March 4, 2022

2022 Archdiocesan Legacy Gala

Gala celebrates a beloved priest and three ministries that draw people to God

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson presents the archdiocese’s Legacy Award to Msgr. Paul Koetter during the Legacy Gala at the JW Marriott hotel in Indianapolis on Feb. 25. Msgr. Koetter received the Legacy Award in honor of his ministry to serve God and people across central and southern Indiana in his 45 years of priesthood. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson presents the archdiocese’s Legacy Award to Msgr. Paul Koetter during the Legacy Gala at the JW Marriott hotel in Indianapolis on Feb. 25. Msgr. Koetter received the Legacy Award in honor of his ministry to serve God and people across central and southern Indiana in his 45 years of priesthood. (Photo by Rob Banayote)

By John Shaughnessy

The nearly 800 people rose from their seats in unison, with many of them having tears in their eyes, reflecting the pure outpouring of love for a man who has touched the hearts and souls of so many.

The standing ovation for Msgr. Paul Koetter during the archdiocese’s Legacy Gala in Indianapolis on Feb. 25 was in celebration of his 45 years as a priest, including the past 2 1/2 years when he has inspiringly faced the challenge of what is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which has taken away his ability to speak and continues to progressively affect him physically.

The ovation continued long and heartfelt for Msgr. Koetter on this evening which was also a celebration of the gifts that the archdiocese shares with so many people across central and southern Indiana—through its 68 Catholic schools, its extensive outreach of Catholic Charities agencies and its formation of the seminarians destined to become the next generation of priests.

It was an evening filled with touching stories about how lives have been changed by faith, compassion and generosity despite heartbreaking circumstances. (Related story: Three touching stories capture the theme of Legacy Gala: gratitude)

But mostly it became an evening to celebrate the life and faith of Msgr. Koetter—a gentle priest who always seemed to have a warm, welcoming smile for everyone, a joyful spirit who so often has found a way to fulfill the one main goal of his life: to draw people closer to God.

After Archbishop Charles C. Thompson presented him with the archdiocese’s Legacy Award during the gala at the JW Marriott hotel, Msgr. Koetter shared his thoughts about the impact that being a priest has had on him—and the impact he has strived to make through his priesthood.

‘I have been blessed’

Msgr. Koetter was able to “talk” to the gala’s audience through the use of a computer and special software that has stored previous recordings of him speaking.

“This year, I will celebrate my 45th anniversary as a priest,” he began. “Through those years, I have been incredibly blessed through the people I have come to know. My priesthood was a call to help people draw closer to God and his Son, Jesus Christ, primarily through two avenues—the sacraments and preaching.

“Many times, I received a late-night phone call to go and anoint someone who was getting close to death. I never was thrilled to receive those calls, but later, as I was leaving the home or the hospital, having shared the anointing with the dying person, I always walked to my car so thankful that I was a priest.

“I remember the many conversations with a young, engaged couple about the sacrament of marriage. It gave me the opportunity to speak about God in their life, and oftentimes there was a positive response from the couple.

“Each sacrament is a gift. I have been blessed in offering this gift to so many people.”

In closing, Msgr. Koetter told the gala audience that the theme for his priesthood has always been, “God is good.”

His thank-you served as a bookend to the video that began the award ceremony for him—a video in which he talked movingly about the challenge of living with ALS, the abbreviation for the degenerative nerve order with the scientific name amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“I struggle with my ALS, and it’s hard to carry the symptoms as they become more restrictive. 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.”

Archbishop Thompson returned the gratitude to Msgr. Koetter in his salute to the priest.

‘Genuine love of God and people’

“We honor Msgr. Paul Koetter tonight with our Legacy Award not because of how bravely and gracefully he has carried on in the face of great personal health challenges. And he has done so,” the archbishop said. “We honor him tonight for his legacy.”

Speaking directly to Msgr. Koetter, the archbishop continued, “You’ve been a great pastor, assistant chancellor, vocations director, vicar for ministry personnel and a dean. I think you would agree that the many assignments and titles aren’t what you would want to be honored or remembered for. What’s more important is that you are a holy priest who has been there for others and brought them closer to God.”

Turning again to the people at the gala, the archbishop said, “We should all try to model our lives after Msgr. Koetter. He has lived a Christ-centered life. He continues to inspire us to see the world through the eyes of Jesus, and he gives us confidence that, no matter what comes our way, with Christ there is always peace and there is always hope.”

Besides the archbishop, about 35 of Msgr. Koetter’s brother priests from across the archdiocese attended the gala in his honor.

So did people from each of the parishes he has served in the archdiocese where he was regarded as a beloved priest and pastor—St. Agnes in Nashville, Our Lady of Perpetual Help in New Albany, and Holy

Spirit, St. Anthony, St. Monica and St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower), all in Indianapolis.

Six of his eight siblings also were there to cheer and support their brother, including Benedictine Sister Mary Ann Koetter, who drove him to the gala. She noted how proud their family is of him, and how grateful they are to the archdiocese that he was being honored.

Most of all, she expressed how much he means to their family, from his “fun-loving teasing” to “sharing in our joys and sorrows.”

“We, like many others, have witnessed Paul’s genuine love of God and people— and bringing the two together with his gifts and commitment,” said Sister Mary Ann, a member of Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Beech Grove.

“He continues to do this with his witness of traveling this difficult journey of ALS with a love of life. He seeks the blessings that are present in his day, and we see the strength he receives from God who he has loved his whole life long.”

‘A precious gift’

As part of a video tribute to Msgr. Koetter, Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne smiled as she shared the story of how he always gave her leeway with her carefree counting of her strokes when they played golf together. But mostly she talked about the gift of his friendship.

“It’s a precious gift to have a friend who is loyal and faithful,” she said. “I am forever grateful for God putting him into my life.”

In his closing remarks about the Legacy Gala, Archbishop Thompson was thankful that so many people attended after the past two years of dealing with the impact of COVID-19.

“Even though everything seems to be improving, we are still dealing with the effects of COVID,” the archbishop told the gala audience. “The pandemic has changed many aspects of how we live life day to day, but one thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to carrying out the mission of Jesus Christ.

“We continue through the pandemic to minister every day to the people of central and southern Indiana. People are receiving the sacraments, our Catholic schools are educating and forming our children, our seminarians continue their formation to serve as priests, and our Catholic Charities agencies continue to provide help to thousands of people who need us more than ever.”

That continuing ministry echoed the approach that Msgr. Koetter has always brought to his priesthood—and that he shared during the gala.

“Many years ago, I told the story of a village in Africa that would greet each visitor with the words, ‘God is good,’ and the visitor would respond, ‘All of the time,’ ” Msgr. Koetter recalled. “Then they reverse roles with the visitor leading with, ‘All the time,’ with the response being, ‘God is good.’ This story has become a theme for my ministry. So I say to you, ‘God is good.’ ”

After sharing that belief, Msgr. Koetter soon turned from the stage and began to leave the gala in his motorized wheelchair, heading down the middle aisle of the ballroom in the same way that a priest leaves the altar during the recessional hymn of a Mass.

As he did, the 800 people stood in unison and saluted him one more time, singing the lyrics of “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.”

Praising God. It’s the way Msgr. Koetter has always lived. It’s the way he continues to live every day. †


Watch the video of the 2022 Legacy Gala here

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