April 20, 2007

‘In the hands of God’: Archbishop Buechlein reflects on 20 years as a bishop

Archbishop Buechlein prays at his 10th anniversary Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Aug. 29, 2002. (File photo by Brandon A. Evans)

Archbishop Buechlein prays at his 10th anniversary Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral on Aug. 29, 2002. (File photo by Brandon A. Evans)

(Editor’s Note: March 2, 2007, marked the 20th anniversary of Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein’s ordination and installation as bishop of the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.

Five years later, then Bishop Buechlein received word that Pope John Paul II had named him to lead the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He was installed as its archbishop on Sept. 9, 1992.

To celebrate his 20 years as a bishop, Archbishop Buechlein recently went on a personal retreat to reflect on his time as a shepherd of the Church in Memphis and Indianapolis.

While on retreat, he responded to a series of questions from The Criterion that afforded him the opportunity to share his thoughts on his 20 years of ministry as a bishop.)

Q What was your reaction when you first learned that Pope John Paul II had asked you to become a bishop in 1987?

A I was on a seminary recruitment trip in Phoenix when I received the papal nuncio’s telephone call at 8 a.m. on Jan. 14, 1987.

I was stunned and was in kind of a daze for the first six months after I was ordained a bishop in Memphis.

When I entered the monastery at Saint Meinrad in 1958, becoming a bishop was not in the picture. However, when I promised obedience to the archabbot in 1962, my future was placed in the hands of God.

When the pope’s nuncio called me in January of 1987, he told me that my vow of obedience had been transferred from the archabbot to the Holy Father, Pope John Paul II.

Q In your 20 years as a bishop, you have served as the archbishop of Indianapolis for 15 years. Share some of your favorite moments and memories as the archbishop.

A The day of my installation as archbishop in September 1992 is, of course, memorable.

The celebration of the Great Jubilee in 2000 at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis was exciting.

Participating in the beatification and canonization of Mother Theodore Guérin at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome were extraordinary privileges.

I love the celebration of the sacraments. Ordination to the priesthood is always memorable. I enjoy celebrating the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) elections and the sacrament of confirmation. The dedication of new churches is awesome.

I pray that establishing Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary at Marian College in Indianapolis will continue to be a blessing for the archdiocese and the Church.

I enjoy writing my weekly column for The Criterion.

Q What have been the most difficult challenges for you as a bishop?

A The ordeal of sexual abuse among clergy was certainly an unexpected one.

Presiding at the funeral of nine priests in one year, 2005, was quite sad.

It is very hard work to maintain many of our Catholic schools. Having to eliminate many positions at the Catholic Center for financial reasons was not only difficult for me but for many others.

I worry about many of our priests who carry the burden of multiple parishes and assignments. Increasing the number of our seminarians is a challenge in our culture.

Q After 20 years as a bishop, you know the priorities that matter the most to you in leading the archdiocese. What are those priorities, and what do you hope your legacy as archbishop will be?

A My legacy is not really mine to determine so I don’t think in those terms. I guess that judgment will be determined by future history under God’s Providence.

I am concerned about securing and maintaining fine Catholic schools and religious formation for the future. I am pleading for St. Theodora’s intercession for this.

I want to pursue with even greater creativity and resources the finding of more vocations to the priesthood for the good of the Church and to provide for our hard-working priests.

I pray for the help of our founding bishop, Simon Bruté, in this endeavor. He started with virtually no resources.

As we look toward the celebration of the 175th anniversary of the founding of our local Church

in 2009, I pray that the faith and holiness of our people will have deepened even more. That is an intangible and largely depends on the help of the Holy Spirit.

Q When you have previously recalled your installation as the bishop of Memphis in 1987, you said that one of the bishops came up to you and said, “There are more directions on the back of a soup can than how to be bishop.” After 20 years as a bishop, what advice would you give to someone becoming a bishop in today’s Church?

A Pray and believe in the sacramental grace of the office. The fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders makes all the difference.

For the rest, rely on the goodness of the priests and good people who will assist you in serving as pastor, priest and teacher in the person of Christ.

It is God’s Church, not the bishops—and God does provide most often through the priests, deacons, religious and the laity.

Q Although you’ve experienced many blessings and crosses over the past two decades as a bishop, what do you look forward to in the years to come? Any thoughts on what may happen when you turn 75 in 2013 and are asked to submit your resignation to the Holy Father?

A I count on God’s continuing grace as I grow in age and tenure here in the archdiocese.

I really don’t think much about sending my letter of resignation to the Holy Father at age 75.

God has not let me down in the past and present, so I am confident that his Providence will care for me in my evening years.

With God’s blessing and the help of good priests and people, I don’t plan to carry on my ministry “by looking in the rear-view mirror,” as the saying goes.

I look forward to our celebration of our 175th anniversary in 2009. †

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