History of the Office

Ecumenical gatheringThe focus on ecumenism in the Archdiocese began in the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council.  It was April 30, 1970, when Father Bernie Head (then on faculty at Marian College, now University) went to Archbishop Biskup requesting the formation of an Ecumenical Commission.  In his letter he made proposals for purpose, membership, and effective diocesan-wide structure.

By 1972, the Commission was meeting.  Initially, most members were clergy.  But rather quickly local lay folks (e.g., Richmond, Terre Haute, New Albany) were added, as were religious women, as had been suggested by Father Head.

Notable names soon emerged: Fathers Richard Terrill (first chairperson), Mike Albright (second chairperson), Tom Murphy (third chairperson), Msgr. Ray Bosler (expert at VCII for Archbishop Schulte), Glenn Tebbe (director of the Indiana Catholic Conference, retired 2021), and Sister Antoinette (secretary), among others. 

The first years were spent raising the consciousness of clergy, religious and laity to the “signs of the times” in the ecumenical movement.  By January 1975, Ecumenical Guidelines for the Archdiocese were promulgated.  Contemporaneously, a formal Constitution and By-Laws of the Archdiocesan Commission were written and approved.

By 1976, an Ecumenical Action Plan for parishes and institutions in the Archdiocese were in the works.  Subsequent workshops were planned throughout the deaneries.  Resources for pastors and parishes were produced to help Catholics undertake and understand the significant change in attitude toward ecumenical activities and relationships, and to help the same understand what acceptable and unacceptable ecumenical practices were.  Local dialogues were encouraged.  However, the winters of 1977 and 1978 were not kind to these efforts, forestalling much of the hoped progress.

In the meantime, Father Albright, Glenn Tebbe and Sister Antoinette began attending the National Workshop on Christian Unity (NWCU) in 1974 in South Carolina. Each year the Archdiocese was represented at this national meeting of Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and Presbyterian ecumenists.  In fact, the Action Plan begun in 1976 was featured prominently at the 1977 (February) NWCU in Pittsburgh, PA.

Further efforts for local dialogue were set in motion.  A clergy retreat for Lutheran and Catholic pastors was planned and executed by November 1976.  A comparable retreat for Lutheran and Catholic Laity was to take place, but again the weather conditions of two winters seem to have retarded these efforts.

By 1977, Fathers Terrill and Albright had resigned for various reasons, and Father Murphy took up the mantel of chairperson.  Msgr. Bosler remained active as well, being the “face” in the “office of ecumenism”. 

1977 also saw the beginnings of the formal Dialogue between Roman Catholics and Disciples of Christ in the United States; the Disciples international headquarters were, and remain, here in Indianapolis. 

It was in this same period that a series of city-wide Prayer for Christian Unity prayer services began.  Often co-sponsored by the Church Federation of Greater Indianapolis and the Archdiocese, these prayer services continued for many years each January, moving from church to church of various Christian denominations.

As is wont to happen, the passionate urgency which impelled the creation of the Commission, and its work, began to wane.  By 1980, the Commission was moving to dormancy.  The Office became the work more or less of Father Tom Murphy, assisted by Msgr. Bosler.  Their efforts kept the Archdiocese involved in dialogue both Ecumenical and Inter-religious.  The first Catholic / Muslim gathering was through the efforts of Father Murphy. 

The Archdiocese remained a member of NADEO (National Association of Diocesan Ecumenical and Inter-religious Officers – now CADEIO).  But the concerns of diocesan life, the reduction in the number of priests and religious, and the struggle to focus ecumenism and inter-religious efforts in the vast and varied reality of the Archdiocese seem to have undermined the effectiveness of both Commission and Office.

From the mid to late 1990’s until 2012, most ecumenical and interreligious interactions were confined to

  • local ecumenical and interfaith prayer services, often at Thanksgiving, in parishes or deaneries.
  • the annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Prayer at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.
  • ecumenical “moments” (e.g., the installation or ordination of a new Episcopal Bishop or new Roman Catholic Archbishop).
  • the participation by Archbishop Buechlein in the national dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Disciples of Christ.

In the Fall of 2012, Auxiliary Bishop Christopher Coyne asked Fr. Rick Ginther to take up the role of Director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs. 

