May 27, 2022

For Msgr. Paul Koetter, priestly ministry ‘looked like friendship’

By Sean Gallagher

Msgr. Paul KoetterMsgr. Paul Koetter, a retired priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, died on May 16 at Franciscan Hospice House in Indianapolis from complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. He was 70.

A visitation was held from 2-8 p.m. on May 26 at Holy Spirit Church, 7243 E. 10th St., in Indianapolis, with Evening Prayer that began at 7 p.m.

Visitation will also be from 9-11 a.m. on May 27 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral, 1307 N. Meridian St., in Indianapolis. A Mass of Christian Burial will follow at 11 a.m. in the cathedral. A reception will follow in the Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara Catholic Center, 1400 N. Meridian St., in Indianapolis.

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson is scheduled to be the principal celebrant of the funeral Mass. Father Eric Johnson, a nephew of Msgr. Koetter and archdiocesan vicar for clergy, religious and parish life coordinators, will be the homilist.

An additional period of visitation will take place from 10:30 a.m.-noon on May 28 at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Church, 5719 Saint Marys Road, in Floyds Knobs. Burial will follow immediately afterward in the priest circle of the parish cemetery.

(To view a video tribute to Msgr. Koetter, go to cutt.ly/Koetter)

On Feb. 26, Msgr. Koetter was honored at the archdiocese’s annual Legacy Gala. Because ALS had long since taken away his ability to speak, he spoke to those assembled through software that replicated his voice based on previous recordings of him speaking.

“I struggle with my ALS, and it’s hard to carry the symptoms as they become more restrictive,” Msgr. Koetter said via the software in a video shown at the gala. “But I have always believed in the goodness of God. That has not changed. There are real graces that have come to me through the illness, and a key one is hearing people express their appreciation for my ministry. I have received beautiful letters and e-mails that have shared that with me. And it has really confirmed my vocation as a priest.

“Why I have this illness I will never know, but I do not blame God. Rather, I continue to look for his blessings, and they appear over and over.

“So, I hope I can bring a little hope to people who bear heavy burdens, realizing that in the midst of the struggles, God is still blessing us. I hope my legacy is that God is with us, God is good, and there is much love around us. And we need to say thank you.”

Father Johnson has served in a number of the same ministries and parishes as his uncle: vocations director, vicar for clergy, assistant chancellor, and at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany and St. Agnes Parish in Nashville.

“He’s probably been the most consistent witness of the priesthood for me,” Father Johnson said.

Through his family relationship with Msgr. Koetter, in being a brother priest with him and in following him in many ministries, Father Johnson came to know intimately what was at the heart of the way Msgr. Koetter lived out his priestly life and ministry.

“Paul, who was faithful in prayer, also believed deeply that the way that we encounter Christ is communal,” Father Johnson said. “It was in the experience of relationships with one another that we somehow discovered an experience of Christ.

“It’s in that moment of shared experience, whether that be deep suffering or times of exultant joy, that God is found.”

Father Joseph Moriarty, rector of Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis, similarly had many ties with Msgr. Koetter through the years. He was a high school student when Msgr. Koetter was his associate pastor at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis.

When Father Moriarty became a college seminarian, Msgr. Koetter was his vocation director. After Father Moriarty was ordained a priest,

Msgr. Koetter was archdiocesan vicar for clergy. And when Msgr. Koetter became pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis in 1997, Father Moriarty served as an associate pastor under him for a year.

In all of those connections, Father Moriarty came to appreciate how Msgr. Koetter delicately remained both faithful to the Church and its teachings and was sensitive to people who were challenged in living out those teachings in their lives.

“He has taught me not to separate the teaching of the Church from the people that it serves,” Father Moriarty said. “I try to pass this on to seminarians [at Bishop Bruté] so they’ll be kind and compassionate, all the while respecting the teaching of the Church.”

Julie Sherer was a member of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis when Msgr. Koetter was pastor. She appreciated his relational approach to ministry, to which she said he was faithful even in difficult circumstances.

