February 9, 2018

‘All of you helped him seek the face of the Lord’

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson processes in front of the casket of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, former shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana, at the end of his Jan. 31 funeral Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Archbishop Buechlein died on Jan. 25 at age 79. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson processes in front of the casket of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, former shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana, at the end of his Jan. 31 funeral Mass at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis. Archbishop Buechlein died on Jan. 25 at age 79. (Photo by Natalie Hoefer)

By John Shaughnessy

They each entered SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Jan. 31 with their stories, their memories and their appreciation of a humble man who made prayer the focus of his life.

They each had their reasons for paying their respects during the funeral Mass of Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, who strived to build up the archdiocese and its faithful during his 19-year tenure as the spiritual leader of the Church in central and southern Indiana.

(Related: See all our coverage of the death of Archbishop Buechlein | See photos from this event)

There was the niece who remembered the comforting way that Archbishop Buechlein reassured her on the day he presided at her wedding Mass.

There was his close friend from their days together at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in St. Meinrad who recalled the extraordinary effort that Archbishop Buechlein made to console his friend after the death of the friend’s father.

There was the young mother who shared the touching story of how the archbishop nurtured the faith of her husband so much that they named one of their children after him.

And there was the woman who has never forgotten the lesson that Archbishop Buechlein gave her about respecting the dignity of the poor.

Each of their stories reflects the motto that guided Archbishop Buechlein’s life and faith before he died on Jan. 25 at the age of 79—“Seek the face of the Lord.”

Each of their stories will be shared here in detail. Still, it seems best to start with the reason that brought Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, N.J., to return to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis—where he served as Archbishop Buechlein’s successor—to deliver the homily at the funeral Mass.

‘A desire that sprang from his heart’

Cardinal Tobin viewed the homily as an opportunity to celebrate the life of the man who had blessed him by leaving the archdiocese on such a “very solid foundation.”

“During my service here, I confess to being goggle-eyed by all he accomplished in the 19 years that he led this archdiocese,” he said. “I always tried to reassure him that my first priority was not to screw it up.”

Sharing his homily with the nearly 600 people who attended the funeral Mass, Cardinal Tobin began by noting that the archbishop knew 150 songs “very well.”

“Back in 1987, when Archbishop Daniel began his service as a bishop [in the Diocese of Memphis, Tenn.], he took the lyrics of one of those songs for his episcopal motto: ‘Seek the face of the Lord.’

“I think Daniel’s motto came from the eighth verse of Psalm 27: ‘Come,’ says my heart, ‘seek his face.’ The lyric expresses a desire. It was a desire that sprang from his heart, from the center of himself, from everything that made him him. He listened to that whispered invitation—seek his face—every day. The lyric gave direction to his life.”

It also gave direction to his leadership of the archdiocese from 1992 to 2011.

“His pursuit of the face of God invited the Archdiocese of Indianapolis always to turn its vision beyond itself, toward children, college students and young adults, the homeless, prisoners and even the dark despair of death row,” Cardinal Tobin said, alluding to the many new ministries that Archbishop Buechlein started and to the visits he made to inmates who had been sentenced to death, a few of whom he confirmed.

That search for the face of God even guided the archbishop as he neared his own death, the cardinal said.

Mentioning the memoir that the archbishop published in 2012—Surprised by Grace: Memories and Reflections on Twenty-five Years of Episcopal Ministry—Cardinal Tobin shared a passage that Archbishop Buechlein wrote after a stroke and cancer had severely diminished his body:

“I don’t know what awaits me, but I believe with all my heart and mind and strength that I am in God’s hands. This helps me to continue with confidence, with gratitude and, yes, even with joy.”

Looking out on the people in the cathedral, Cardinal Tobin concluded his homily by thanking God “for the gift of Archbishop Daniel” before adding, “All of you helped him seek the face of the Lord.”

Sharing and extending the gift of family

The stories of all of our lives begin with family, the family that gives us love, our first memories, and often our faith.

The story of the funeral Mass of Archbishop Buechlein began with the touching image of one of his nieces and three of his nephews—and their spouses—working together to lovingly place a pall across his modest wooden casket in which he would be buried.

Thinking of her uncle, Anne Buechlein Wilmes will flash a warm smile when she remembers the moments before her wedding on June 20, 1981.

