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Monsignor Frederick C. Easton

Conferral Speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given at the 2009 Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion

 

Presented August 4, 2009

Delivered by the Reverend Godfrey Mullen, OSB,

Provost-Vice Rector of Saint Meinrad School of Theology


Msgr. Frederick C. Easton

For 81 years, the alumni of Saint Meinrad have gathered to celebrate their affiliation and love for this Holy Hill. Nineteen years ago the alumni association began honoring deserving alumni as “distinguished” at this annual reunion.

 

The first recipient of the Distinguished Alumnus Award was the late Monsignor Alfred Horrigan, a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville and founder of Bellarmine University.

 

The second to receive the award was our beloved confrere, Father Theodore Heck, who died this past April at the age of 108. I’m sure the entire Alumni Association joins me in saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Additionally, the award has been conferred upon Baltimore Archbishop William D. Borders; the late Father Jim Sweeney of Indianapolis; Father Boniface Hardin of Saint Meinrad; Monsignor Jack Bendik of the Diocese of Scranton; the late Monsignor Jerry Neufelder of the Diocese of Evansville; Father Larry Richardt of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis; Mr. Charlie Gardner of Indianapolis; Father Cyprian Davis of Saint Meinrad; the late Fr. Bill Deering of the Diocese of Evansville; and Evansville Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger.

 

Our first distinguished alumna was honored in 2007 when we recognized Sister Margaret Ann Hagan with the award. Last year the award was presented to Father Charles Doyle of the Diocese of Gary. Welcome home to three of our previous recipients with us tonight – Father Charles Doyle, Father Cyprian Davis, and Charlie Gardner.

 

Tonight, the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association honors its 15th and 16th recipients of the Distinguished Alumnus Award.

 

Canonsburg, Pennsylvania is a small borough in Washington County, approximately 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The town, with just under 9,000 residents, is famous for a number of reasons. I’ll list just a few to pique your interest:

  • Canonsburg was the hometown of singers Perry Como and Bobby Vinton
  • Canonsburg is the birthplace of former NFL head coach Marty Schottenheimer
  • Canonsburg was the hometown of NFL superstar Doug Kotar, running back for the New York Giants in the 1970s
  • Canonsburg was the central point of the Whiskey Rebellion, sparked off by President George Washington’s decision to tax whiskey in order to pay off the national debt. I hesitate mentioning this fact lest the idea resurface.
  • Canonsburg was once known as “the most radioactive town in America” because of the Standard Chemical Company’s work purifying radium and uranium ore.

Now all this would be extremely pertinent if the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association was honoring musicians, football players, or Marie Curie. But none of this trivia is what makes Canonsburg, Pennsylvania so noteworthy to Saint Meinrad.

 

No, what makes Canonsburg, Pennsylvania so noteworthy to Saint Meinrad – and more precisely St. Patrick Parish in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania – is that it served as the launching pad for both of this year’s distinguished alumni.

 

Like many teenage boys at that time, Frederick C. Easton approached the pastor of St. Patrick Church with the idea of going to seminary. And like many youngsters from the Diocese of Pittsburgh, he was sent to Saint Meinrad. So in the late summer of 1954 – Saint Meinrad’s centennial year – Fred Easton arrived in southern Indiana to begin seminary formation. Two years later, fellow St. Patrick parishioner Paul F. Stabile, Jr., would follow.

 

Fred Easton completed minor seminary at Saint Meinrad in 1960 before moving on to St. Vincent Seminary in Latrobe and eventually St. Mary’s Seminary in Baltimore. At St. Mary’s he studied scripture under the famous Father Raymond Brown. Paul Stabile remained at Saint Meinrad for his high school years and his first year of college before departing in 1961 for Duquesne University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism.

