January 21, 2011

Archdiocese of Indianapolis has had two previous auxiliaries

By Sean Gallagher

History was made on Jan. 14 when it was announced that Pope Benedict XVI had 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 as 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.

“I was in the band at Saint Meinrad,” recalled Father Meny. “Of course, we’d put on a program each time before an ordination. And Bishop Ritter would be on hand, and he’d come out and listen to our bum notes, you know.”

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

Father Meny said Bishop Ritter’s leadership helped to put the diocese back on a good financial footing.

“Prior to his ordination as bishop, I think the diocese just had so many young men who were at Saint Meinrad who were, in a sense, financial wards of the diocese so that the diocese was tending to go broke,” he said.

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 The Indiana Catholic newspaper, Bishop Francis Chatard had requested an auxiliary 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.

In a Jan. 15 interview with The Criterion, Father Meny said he had heard about the appointment of Bishop-designate Coyne on the radio.

When told that the soon-to-be auxiliary bishop is well over 6 feet tall, Father Meny, who is 5’6”, said with a laugh, “As far as I know, he’ll do well. And, of course, the very fact that he’s so tall and so imposing would psychologically do something to almost anybody who is a shrimp like me.” †


(Click here for more coverage and photos of the appointment of Bishop-designate Christopher J. Coyne)

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