From 2012 until the spring of 2016, the Office’s efforts grew slowly. 

A revival of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity began in 2014 with the service at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral.  Each successive January up to the present, the annual service is hosted by a Christian denomination at one of their local churches in the greater Indianapolis area.  Many leaders of Christian denominations are leaders of some part of the service.  An organizational committee works each year to plan the service based on the international service prepared by Faith and Order (World Council of Churches) and the Pontifical Council on the Promotion of Christian Unity (PCPCU).  To date, host churches have been Roman Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, American Baptist, Friends (Quaker), United Church of Christ, Presbyterian (Covenant Network of Presbyterians), and Episcopal Church.

A weekly column in the Criterion “Ut unum sint” began in September 2014.  Now in its ninth year, it continues to explore various connections and concepts, both ecumenical and interreligious, to share with the people of the Archdiocese.

In 2013, the Office became a charter participant in the Festival of Faiths (Center for Interfaith Cooperation).  This late summer outdoor festival gathers people of many faiths together.  A common theme is established by the organizers.  Participants from the various religions in the Greater Indianapolis area witness to how they embody the theme.  Through this effort, the Archdiocese remains visibly connected to the many faiths nestled in the Archdiocesan boundaries.

Relationship with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation was begun in 2011 by ICC (Indiana Catholic Conference) through the presence of Glenn Tebbe (Director of ICC).  In 2018, having served his two 3-years terms, Glenn stepped away from the CIC Board.  Father Rick Ginther continued to be the CIC Board member officially representing the Archdiocese.  This involvement, in many ways, remains a shared outreach of the Office of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs and the ICC.

Through involvement with CIC, the Archdiocese has cultivated young but deepening relationships with the Muslim, Sikh, Jain, Hindu, Latter Day Saints, Pagan, Buddhist, and Baha’i communities.

A more intentional connection with the Jewish community began in 2014 with participation in the Jewish Film Festival.  Growing from that were encounters with the rabbis of the area, mutual presence at interreligious prayer services praying for an end to religious intolerance and terror, and invitations to attend major Jewish religious festivals.  The Office began a relationship with JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council), which continues yet today.  In 2019, the Office hosted a luncheon for Archbishop Thompson and some of the Jewish Rabbis of the area, with a promise of further such contacts.

A special relationship exists between Archbishop Thompson (and before him, Archbishops Buechlein and Tobin) and many of the other Christian “judicatories” (leaders of a denomination) who reside in Indianapolis.  They meet once a month on a weekday morning to share both common and unique experiences.  Such gatherings are essential building and sustaining such valued relationships.

In 2016 the efforts of the office began to grow more substantially.  The director moved to Indianapolis (Our Lady of Lourdes parish).  Spending most Wednesdays in an office in the Catholic Center has enabled him to make more significant contacts with a variety of others involved in ecumenical and interreligious relations.

In April 2017, an Advisory Board was formed for the Office.  Composed from the outset of clergy, religious and lay men and women, the board serves the director in visioning how ecumenical and interreligious relations can be encouraged and enhanced throughout the Archdiocese.    The board meets six times a year.  Recently the board began to dedicate a part of each meeting to breakout groups, one ecumenically focused, one interreligious focused.  This affords greater creativity and drive in both areas.

Relationships with Butler University’s Center for Faith and Vocation, Marian University’s Theology and Philosophy Department, and St. Meinrad School of Theology have been nurtured since 2017.  Collaborations have included exchange of speakers and promotion of events hosted on campuses.

A new endeavor (2022) of the Advisory Board is a closer relationship with all the Catholic High Schools in the Archdiocese.  The office and board hope to be of assistance in raising awareness of ecumenical and interreligious relationships that are possible among faculty and students.  Opportunities for learning the varied religious traditions of faculty and students at each campus is also a hoped-for outcome.  A special encouragement for the schools will be an annual ecumenical prayer service during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity (January 18 – 25).

Additionally in 2022, the Advisory Board and the Director began creation of parish contact persons (Parish Champions) throughout the Archdiocese.  These “champions” will be the first contact for information sharing and event notifications with the Office.  It is hoped that they and their pastor / plc will work together to build up local relationships with other Christian churches, and where possible, local relationships with other faiths.

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