When Bishop Gerald A. Gettelfinger celebrates a Mass of Thanksgiving at St. Benedict Cathedral on April 4, it will mark a special occasion: The 11 a.m. mass, open to all, is a celebration of the 20th anniversary of his ordination and installation as the fourth bishop to serve the 12 Southwestern Indiana counties in the Catholic Diocese of Evansville. It’s also an opportunity to reflect on the past and contemplate the future.
With the Grace of God
“I am a product of a time,” said Gettelfinger in an interview 20 years ago. “I came from a time of growth, when things changed so rapidly. I remember a home with no electricity. We were dirt poor but rich in family life.”
That interview was published in a special issue of The Message on May 12, 1989, just weeks after his ordination and installation as bishop. These times too are years of rapid change and great uncertainty. Many questions are the same today as they were 20 years ago. In response to questions, then, such as “Where are we going? What is happening?” Bishop Gettelfinger said, “We have to be upbeat and positive … and with the grace of God, things will work out.”
In 2009, budgets are being cut in homes and businesses and in the church, too. Many things have worked out over the years; the prayer remains timely that things will work out.
Things Will Work Out
When Bishop Gettelfinger was ordained and installed as bishop in ceremonies at St. Benedict 20 years ago, the Lincoln Avenue church wasn’t yet a cathedral. Assumption Cathedral was closed in 1965 to make way for redevelopment in Downtown Evansville. Whatever expectation there might have been at the time, this is the way things worked out: Holy Trinity Church in Evansville was designated as the pro-cathedral. The term means a church used as a temporary or quasi-permanent substitute for a diocesan cathedral.
For the next 34 years after Assumption was closed and torn down, large diocesan liturgies — ordinations, the Chrism Mass, Holy Week celebrations, and others –– were celebrated at various churches throughout the diocese. That is until April 11, 1999, when Bishop Gettelfinger celebrated his 10th anniversary as bishop. After seeking and receiving the consent of the parishioners at St. Benedict, Bishop Gettelfinger designated St. Benedict as the diocese’s official cathedral.
Where are we going? What is happening?
While the dedication of a cathedral was among the most public events marking the last 20 years, other events too are worthy of note. In 1993, Bishop Gettelfinger called the diocese together –– clergy, religious, and lay members –– for Synod ’93 and what would come to be seen as the first stage of planning for what would much later be known as “the priest shortage.”
Out of Synod ’93 came a call for a hard look at future parish staffing and the need for greater lay participation in the work and mission of the local church. In August 1995, another result of the diocesan synod came into being with the establishment of the Diocesan Pastoral Council. Along with consultative bodies of priests and financial advisors, the bishop now had a council largely made up of lay people to reflect on the pastoral impact of diocesan decisions.
Many changes were to come. On Dec. 8, 1996, Bishop Gettelfinger dedicated St. Nicholas Church in Santa Claus. It had been a mission church without a full-time pastor, but it became the first parish in the diocese to be established without a priest as pastor. Benedictine Sister Mary Terence Knapp, who pioneered the role of pastoral life coordinator at Holy Name Church in Bloomfield, was appointed to serve the parishioners of St. Nicholas.
A year later, the Daviess County, Ind., churches of St. Mary, St. Michael, and St. Patrick were re-designated as chapels, the most prominent move of many to acknowledge the changing reality of priest and parishioner numbers. In 2001, a new formation program began for the permanent diaconate. It would lead to the ordination of 23 new deacons in 2005, joining the deacons ordained in the 1970s and 1980s in ministry and service.
When Bishop Gettelfinger was ordained and installed as bishop, he spoke to the community in words drawn from the Catholic marriage ceremony. He promised to love and honor the people of the diocese in good times and in bad times. In 2002, allegations and acknowledgements of sexual misconduct shook the Roman Catholic Church in the United States and the Diocese of Evansville, too. Some good news in the midst of the bad news was the establishment of a Diocesan Review Board and the selection of a Victims Assistance Coordinator. Background checks and training have become standard operating procedures for a church determined to protect children and young people.
Among the many good times over the past two decades are the celebrations of Catholic life –– the Golden Wedding Jubilees, the Bruté Society awards, the Teacher of the Year honors, the Mother Teresa Awards, the Catechist Recognition ceremonies –– all to honor Christian commitment, achievement, stewardship, leadership, and care for one another.
Looking Ahead with Faith and Hope
Bishop Gettelfinger will observe his 75th birthday on Oct. 20, 2010, and as is required, he will submit his resignation to the pope. The Diocese of Evansville will await the papal appointment of its next bishop, but the next several years show no sign of slowing down. In recent months, members of a task force have been appointed by Bishop Gettelfinger to work toward generating a strategic plan for the diocese. Will there be new directions for parish collaboration or for the diocese’s schools? Will there be even more roles and ministries for deacons and vowed religious members and laypersons? Just as the questions “Where are we going? What is happening?” were asked 20 years ago, the response of faith remains the same: With the grace of God, things will work out.
Writer Paul R. Leingang is the editor of The Message, the weekly newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Evansville.