“When he had to make a hard decision for me or other parishioners, he did it with love,” Sherer said. “If he said, ‘I think it’s time for you to move out of this ministry,’ it was done with love.”

She also said his approach to ministry helped her grow in faith in a profound way through the sacrament of penance.

“He took the time to listen, to respond and to move you deeper,” Sherer said.

That happened in the confessional because of Msgr. Koetter’s own value of the sacrament, said Father Patrick Beidelman, executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Evangelization and Worship, who served for three years as St. Monica’s associate pastor when Msgr. Koetter was pastor.

“One of the things that made him such a good confessor was that he knew how to lean on God’s mercy himself,” said Father Beidelman. “He recognized his need for it and trusted in it deeply in his own personal life.”

Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter, a sibling of Msgr. Koetter and a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove, saw a tie between her brother’s value on relationships and his humility.

“He was a humble priest,” Sister Mary Ann said. “He was a wonderful listener. And there was a connection between his humility and his ability to connect with people. To have deep respect for another person is humility.”

“For Paul, most of the time, ministry looked like friendship,” Father Beidelman said. “It looked like kindness. It looked like an openness to walk with you. As people were drawn to Jesus by that, I think they saw Christ in that approach to ministry in Paul.”

Paul D. Koetter was born on June 22, 1951, to the late Bernard and Catherine (Trindeitmar) Koetter. He grew up as a member of St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County.

After graduating from the eighth grade from the parish’s school, Msgr. Koetter became an archdiocesan seminarian and received priestly formation in high school and college at the former St. Mary College High School and College in St. Mary, Ky. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from St. Mary College.

The last four years of Msgr. Koetter’s priestly formation took place at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad, where he earned a master’s of divinity degree.

Archbishop George J. Biskup ordained Msgr. Koetter a priest on May 21, 1977, at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Msgr. Koetter celebrated a Mass of thanksgiving the following day at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Church.

His first pastoral assignment was as associate pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in New Albany, where he served from 1977-82. In 1982, he became associate pastor of St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) Parish in Indianapolis.

The following year, Msgr. Koetter became archdiocesan vocations director, a ministry he held until 1993. During that period, he also served as administrator of St. Agnes Parish in Nashville from 1985-97.

In 1989, Msgr. Koetter was named archdiocesan assistant chancellor, a position he held until 1997. A year later, he became a member of the archdiocesan College of Consultors.

In 1993, Msgr. Koetter became archdiocesan vicar for ministry personnel and began service as dean of the Bloomington Deanery.

In 1997, Msgr. Koetter left ministry in archdiocesan administration and began to devote himself solely to parish ministry, which he continued until his retirement in 2020.

From 1997-2009, Msgr. Koetter served as pastor of St. Monica Parish. During that time, St. John Paul II named him a prelate of honor (monsignor) in 2004. He served as dean of the Indianapolis West Deanery from 2005-09 and temporary administrator of St. Anthony Parish in Indianapolis in 2005.

In 2009, Msgr. Koetter began service as pastor of Holy Spirit Parish in Indianapolis, where he ministered until his retirement in 2020. During the entirety of that same period, he also served as dean of the Indianapolis East Deanery. In 2015, he was appointed priest moderator pro tem for St. Michael Parish in Greenfield.

Msgr. Koetter was granted early retirement in 2020 due to his suffering from ALS.

He is survived by his siblings: Carol Johnson of Indianapolis; Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter of Beech Grove; Bernie Koetter of Taylorsville, Ky.; Joe Koetter of Prospect, Ky.; Kevin Koetter of Garnet Valley, Pa.; Ron Koetter of Lake Mary, Fla.; Steve Koetter of Alpharetta, Ga.; and Ted Koetter of Greensboro, N.C.

Memorial contributions can be made to the ALS Association at www.als.org/donate, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202, or Holy Spirit Parish, 7243 E. 10th St., Indianapolis, IN 46219-1707.
 

(To view a video tribute to Msgr. Koetter, go to cutt.ly/Koetter.)

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