 

While still at St. Mary’s in Baltimore Fred Easton’s father died unexpectedly, prompting Mrs. Easton to move back home to her native Bloomington, Indiana. Subsequently, Fred was granted permission to transfer from the Diocese of Pittsburgh to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. He was ordained on May 1, 1966, and was assigned to St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Bedford, Indiana. There he remained for just over a year before being sent to the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome, where he earned his licentiate in canon law. And thus, so much for the biblical training under Father Raymond Brown.

 

Around this same time, Paul Stabile was drafted into the United States Army. He served as a platoon leader and paratrooper with the First Air Cavalry Division in Vietnam. By the time his service ended, he had earned the rank of first lieutenant and was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious achievement in ground operations against hostile forces.

 

Father Easton returned to Indianapolis in 1969 and was appointed Notary of the Tribunal for nine years. He served briefly as Vice Officialis before being named Officialis, or Vicar Judicial, in 1980 – a role he still serves in today.

 

It was during that same year – 1969 – that Paul Stabile began a 14-year career at his high school alma mater in southern Indiana. The Development Office was brand new at Saint Meinrad when Paul came to work. He worked raising funds for support of seminary programs, as well as in public relations and alumni relations.

 

It was during his time working for Saint Meinrad that the first Summer Session students arrived and graduated from the Hill. It was during his tenure that the Alumni Reunion was moved annually to Saint Meinrad, instead of the hometowns of the Alumni Association Presidents. It was during Paul’s work at Saint Meinrad that the clerical alumni association and the lay alumni association were joined together as simply the Saint Meinrad Alumni Association.

 

In 1994, after his first 14 years as Vicar Judicial for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Father Fred Easton was elected to national office as secretary for the Canon Law Society of America. He was later elected as Vice President and then President of the society. His name and reputation in canon law was well-known when, in 2002, the clergy sex scandals came to a head.

 

And so in May of that pivotal year Fred was appointed Chairperson of the Special Task Force on the Canonical Response to Sexual Abuse Cases, with a later re-appointment as Chairperson of the Special Task Force to prepare the “Guide to the Implementation of the U. S. Bishops’ Essential Norms for Diocesan/Eparchial Policies Dealing with Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests or Deacons.”

 

In July of 2003, Monsignor Easton was re-appointed Chairperson of the successor committee of the Special Task Force, now called the “Committee On The Canonical Aspects Of Questions Regarding The Sexual Abuse Of Minors.” In recognition of his work through this difficult time, and in recognition of his leadership in the field of canon law, the Canon Law Society of America conferred upon Monsignor Easton its highest honor, The Role of Law, in October of 2003.

 

The Archdiocese of Louisville’s Adjutant Judicial Vicar, Father Philip Erickson, himself an alumnus of Saint Meinrad, had this to say about our Distinguished Alumnus: “Monsignor Easton’s credentials as a thoughtful and pastoral canonist are well known. He advises on topics as far flung as the causes of sainthood, to ecclesiastical goods, to procedural norms, penal trials and marriage nullity cases. He not only has an excellent grasp of the law but also of the human condition, and he applies the law with the firm but gentle heart of man who is rightfully called “father.”

 

His brother priest, Father Jim Bonke of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, Defender of the Bond for the Archdiocese and a fellow alumnus of Saint Meinrad, wrote this of Monsignor Easton: “In the midst of the worst canonical crisis ever experienced by the Catholic Church in the United States, the clergy abuse crisis, the Canon Law Society turned to Monsignor Easton to produce a guide for dealing with these difficult canonical issues and problems. This guide serves today as a tool for canonists around the country.” Further, Monsignor Easton is considered the world expert on the Petrine privilege, marriage cases in which one party in not baptized.

 

About his character Sherie Berg, a member of the Saint Meinrad Alumni Board of Directors, wrote of Monsignor Easton, “He is a kind and compassionate man, a model of a good priest, the kind of man who represents what Saint Meinrad is all about.”

 

Fr. Michael Clark, Judicial Vicar and Diocesan Administrator for the Diocese of Owensboro, another fellow alumnus of Saint Meinrad, recently told this story: “As diocesan administrator there are some clear instructions in canon law of what you can and cannot do. I had a marriage case with which I needed some clarification. I called the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, to ask. He didn’t know the answer and referred me to the matrimonial office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. When I called the CDF I was told they didn’t know the answer but would research it. In the meantime they suggested I call Monsignor Fred Easton to get the answer.”