Recalling how her uncle presided at her wedding to Art Wilmes, Anne notes, “I remember walking down the aisle [toward the front of the church] and feeling nervous. He took my hand and said, ‘Are you all right?’ Just the comfort of having him look out for me made a difference.”

Anne, Art and Anne’s brother, Michael Buechlein were part of the procession that accompanied the body of Archbishop Buechlein into the cathedral on the morning of Jan. 30, the day before his funeral Mass. And they were among the first to stand by his casket on that day of his viewing.

Still, a short time later on that morning of Jan. 30, their solemnness gave way for a moment as they sat in the dining room of the cathedral rectory and shared story after story about their uncle—a man who not only made his family a priority, but who also felt and shared that sense of family with his Benedictine community and the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

“When someone commits to being a monk, the Church becomes their first family,” Michael said. “He’d do his best to balance and share. The Church community is central, and our family tried to blend.”

So did the archbishop.

There were the times when he was at Saint Meinrad, and he brought his fellow monks to his parents’ home for meals and summer cookouts with the extended family in Jasper, Ind.

There were the Christmas Eves in Indianapolis when he shared dinner with Anne, Art and their daughters, Mary and Katie, before he headed to SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral to celebrate midnight Mass.

And there were the get-togethers at Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis that included the seminarians and his family.

“He took his role as a mentor very seriously,” Michael says. “He really wanted to know the seminarians, and he wanted them to know he cared about their vocation to be a priest.”

‘It meant everything to me’

Father James Wilmoth was one of the more than 100 priests from across the archdiocese who concelebrated the funeral Mass with Archbishop Charles C. Thompson, Cardinal Tobin, and 15 bishops from across the country, including Bishop Christopher J. Coyne of Burlington, Vt., who served as an auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in Archbishop Buechlein’s last year of leadership in 2011.

The 78-year-old Father Wilmoth was also among the priests and monks whom Archbishop Buechlein long ago brought to his parents’ home for meals and summer cookouts with his extended family.

“We were good friends in the seminary,” Father Wilmoth said before the funeral Mass about the friend he always called “Danny.”

“I would go to his house there in Jasper. His mom was just a great, great person.”

Still, Archbishop Buechlein’s place in Father Wilmoth’s heart was forever etched on the day that Father Wilmoth’s father died in 1978—a time when Archbishop Buechlein was the president‑rector of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology in the far southwestern part of the archdiocese.

“I’ll never forget when my dad died,” recalled Father Wilmoth, the longtime pastor of St. Roch Parish in Indianapolis. “I was at home with my mom, and the front door bell of our house rang. Dad died about 9 or 10 in the morning. And this was like three in the afternoon. And here was Danny there. He came up to see me and my mom.

“It meant everything to me. As I say, we were always good friends. But for him to drive from Saint Meinrad, just after he heard my dad died. … He got in his car, drove up to Indianapolis from Saint Meinrad, spent about an hour with us, got back in his car and drove back to Saint Meinrad. What a kind, generous fellow, sensitive.”

Father Wilmoth became wistful before his usual smile returned and he added, “And of course, we both loved Catholic education. We used to talk about Catholic schools all the time.”

‘The good things of the Lord’

Archbishop Buechlein’s commitment to Catholic education was prominently noted in the funeral Mass’ program, which included a litany of the ways that his leadership built up the foundation of the archdiocese in serving the human needs of Catholics and non-Catholics in central and southern Indiana.

Catholic school enrollment increased by 30 percent during his tenure, and 26 schools were recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence by the U.S. Department of Education.

The program also noted that his commitment to Catholic education extended into the center-city of Indianapolis as he kept open schools and built new ones that served low-income families and the increasing immigrant community.

He also established new programs for youths and young adults, created Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary, started the ministry of permanent deacons in the archdiocese, and laid the groundwork for opening a new shelter for homeless families in Indianapolis.

It was all part of his vision of the Church reaching out to people and making a difference in their lives, in the hope of also bringing them closer to God.

It was all part of his vision that seemed to match the words of the responsorial psalm during the funeral Mass, taken from Psalm 27:13, “I believe that I shall see the good things of the Lord in the land of the living.”

The responsorial psalm followed the first reading of the funeral Mass proclaimed by Annette “Mickey” Lentz, the chancellor of the archdiocese who was one of Archbishop Buechlein’s close friends and most trusted colleagues.

