priests through the annual appeal.

“It makes me realize just how blessed I am and how really blessed the Church is, that her own members are so generous and understand the role of the priest and the dramatic need that we have for them,” Keucher said. “The fact that people are so generous is just overwhelming.”

Although the support Keucher receives from Catholics across central and southern Indiana that he will never know is powerful to him, he still comes back to the power of the personal ministry and witness that he received through Father Stumpf.

“God opened a lot of doors for me through him,” Keucher said. “It’s face-to-face contact that really is how Christ continues to work through the Church. I just saw Christ working through Father Bill in my own life, kind of inviting me to do things that I wouldn’t have done otherwise—inviting me to serve at daily Masses, inviting me to go to dinners with him to talk about things, and inviting me to get more involved in the parish.

“It was through that person-to-person relationship that I had with him that is a large reason why I’m here.”

(To learn more about “Christ Our Hope: Compassion in Community,” log on to www.archindy.org/ChristOurHope.)

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