 

While Monsignor Easton was serving the Church jurisprudently, Paul Stabile was literally building up the kingdom of God through development efforts. In addition to raising funds for the major building projects at Saint Meinrad, Paul went on to further the cause of other Catholic institutions back in the Keystone State. He served as the chief development officer at St. Fidelis Seminary, Duquesne University and La Roche College. In 2002, he began development work for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, where he serves as the Director of Planned Giving. In that capacity he assists parishes in building endowments for sustaining and enhancing ministry for the glory of God.

 

In the summer of 1980, Saint Meinrad embarked on an ambitious campaign to raise 7 point 5 million dollars for the construction of a new monastery and library. The monastic community moved into its new home in 1982. The books moved into their new home in 1984. And Paul Stabile was there – working to see it through.

 

In announcing Paul’s move to Duquesne University in February 1983, the Saint Meinrad Alumni newsletter read, “Paul was instrumental in developing our regional Alumni Dinners and the Annual Reunion at Saint Meinrad. He did everything for the dinners, from recruiting the Chairmen to carrying in the Abbey bread and wine. And he mastered the detailed arrangements for the Reunion so well that it almost seemed to run by itself. Paul supervised the production of the Alumni Directory, and he also organized the Alumni Annual Giving Program. His quiet efficiency and unswerving loyalty to Saint Meinrad made him a veritable factotum.”

 

Developing financial sustainability is not all that Paul has done to build up the kingdom of God. He has served on the Capuchin Franciscan Development Board, Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, the Pittsburgh Planned Giving Council, Canonsburg General Hospital Advisory Board, and Kiwanis Club of Downtown Pittsburgh. Additionally he serves as a lay minister in that same home parish of St. Patrick in Canonsburg in which he grew up.

 

Alumnus Jack Range, Ordination Class of 1969, who worked with Paul in the Development Office, said this of our award recipient: “Without Paul Stabile - his integrity, his deep faith and zeal for Saint Meinrad and its mission - the Development Office would not have been anywhere nearly as successful, by millions of dollars, as it is today. Paul was the "inside" glue that made everything in the Office run so smoothly.

 

Paul knew his fellow alumni so well, and his love for St. Meinrad so genuine, that whenever alumni meetings were called, countless alumni responded simply because Paul asked them to. Practically everything that evolved so successfully in the Development Office had the careful handprint on it of Paul F. Stabile. I am so proud to have worked with and known this wonderful Christian man, husband, father and friend.

 

Additionally, the Most Reverend Paul J. Bradley, Ordination Class of 1971, Bishop of Kalamazoo and Pittsburgh native, said this of Paul Stabile: “I have known Paul for more years than I can compute. He was one of the “upperclassmen” when I was in the minor seminary. He was, even then, someone that I looked up to and admired. And when I became General Secretary of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, I was thrilled to see that Paul Stabile was heading up our diocesan Stewardship and Development Department. It was a pleasure to watch Paul work so faithfully and energetically to raise money for the Church. Whether it was at alumni gatherings or in our professional dealings it was always a pleasure to see the good and faithful man that Paul Stabile is, and to know that he is a constant reflection of the wonderful formational and educational programs of our beloved Saint Meinrad. God bless you, Paul!

 

The simple stone marker that identifies the final resting place of Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul Cathedral in London, reads in part, “Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice,” or in English, “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” If you seek what Paul Stabile has done for Saint Meinrad, look around you.

 

And so this evening, we honor these two men whose Saint Meinrad days began from the same parish in the same hometown 18 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. Not singers, nor football players. Instead they are two men who have distinguished themselves in serving the Church, in serving Saint Meinrad, and in serving the common good. Congratulations, Monsignor Fred Easton and Mr. Paul Stabile.

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