January 7, 2022

Reflection | Daniel Conway

Remembering Bill Bruns

Bill BrunsOn Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2021, William R. (Bill) Bruns II, a former editor of The Criterion and executive director of the Communications Secretariat for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, passed peacefully to the Lord following a long illness. He was 77 years old, and although he had been retired for many years, he remained active as an editor and an adviser to his many close friends in pastoral ministry.

(Related obituary: William Bruns leaves a legacy of service to the archdiocese)

Herr Bruns, as his friends liked to call him, was many things. He was a loving husband and father, a devout post-Vatican II Catholic who staunchly defended the Council against both ultra-liberal and ultra-conservative interpretations, a strict grammarian who fought an uphill battle against sloppy, imprecise writing, and he was a dear friend. He was occasionally grouchy, but always tender in his affections and merciful toward writers (like me) who sinned against the style guide approved for use in Catholic publications.

Although he would not like me to say this, I considered Bill Bruns to be a “saint next door” as Pope Francis defines this term. “Their lives may not always have been perfect,” the pope says, “yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”

Yes, he could be gruff, even intolerant, when confronted with sloppiness, silliness or sentimentality, but no one served his archdiocese more faithfully and no one was more loyal to his friends than Herr Bruns.

In an interview in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, Pope Francis said, “I’m thinking at this time of the saints who live next door. They are heroes—doctors, volunteers, religious sisters, priests, shop workers—all performing their duty so that society can continue functioning.” As far as I’m concerned, we should add “editors” to the pope’s list of saints next door, and put Herr Bruns at the top of that list!

By the time the pandemic struck, causing churches to close and faithful churchgoers to worship virtually, Bill was among the most vulnerable at-risk people due to his age and health issues. As a result, he and his loving wife Sallie remained in strict isolation, not leaving their home except to go to doctors’ appointments.

A mutual friend and former colleague, Pamelia Storms-Barrett, and I visited Bill and Sallie twice during this difficult time. The first time, I brought sandwiches and we ate them (maintaining a safe distance of 6 feet from each other) on folding chairs in the Bruns’ family garage. The second time, after all were fully vaccinated, we were able to eat indoors. In spite of Bill’s many health problems, he remained “sharp as a whip,” deeply interested in the well-being of others, and keenly interested in all matters affecting the Church he loved.

No one who knew Bill well would say that he was a saint in the conventional sense of this term. Having worked on the team that prepared the case for the canonization of Simon William Gabriel Bruté de Rémur, a French missionary in the United States and the first bishop of the Diocese of Vincennes (which later became the Archdiocese of Indianapolis), Bill was keenly aware of the holiness and pastoral perfection required for official sainthood. But what Pope Francis urges us to keep in mind is that the call to holiness is universal. That means we are all invited to become everyday saints.

“Not everything a saint says is completely faithful to the Gospel; not everything he or she does is authentic or perfect,” the pope says. “What we need to contemplate is the totality of their life, their entire journey of growth in holiness, the reflection of Jesus Christ that emerges when we grasp their overall meaning as a person.”

The totality of life that Bill Bruns lived—as a husband and father, as a friend and co-worker, and as a missionary disciple of Jesus Christ—deserves contemplation and commendation. And, as Pope Francis says, “If we become aware of this miracle of the next-door saints, if we can follow their tracks, the miracle will end well, for the good of all.”

The miracle of next-door saints is real. It was made manifest in the life of an ordinary man, William R. Bruns II, who lived an extraordinary life of love and service to his family, friends and his Church. We miss you, Herr Bruns. May you rest in peace.

(Daniel Conway is a member of The Criterion’s editorial committee.)

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