September 30, 2011

Reflection / Daniel Conway

Archbishop Buechlein is first and foremost a man of prayer

When he was ordained a bishop in Memphis on March 2, 1987, after serving as a monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey for nearly 25 years, Daniel Mark Buechlein told the clergy, religious and faithful of his new diocese that his first duty as a bishop was to be a man of prayer.

He repeated that pledge five years later when he was installed as archbishop of Indianapolis on Sept. 9, 1992.

Archbishop Buechlein never forgets that prayer is his primary responsibility. In fact, as he told the clergy, religious and faithful who attended his last official meeting as chief shepherd of the Church in central and southern Indiana on Sept. 21, “I’m not quitting.”

In fact, he is returning to his roots in southern Indiana to continue and intensify the ministry of prayer that he first embraced as a monk of Saint Meinrad more than 50 years ago, and that he has accepted as his primary responsibility as a bishop.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “the bishop is the steward of grace of the supreme priesthood especially in the Eucharist …” (#893).

The phrase “steward of grace” is an especially apt description of Archbishop Buechlein because of his spirituality and his administrative skill. The catechism goes on to say that “bishops and priests sanctify the Church by their prayer and work, by their ministry of the word and of the sacraments. They sanctify her by their example, ‘not as domineering over those in [their] charge but by being examples to the flock’ ” (cf. 1 Pt 5:3, CCC #893).

Archbishop Buechlein takes his responsibilities seriously. Formed by loving parents who practiced their faith with deep devotion and who lovingly handed it on to their two sons, the young Mark Buechlein was well-prepared for the education and training he received at Saint Meinrad.

Ora et labora—prayer and work—is a centuries-old Benedictine motto. Through the teaching and example of his monastic confreres, Father Daniel, as he was known then, grew to appreciate and put into practice the style of life that is sometimes called “contemplation in action.”

Even as a young monk, he was very busy—teaching, counseling, providing spiritual direction, and serving as an administrator skilled at planning, motivating and delegating.

But because he is first and foremost a man of prayer, the active life he lived as a seminary rector, bishop and metropolitan archbishop never interfered with his ministry of word and sacrament or his commitment to sanctify by example.

“I am called to be a man of prayer,” he says. “It’s my main job.”

I have been privileged to know Archbishop Buechlein for 44 years. He was my freshman hall dean at the former Saint Meinrad College. He taught me philosophy, liturgy and the sacraments. He was our director of spiritual formation in college, and afterward, when I attended the graduate School of Theology, he was president-rector.

Later, I worked for him—first in the development office at Saint Meinrad and then in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.

He is the best administrator—and one of the best fundraisers—that I have ever known.

What is the secret of his success as a spiritual leader, manager of the Church’s temporal affairs and “steward of grace of the supreme priesthood”? I can say without hesitation that he is successful because he is first and foremost a man of prayer.

Archbishop Buechlein’s early retirement is a bittersweet experience for all of us who have had the privilege of working closely with him over the years.

When he was first installed as archbishop, he was a vigorous young man of 54, a runner whose boundless energy made him impossible to keep up with.

Age and illness have changed him before our eyes—as happened to Blessed John Paul II. That, too, is a part of the witness that popes and bishops now are called to give to a world that disdains aging and suffering as it vainly seeks to remain forever young.

Archbishop Buechlein requested, and received, Pope Benedict XVI’s blessing to give up his active duties as a bishop. No more planning, personnel management, budget-cutting or fundraising!

But he did not ask to be relieved of his primary responsibility—to be a man of prayer. In fact, he is renewing his commitment by returning to Saint Meinrad, and once again enrolling in the “school of the Lord’s service” that is the form of contemplation in action proposed by the Rule of St. Benedict.

We will miss the archbishop’s active leadership, but it should be a great consolation to all of us to know—with absolute certainty—that he is not quitting.

He remains a steward of grace whose ministry is to be a man of prayer, and an example of obedient acceptance to God’s will no matter what the cost.

“Ad multos annos”—many years!

(Daniel Conway is a consultant for mission advancement for the Archdiocese of St. Louis. He is a member of the editorial committee of the board of directors of Criterion Press Inc., and led the archdiocese’s Office of Stewardship and Development from 1993-97.)

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