Jasper native Archbishop Daniel Buechlein dies

Jasper native Daniel Buechlein waved to people gathered outside Saints Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis as he entered the church for his installation as the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis on Sept. 9, 1992. Buechlein died early this morning at the age of 79. (Herald file photo)


Archbishop Emeritus Daniel M. Buechlein, known as a man of prayer, died shortly after midnight today at the Saint Meinrad Archabbey infirmary at age 79.

Surviving are his older brother, Charles Buechlein, of Jasper; and nieces and nephews.

He was born in Jasper on April 20, 1938, to Carl and Rose (Blessinger) Buechlein and given the name Marcus George the next day during his baptism at St. Joseph Church.

He joined the monastery on Aug. 14, 1958, and professed his vows Aug 15, 1959, taking the name Daniel. He was ordained to the priesthood in Saint Meinrad on May 3, 1964, and celebrated his first Mass on May 24, 1964, at Jasper’s Holy Family Parish.

Father Colman Grabert, a fellow monk at Saint Meinrad Archabbey, entered the seminary just a year after Buechlein and recalled this morning the archbishop being a dear and loyal friend. He called him a “serious man” who “was very careful in his work, very conscientious in getting it done and doing it well.”

“He was very good with people,” Grabert said. “He was a great mentor and had a keen eye for spotting talent.”

After he was ordained, Buechlein spent two years doing graduate work in liturgy in Rome. He then returned to Saint Meinrad to teach in 1966, and in 1971 became the president-rector of Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology, a position he held for 16 years before being appointed the third bishop of the Memphis, Tennessee diocese in 1987. He was appointed the 11th bishop and fifth archbishop of Indianapolis in 1992, where he served until his retirement.

After Buechlein had a stroke in March 2011, Pope Benedict XVI granted him retirement that September.

The stroke wasn’t the only health scare Buechlein had had in recent years. He also battled Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2008, which required several months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. He had a shoulder replacement the following year, and then in 2010, had surgery to remove a benign tumor from his stomach.

Upon his retirement, the archbishop emeritus moved back to Saint Meinrad Archbbey where his journey began.

When his retirement was announced, he said:

“It has been a joy for me to serve as Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis for the past 20 years. I want to thank all of the clergy, religious, archdiocesan staff and lay people for the support you have given me over the years. You truly have been a blessing to me. With your help and the help of God we have been able to accomplish much.”

Archbishop Daniel Buechlein with Pope John Paul II. (Herald file photo)

According to a Herald Saturday feature after his appointment as archbishop of Indianapolis in 1992, Buechlein said he always asked, “Why me?”

“Why has God asked me to be archbishop in these times? Why didn’t He let me stay at Saint Meinrad and be a monk, which is why I joined the monastery?”

But the question was never asked in fear or dread or self-pity. While he could never silence it, he did answer it.

“Sometimes I think God called me to be a monk, a priest, a rector, a bishop, an archbishop — very public positions — because I might not be saved if I’d been left to my own devices,” he said. “For me to be saved, I might have had to be a religious leader.”

His answer then led to another question.

“I can also ask why God gave me the opportunity to have so much influence,” he said. “It’s a burden and a blessing to be called to make a difference, not only in the life of the church, but also in society.”

As archbishop of Indianapolis, Buechlein served as spiritual leader of more than 200,000 Catholics. How did he go about making a difference in a Catholic community of that size?

“In prayer,” he told The Herald.

During his 19 years as shepherd of Indianapolis, Buechlein worked to strengthen the archdiocese’s pastoral, spiritual and financial health. He was especially interested in promoting Catholic education, young adult ministry, and vocations to priesthood and the religious life.

Under his leadership, enrollment in the archdiocese’s Catholic schools increased 30 percent to more than 25,000 students, reversing a 25-year decline. His partnerships and initiatives also improved student performance.

Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, said Mass in the Theology Chapel; at the time he was president rector of the School of Theology, 1977. He served as seminary rector from 1971-1987. (Photo courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey)

He garnered support to keep Catholic schools in the Indianapolis center-city open to serve students from low-income families and the growing immigrant population, and also led the effort to build two new grade schools in the center-city. He expanded the archdiocese’s ministry to young adults by starting a Theology on Tap program, adding new college campus ministry programs, and creating new archdiocesan staff positions to provide outreach to young adults.

In 2003, Buechlein established the ministry of permanent diaconate in the archdiocese. The first class of 25 deacons was ordained in 2008, and the ministry continues to flourish.

Buechlein founded the Bishop Simon Bruté College Seminary in Indianapolis in 2004, to prepare college seminarians for major seminary. The seminary quickly attracted young men discerning a vocation to the priesthood and today has nearly 50 seminarians from 10 dioceses.

Buechlein also expanded the services of Catholic Charities and social outreach ministries of the archdiocese. The archdiocese in 2009 opened a 30,000-square-foot shelter for homeless families, the Holy Family Shelter, located on the west side of Indianapolis.

The financial health of the archdiocese also improved under Buechlein’s management. During his tenure, the archdiocese raised $300 million through the annual stewardship appeal and separate capital campaigns to pay for building projects and ministry needs throughout the archdiocese.

After a series of significant budget deficits, Buechlein guided the archdiocese back to firm financial footing and break-even budgets. He also oversaw the dramatic growth of the Catholic Community Foundation, which oversees the archdiocese’s endowments. During his tenure, 337 endowment funds with a value of more than $100 million were established.

Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, gave the sign of peace to Archabbot Kurt Stasiak, OSB, during the Abbatial Blessing for Abbot Kurt on July 26, 2016. (Photo courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey)

Buechlein chose his life’s motto, “Seek the face of the Lord” when he was ordained the Bishop of Memphis in 1987 and it remained a guiding principle in his daily life up until his death.

“We fulfill our mission as religious by seeking the face of Jesus wherever we are,” he said at a prayer service in 1992. “If there are thousands of us seeking the face of Jesus just a little bit more, think of how much more love there can be among us.”

During Buechlein’s five and a half years in Tennessee, the Catholic population of the Memphis diocese increased by 12,000 members. Eight new churches were dedicated, several family life centers were built and a retreat center site was purchased.

He also helped develop a strategic planning process involving hundreds of people in the diocese, and was a leader in forging a working partnership of Catholic, Protestant and Jewish communities.

Buechlein was an Eagle Scout and also enjoyed cooking — because “it was always a learning experience” — and writing.

After Buechlein’s retirement in 2011, he settled into daily life at St. Meinrad Archabbey and wrote his memoir, “Surprised by Grace: Memories and Reflections After 25 Years of Episcopal Ministry.”

Colman said this morning that he believes Buechlein will be remembered as an exemplary priest, bishop and archbishop.

“I think, above all, (he will be remembered for) his ability to touch people’s lives both as a public figure and as an individual, as a person and as a bishop and a priest, and for being supportive, mentoring, caring,” Colman said.

Arrangements, which are still pending, will be split between the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and Saint Meinrad Archabbey. The funeral Mass will be in Indianapolis with burial the following day at Saint Meinrad.

Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, OSB, talked with youth during an ice cream social at the "One Bread, One Cup" Youth Liturgical Leadership Conference on July 9, 2013. (Photo courtesy of St. Meinrad Archabbey)

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