The reading from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah ended with a line that evoked thoughts of Archbishop Buechlein’s motto of “seek the face of the Lord,” an ending line that declares, “This is the Lord for whom we looked; let us rejoice and be glad that he has saved us.”

Lentz’ face reflected joy before the Mass as she shared one of her favorite stories about Archbishop Buechlein, from a moment that showed her the depth of his concern for the poor.

“I was blessed to do the Mexico City pilgrimage with him,” Lentz said. “We were there a week. We visited the ruins, and along there, the natives had their wares. I said, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to wheel and deal with them!’ I just get so excited about shopping, and he knew I loved shopping. He looked at me and said, ‘Mickey, these people do this for a living. Don’t you dare take advantage of them.’

“I said, ‘Oh, you’re kidding.’ He said, ‘No, you are not to wheel and deal with them.’ I said, ‘That takes away all the fun!’ I already had purchased a few things, and he followed me back to give them more money.”

She shook her head and smiled as she noted, “It just showed again how much he was for the poor. He believed everyone needed to earn some type of living in life and be respected. I took it as he’s teaching me another lesson. I learned many lessons from him.”

‘We actually named our second son Daniel after Archbishop’

Archbishop Buechlein’s focus on faith and sharing the depth of it even continued in the last seven years of his life when his health issues devastated his body.

No one saw the proof of that reality more, perhaps, than Ruby Dlugosz.

The 28-year-old member of St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Indianapolis attended the funeral Mass with her husband Michael and their two children, 2 1/2-year-old Jozef and 1-year-old Daniel. The couple also looks forward to a third child in September.

Before the funeral Mass, she shared the story of how her husband became friends with Archbishop Buechlein following his stroke—and how the relationship between the two men changed her husband’s life, her life and her children’s lives.

“Archbishop was really like his mentor in teaching him about the faith and how to serve, and how to be a Christian man,” Ruby said. “Michael wanted to learn more about the faith, and who better than the archbishop? So I’m very thankful that they had that relationship and friendship.”

After that time, Michael began a relationship with Ruby, which led to their marriage in 2014. They sent an invitation to Archbishop Buechlein to attend. Even though he wasn’t able to, their relationship with him continued.

“It was nice for me to start a relationship with the archbishop,” Ruby said. “We would visit him down at Saint Meinrad. We actually named our second son Daniel after Archbishop. It was really fun to bring Daniel to see him, and Archbishop Daniel would interact with him. He just loved seeing the boys, having visitors and guests. We always looked forward to it, and we always brought him brownies and stuff to make him happy.”

‘You have given us a gift’

The first and last words about Archbishop Buechlein during the funeral Mass were shared by Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.

For 35 years, the two men have been friends, a connection that dates back to when Archbishop Thompson was formed for the priesthood in the 1980s at Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology when Archbishop Buechlein was its rector.

At the beginning of the Mass, Archbishop Thompson focused on the members of the Buechlein family seated in the front row of the cathedral and said, “You have given us a gift in your uncle, in your dad’s brother, to this archdiocese and the Church, as well as the Diocese of Memphis and even before that at Saint Meinrad, and all the many lives that Archbishop touched in his many, many years.”

In personal remarks about Archbishop Buechlein following Communion, Archbishop Thompson shared how they often teased each other, including the humorous line that Archbishop Buechlein directed at his friend when he was installed in 2011 as the bishop of Evansville, Ind.

Looking at the boyish face of his friend that was posted on a prayer card, Archbishop Buechlein said, “What is this—your first Communion picture?”

At the end of the Mass, Archbishop Thompson shared a prayer of commendation for Archbishop Buechlein, saying, “May our farewell express our affection for him. May it ease our sadness and strengthen our hope. One day, we shall joyfully greet him again—in the love of Christ, which conquers all things and destroys death itself.”

He then walked down the steps from the altar and used incense to bless the body of Archbishop Buechlein, the incense representing the community’s prayers that the deceased will rise toward union with God.

Moments later, Archbishop Buechlein’s three nephews—John, Mark and Michael—were among the pallbearers who slowly escorted the casket down the center aisle of the cathedral.

A day before, Michael Buechlein had offered these words about the life and legacy of his uncle:

“His motto, ‘Seek the face of the Lord,’ is very telling. Choosing that as his motto was his way of placing it out there—that we should live our lives in search of finding heaven, and gaining heaven.” †

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