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Eulogy for Archbishop Daniel W. Kucera, O.S.B.

Posted by Jeanine Jelinek on June 12, 2017 at 4:15 PM

Eulogy given by Abbot Dismas at the Vigil service for Archbishop Daniel Kucera, OSB - June 9, 2017, at St. Procopius Abbey

Archbishop Daniel’s life is so impressive that a list of his achievements alone could spark a deep sense of loss in his passing. But achievements only hint, they offer only a partial understanding of Daniel, that bright college student who became a monk, priest, teacher, administrator, college president, abbot, bishop, archbishop and, in his final days, in the manner of a parish priest, he celebrated Mass regularly, heard confessions, and counseled those with whom he lived in the Stone Hill Care Center. His was a life of service, so to grasp the real Daniel, we need to understand what his accomplishments required of him.

He lived close to half his life before the Second Vatican Council, which tells us that he was embedded in the practical effects of a church that remained relatively unchanged for 400 years by force of the Council of Trent, the Church’s response to the Reformation. He studied and embraced the theology, the church law, the accepted practices, the administrative procedures, the Latin Masses, the sacraments, and the many devotions that supported the people in their faith. He knew well both the teachings and the faith as practiced.

We human beings do not find change easy. We live by habits, good habits that we call virtues, bad habits that we call vices. When we have been educated in a world vision, live in the culture it generates, and find it relatively comfortable, we are not interested in change. Daniel, like all Catholics of the time, was led by mother church to adjust his life to the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. It must have been especially difficult for him in that he was just beginning a new leadership at a new level at a time when life in the secular world was changing rapidly.

We elected him abbot in the 1960’s, the decade of radical challenges that fractured our country’s social structures and laid the foundation for the ongoing conflicts that continue throughout the world today. Some are still with us and all have maintained an influence.

  • The Civil Rights movement with its many demonstrations that included beatings and killings
  • The women’s liberation movement with its many demonstrations
  • The sexual revolution symbolized by the wide acceptance of Playboy magazine, the Woodstock experience, and the libertine freedom grasped eagerly by many
  • The demonstrations, sometimes violent, against the Viet Nam war
  • The student sit-ins and demonstrations that challenged authority

These were all happening, or about to happen, as he began to function as our abbot. They certainly demanded a protective response. Some he dealt with directly as a college president, but all of them affected him as they did all of us, by eventually changing attitudes, values, and behavior that presented new challenges to our monastic life. All those secular forces may have seemed less significant as we discussed the Council and a renewal of our monastic life. But, they must have consumed considerable time when leading his people as bishop.

A more significant force came when he completed his first year as abbot. The Second Vatican Council closed formally, and the 16 documents it produced had all been promulgated. He already experienced a concelebrated Mass when he was blessed as abbot, the first such Mass celebrated in our nation. Now he had to deal with the other directives for the liturgy and any directives from the other 15 documents.

With insights gained from monks in our congregation he developed a renewal program for our monastic life, beginning our effort to live by the teachings of the Council.

Under his leadership as our abbot, the abbey, college, and high school advanced considerably. Both academic institutions were set for development and growth. One of his most important decisions was to build the new abbey here, on the other side of the street from the old abbey, so each institution would have its own location and identity. Of equal importance, he developed the lay board of trustees at the College and board of directors at the high school, expert lay people to help us in operating the two schools. The wisdom of that move is evident in the quality and size of both institutions today.

The building of this church is a story in itself. Abbot Daniel decided to move forward on this entire complex, abbey and church, only three months after he was elected. The Council was still in session, but the document on the Liturgy had already been accepted and was in effect. There were no official directives for the building of a church according to the new understanding of the church and its worship, so at Abbot Daniel’s direction, leading theologians and liturgists were interviewed for advice. We are functioning here in the finished product that was designed from that advice and which has received much praise and architectural awards; some of its features have been copied in other new churches.

That’s not surprising. The surprise came when the bishops published a set of directives seven years after this building was completed, and we found that this building met every one of the directives. It’s as if they examined this building, and then wrote the directives.

Directive 42: “The building or cover enclosing the … space is a shelter or “skin” for [the assembly’s worship]. It does not have to “look like” anything else, past or present. Its integrity, simplicity and beauty, its physical location and landscaping should take into account the neighborhood, city and area in which it is built.”

But the most important statement follows directly from the Council’s theology: “God has willed to make women and men holy and to save them, not as individuals without any bond between them, but rather to make them into a people who might acknowledge him and serve him in holiness … who in times past were not a people, but now are the people of God.”

This church was designed as a space for the people of God to worship as a “people.” This space under the clerestory was raised to identify the monks place to pray and worship. When alone in this church, the monks are the people of God at prayer or Eucharistic worship. When people join them in the rest of the church as you are now, they are part of the total worshiping community at prayer or Eucharistic worship.

The Council says specifically that “… the prayers addressed to God by the priest who presides over the assembly in the person of Christ are said in the name of the entire holy people and of all present.” The Council is telling us that the Mass is a prayer of the community, and the priest presides over this community prayer. As stated, the priest, functioning in the person of Christ, prays in the name of all the holy people everywhere and of all present.

This church was designed so that everyone present is aware that they are praying with others, that they are part of a community at prayer.

That was Daniel’s gift to us: a church designed to make all present for worship sharply aware of all others present, so that the individuals pray with the community as a community. As the Council directs, that they may pray together with “full, conscious and active” participation as the people of God.

There were times when Daniel spoke to us in words; now he speaks to us in his works. Every time we enter this space he is reminding us, “You are a member of the people of God; pray as a member of this praying community. Pray well with full, conscious and active participation.”

We already commented that the concelebrated Mass for Daniel’s blessing as an abbot was the first in our nation. I add that this, the church he built, may have been the first truly Vatican II church in this nation.

What does all this tell us? That this young abbot who had lived almost all of his life up to that time in the pre-Vatican II church had accepted fully the church’s lead and began in a remarkable way to re-educate and change himself as the church directed in the Council’s documents. He didn’t say whether he liked or did not like the ways of the Church before the Council; he simply embraced what mother church directed and followed it.

He went on to serve the people of the Joliet diocese, the Salina diocese, and the diocese of Dubuque. The bishop in a diocese is the teacher of the people, the one to assure them of sound doctrine and offers encouragement to live by that doctrine. But his administrative and sacramental duties allow him little time to meet and talk with many of the people he leads. Many days he has very little space for time with the Lord. Many days he is not able to deal with the things that he planned.

I call your attention to the Council’s statement on The Universal Call to Holiness.

“39. “… in the Church, everyone whether belonging to the hierarchy, or being cared for by it, is called to holiness … this holiness … is expressed in many ways in individuals, who in their walk of life, tend toward the perfection of charity, and …[are a cause of inspiration to others…]”

If you want to know what happens when someone chooses Christ as the ideal, then lives by his teachings, read the list of Daniel’s achievements identified in Fr. James’ obituary. Review what he did to build this abbey and church. Then with your imagination guess what he had to learn and how he had to change to achieve what he did, especially to lead people of very different dioceses: Joliet as administrator for a short time, then Salina, Kansas, followed by Dubuque, Iowa. Even with such a limited comparison, it should become clear that God gave him much and demanded much from him.

There is a picture of Daniel in the Stone Hill Care Center, his final place of residence, accompanied by his words that are something like this, “It is good to be with a community in a place where I can function simply as “Father Dan.” An expression of humility, appreciation, and a bit of weariness. May he rest in peace.


Abbot Dismas Kalcic, O.S.B.

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