July 26, 2019

Deacon Wayne Davis taught the faith, ministered to the sick, prisoners

By John Shaughnessy

Deacon Wayne DavisKnown for his ever-present smile and his commitment to his Catholic faith, Deacon Wayne Davis died in Greenfield on July 14 at the age of 74.

A member of the first class of permanent deacons in the history of the archdiocese, Deacon Davis served for 11 years at St. Michael Parish in Greenfield while also being involved in hospital and prison ministries.

“He was always pursuing holiness and growing in his relationship with God,” said Father Aaron Jenkins, pastor of St. Michael Parish. “His missions of going to visit people who were sick and going to visit people in prison pushed him beyond what he normally would do. He saw that as a way to grow in his faith. He was a very faith-filled man.”

The Mass of Christian Burial for Deacon Davis was celebrated on July 20 at St. Michael Church in Greenfield. Archbishop Charles C. Thompson was the principal celebrant. Retired Father Paul Landwerlen was the homilist. Burial followed at Calvary Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Deacon Davis was featured in The Criterion before he became one of the first 25 deacons ordained for the archdiocese by the late Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein on June 28, 2008. He talked about how he was inspired to become a deacon because of his previous efforts in “leading various small faith-sharing groups and communities, engaging in Bible studies and serving on Christ Renews His Parish teams.”

“The sense of fulfillment that I experienced in ministering to others and in assisting them to encounter Christ and his Church caused me to think that God may be calling me to some formal ministerial role,” the retired attorney said.

‘He had a great love for God’

His life as a deacon—and bringing others closer to God—was always marked by his joy and his ever-present smile, said Deacon Kerry Blandford, another member of that first class of deacons.

“In the 16 years I knew him, I could count on one hand the times when he wasn’t smiling,” Deacon Blandford said. “It could be stuff that was difficult, but he’d find the positive in it.”

Father Jenkins learned to rely on Deacon Davis’ positive attitude when he became pastor of St. Michael’s four years ago.

“I knew immediately he was someone I could trust, someone I could count on,” Father Jenkins said. “He did a great job of being connected to the parish at large. He helped me as a pastor see or hear things in the parish differently. He’s always been a very supportive deacon.”

During his ministry, Deacon Davis visited and comforted patients at Hancock Regional Hospital in Greenfield. He also became active in prison ministry at the New Castle Correctional Facility.

“As a lawyer, he had an interesting background to be there,” Father Jenkins said. “He certainly enjoyed it. He did a Communion service with the guys there on Tuesday evenings.”

Father Jenkins also savored a personal connection he had with Deacon Davis.

“He was ordained the same year as I was. That was cool to share that with him.”

Deacon Davis even served as the parish life coordinator of St. Michael for six months in 2015—a period between the times when Msgr. William F. Stumpf was the pastor of the parish and Father Jenkins became pastor.

“He’s one of the finest people I ever met,” said Msgr. Stumpf, vicar general for the archdiocese, who led St. Michael from the fall of 2011 to early 2015. “Deacon Wayne was a person I would truly call holy. He had a great love for God and a great love for the people he served. And he was a great preacher.”

‘Called to the ministry of charity and service’

Msgr. Stumpf smiled as he recalled Deacon Davis’ “wonderful sense of humor,” saying, “I laughed so hard with him.”

Moments later, he became emotional talking about his friend.

“A deacon is called to the ministry of charity and service, and he was the embodiment of that. He was just an incredible person, but he was so quiet about it. He’s one of those people who you just know your life was blessed to be on a path that intersected with his. I will really miss him.”

So will Father Landwerlen, who was Deacon Davis’ spiritual director ever since he was ordained as a deacon. Father Landwerlen noted how Deacon Davis “loved to teach,” including in Bible studies, the parish’s Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults program, and especially in his work with men in prison.

“In the last couple of years, that was his highlight—visiting them, teaching them, preaching to them,” Father Landwerlen said. “Even when he got sick, he somehow got to that facility. He seemed to be able to connect with them. He really loved to do that.”

That faithfulness is the essence of Deacon Davis’ life and legacy, he said.

“It’s fidelity. He really was a faithful minister of the word. He was faithful to his calling.”

In all the thoughts and memories of Deacon Davis, people often noted how he and his wife of 51 years, Darlene, worked so well together in sharing and teaching their Catholic faith.

“He and Darlene were inseparable,” Deacon Blandford said. “They were both very active in ministry and really made quite the team.”

A life of family and faith

Wayne Davis was born on July 20, 1944, in Indianapolis to Odie and Exie Davis.

He was a graduate of Indiana State University in Terre Haute and Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis. Among his professional roles, he served as Indiana Securities Commissioner, Deputy Secretary of State, the executive director of the Indiana State Election Board, and managing partner for the law firm of Henderson, Daily, Withrow, and Devoe.

Through it all, his Catholic faith guided his life. Beyond his ministry at St. Michael, he was also active in serving on many boards and committees at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis.

He was also intensely involved in the Cincinnati-based Presentation Ministries, a lay association of the Church that focuses on evangelization and discipleship. And he taught at the annual Bible Institute at Xavier University in Cincinnati.

Besides his wife Darlene, Deacon Davis is survived by his children Teresa Heffernan, Christie Murphy, Debbi Davis, Becki Fleischer and Susanna Blair. He is also survived by 11 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, his brother, Samuel Devoe Davis, and his sisters, Pauline Clark and Bettie Harris.

Memorial contributions may be sent to the St. Michael Catholic Church Capital Campaign, 519 Jefferson Blvd., Greenfield, IN 46140.

They may also be sent to Pope Paul VI Deacon Formation Endowment, c/o Archdiocese of Indianapolis, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. †

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