INDIANAPOLIS — They each entered SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis 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 retired Indianapolis Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein, who strived to build up the archdiocese and its faithful during his 19-year tenure as the spiritual leader of the Catholic Church in central and southern Indiana.
There were family members, a close friend from their days together at St. Meinrad Seminary and a young mother who said Buechlein nurtured her husband’s faith so much that the couple named one of their children after him.
And there was the woman who has never forgotten the lesson he gave her about respecting the dignity of the poor.
Each of their stories reflects the motto that guided Buechlein’s life and faith before he died Jan. 25 at age 79: “Seek the face of the Lord.”
Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, New Jersey, returned to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis to deliver the homily at the funeral Mass, which drew nearly 600 people. Tobin succeeded Buechlein in 2012 and headed the Indiana archdiocese until he was named to Newark in late 2016.
The cardinal said the homily was 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.”
Tobin noted that the archbishop knew 150 songs “very well.” In 1987, he said, when then-Bishop Buechlein headed the Diocese of Memphis, Tennessee, he took the lyrics of one of those sings as his episcopal motto: “Seek the face of the Lord.”
It expressed a desire “that sprang from his heart, from the center of himself, from everything that made him him,” the cardinal said. “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,” Tobin said, alluding to the many new ministries that Buechlein started and to the visits he made to inmates who had been sentenced to death, a few of whom he confirmed.
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 Brute College Seminary, started the permanent diaconate in the archdiocese, and laid the groundwork for opening a new shelter for homeless families in Indianapolis.
The first and last words about Buechlein during the funeral Mass were shared by Indianapolis Archbishop Charles C. Thompson.
For 35 years, the two men were friends, a connection that dates back to when Thompson was being formed for the priesthood in the 1980s at St. Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology.
At the beginning of the Mass, Thompson focused on the members of the Buechlein family seated in the front row of the cathedral.
He told them: “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 St. Meinrad, and all the many lives that the archbishop touched in his many, many years.”
At the end of the Mass, Thompson shared a prayer of commendation for 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 Buechlein, the incense representing the community’s prayers that the deceased will rise toward union with God.
Moments later, Buechlein’s three nephews — John, Mark and Michael — were among the pallbearers who escorted the casket down the center aisle of the cathedral.
A day before, Michael Buechlein 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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Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.