Father Edward A. Miller
Appointed by Bishop Leo Pursley as the fourth pastor in 1962.
The following is by Father Vincent J.Giese:
Spending a quiet evening with Father Edward Miller, a retired priest who will celebrate his Golden Anniversary as a priest this Sunday, is a spiritual tonic for us priests who are still laboring in the vineyard.
Listening to a priest of the Fort Wayne Diocese retrace his fifty years of priesthood puts our own priesthood in perspective. At times we seem to be spending so much of our time stomping out fires and meeting day-to-day needs of the people in our pastoral ministry we need from time to time to see it all in a mosaic of life-long service to the Church to appreciate the value and importance of priesthood.
From his first assignment in Michigan City, where he spent his first six years in a variety of ministries from jail chaplain to hospital chaplain to parish priest, on through his last nine years of retirement, where in his declining years has managed to continue his ministry, in face of crippling arthritis, Father Miller today presents the figure of seasoned priest who has seen it all and who today reveals a beautiful resignation to the crosses the Lord has visited him in his later years coupled with days spent in long periods of prayer and quiet reflection.
The important thing is he manages to keep busy with pursuing relationships with dear friends and yet today, as it has been throughout his life, makes the celebration of the Mass the center of his spiritual life, not an activity tagged on to busy days.
In fact, that is his one piece of fraternal advice to his brother priests. "Make the Mass central to your life and keep up your prayer life, and everything else will work out." Good advice indeed.
My evening recently with Father Miller was something very special for me. The last time I had visited with Father Miller was nearly 30 years ago--a mere teenage lad at Central Catholic High School, where I played second violin in his CC orchestra. Until my return to Fort Wayne six months ago, we had lost contact, so it was a special kind of reunion--between a priest who influenced me in my youth and my self, now a priest like him, although late coming into the priesthood. The mystery of God's ways.
Those days at the new C.C.H.S. (class of '41) were rich days for all of us, when the diocesan priests came into the new school as our teachers. Fathers Maoski, Gollner, Miller, Len Cross, John Frawley, Suelzer, Wirtz, Conway--and so manyothers--. We have all grown older and wiser together, but the impact of those dedicated and enthusiastic men of our lives have alsoe made CC a very special part of our lives.
Father Eddie brought it all back into focus as we wined and dined together in the comfort of his small apartment in Fort Wayne, where he celebrates Mass every morning for some of the neighbors. He estimates some 8,000 people have attended Mass is his home since his retirement in 1970. The pastor is still at work.
We tend to forget. Or maybe we just never knew. It was one thing to be part of his orchestra or his band at CC. It is another thing to know how he single-handedly put the new music program together, conned Bishop Noll out of band instruments, and all the while was pastor of a then small St. Vincent's parish.
It is another thing to recall how he built one of the largest CYO organizations at St. Mary's, cleaned up the old school for clubrooms, put in a photographic lab, and staged plays upstairs. Youth work, which today seems a lost art tin the Church, was always a vital part of the young priest's pastoral ministry.
From 1953 until 1962, he was pastor of St. Mary's in Huntington, a pastorate he loved and fully expected to remain at until retirement, when he received still another call to become pastor of St. Patrick's in Fort Wayne, to replace a legend in his own time, Monsignor Monahan. The St. Patrick's assignment was not easy, because of the almost complete remodel of school, church, rectory, and convent he had to face, but he did it with characteristic enthusiasm until his creeping arthritis forced retirement in 1970.
So there we have the mosaic--prison work, hospital work, music director, spiritual director of a high school, youth work with CYO, pastor, building renovator--the growing old "gracefully" of a hard-working diocesan priest. That was pretty much the life-pattern of most of the priests we knew and grew up with. May it always be thus.
Those last fifty years were not the easiest years--but then what 50 years are--for a priest who lived through the Great Depression (his father raised a family of six on a 40 acre farm in Waterloo), World War II, and Vatican II.
Where does Father Miller stand today on all the changes that have occurred in the Church is his lifetime-- the decline in vocations, the laicization of priests, the renewed liturgy? With Characteristic loyalty to the Church, he simply said he decided early that he would support whatever Mother Church called for. It is has not always been easy, but he was one of the first to request permission to say the Breviary in English. He is behind all the liturgical changes--especially the vernacular. His sensitive musician's ears (the violin and his fabled ability to play the trumpet with his left hand an direct the band with his right at the same time) have difficulty with some of the modern guitar Masses--especially when there is a $100,000 pipe organ in the church--but his acceptance of new church music, if it is done proficiently.
He likes what he sees in the new priests of today. "They are 50% better trained for their job than we were" he says. He especially likes the pastoral experience they receive today as deacons before ordination.
Vocations are down because of the allure of the affluent society and the breakdown of family life, he believes. Families don't spend enough time together. "If you don't know someone, you can't love them."
The happiest years of his priesthood? His last years at St. Patrick's, despite the amount of work that had to be done and despite the fact he wasn't too enthusiastic for the appointment when he first received it.
The happiest part of his priesthood? Visiting the sick. Giving instructions. Preparing young couples for marriage. Performing the marriages.
The consolations of the priesthood? His family ties. Although Michigan City (his first assignment) and Waterloo (his home) weren't that far apart, his first six years of priesthood he was lucky to get home twice a year. That's how busy the young priest was.
Memories? Being chaplain at Michigan City stat prison at the time John Dillenger and his group broke out of jail. One of the gang, a Catholic, spent considerable time with Father Miller, as he tried to bring him back to the sacraments. No success. But later after the break out, he was caught in Ohio, sentenced to death in Ohio State Prison, and was reconciled to the Church and buried with full Catholic rites in Lakeville.
Moving experiences? Being with two condemned killers at the time they were electrocuted. Praying with them then and hours before. Anointing them after their electrocution. "The smell of burned flesh remained in my nostrils for days, but I believe I sent two men to heaven."
The heartaches? Seeing young associates, good priests, decide to abandon their commitment and leave the priesthood. The loneliness of retirement, when he would like to have more of his brother priests visit him.
It is all there in the mosaic. Pounding the streets, door to door visitation on foot, finding Catholics and converts. Endless lines of confessions. Packed churches for Forty Hours devotions. Countless First Friday Communion calls. Fifty years fidelity to the Breviary. The rosary.
Well next Sunday, March 18, the priests and bishops of the diocese, the countless people Father Miller ministered to during 50 years of priesthood, his family and close friends, will have an opportunity to say Thank You at his 50th anniversary celebration at St. Patrick's Church in Fort Wayne. All are invited to the Mass. A few close friends, especially those of his retirement years, and his brother priests will have dinner with him afterwards. Concelebrating with him, will be Bishop McManus and his dear friend, Father Dan Richards of the Crosier Center. A rare moment of appreciation in the life of a priest.