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October 28, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 139




Pat Marrin Gracious Ignatius

By Pat Marrin, editor of Celebration

Today's gospel for the feast of Sts. Simon and Jude, Luke 6:12-16. Jesus called these apostles to himself by name.

Last week I attended the funeral of a great apostle, Ignatius Strecker, retired archbishop of Kansas City, Kansas, the Heartland state. He died Oct. 16 after a series of strokes and a fall and was buried from the cathedral on one of those perfect autumn days farmers must love as they stand in their fields watching the birds soar and dart, then descend to glean the leftovers of a good harvest.

Archbishop Strecker's long life, from a boyhood on the farm to CEO of a major archdiocese, brings to mind Willa Cather's moving portrait of the kind of church leaders who seem to grow in stature as time passes and death comes for them.

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Strecker was consecrated bishop in 1962 by Pope John XXIII, just in time to attend all four sessions of Vatican II. He sat next to a young archbishop from Krakow named Karol Wotyla. When he came home from the council, Strecker immersed himself in his people. He knew the challenge that awaited everyone -- a top-down, bottom-up revolution in how the church perceived itself; no longer as a tower of power but as a circle of worship around the altar-table of Christ's gift of himself, the source of an outpouring of the Holy Spirit into the lives of all the baptized.

This Vatican II vision of church was reflected in Strecker's way of awakening his laity, religious and priests to a liberating sense of empowerment for service. Strecker convened, listened, encouraged, prodded his local church toward an uncertain but inspired future. He was shrewd and far-sighted in matters of finance and planning, thus safeguarding the resources needed for ministry and the building of new parishes and schools as the Catholic population grew and shifted.

He started an institute for ongoing theological formation of all diocesan teachers, underwrote a model program to integrate the mentally and physically handicapped into full sacramental life in parishes. He championed small farmers, representing their interests before the Kansas Legislature, reached out to assist families when corporate farming, vertical integration and debt drove thousands off their land.

As a "council father," Strecker worked hard to see the Vatican II vision and structures take hold. He also lived long enough to see resistance to basic reforms by some Catholics, including some of his fellow bishops, aided and abetted by high-ranking Vatican officials who have long thought it best to recentralize and reclericalize all church authority at the top.

After his retirement in 1993 at age 75, Strecker, who was known as "Gracious Ignatius," began to experience severe tinnitus, a shrill ringing in his head that made it increasingly difficult for him to attend big meetings and many of the official ceremonies where former bishops are displayed and honored.


Archbishop Strecker's funeral was something of a showcase for the kind of vertically integrated liturgy he might have dispensed with (including the prolonged bell ringing after the consecration some bishops believe will restore eucharistic fervor), but he was given his apostolic due by an overflow crowd, soaring music and a heartfelt homily after Matthew 11:25ff: "Father, I thank you for revealing to little ones what you have hidden from the learned and clever."

The autumn day itself provided a majestic canopy of orange, red and yellow leaves that easily trumped whatever small rituals we do to hold someone a little while longer before we commit his body in the ground.

Liturgical protocol aside, we will need more time to think about who this apostle and council father was and what we should be doing now to honor his memory.

Pat Marrin's email addres is Celebration, NCR's sister publication, is an ecumenical worship resource. To preview Celebration, follow this link: Celebration.
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