|Monsignor John "Jack" Bendik|
Conferral speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given at the 2000 Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion
Presented August 3, 2000
It is my esteemed privilege tonight to present, along with Father Mark, the Distinguished Alumnus Award. Although the criteria for this award have not changed since it was inaugurated ten years ago, each of the previous five recipients has displayed truly unique gifts and qualifications in being chosen.
This year is no exception. Tonight we will add a name to the illustrious list of Monsignor Alfred Horrigan, Father Theodore Heck, Archbishop William Borders, Father Jim Sweeney, and Father Boniface Hardin……the name of one who makes us all proud to be called sons and daughters of Saint Meinrad.
The criteria for the award do not specify whether the recipient be lay or clerical, living or dead. But they are most definite in calling for an individual who has provided recognized service to the Church and to Saint Meinrad, and most importantly, has exemplified the Gospel values in his life and work.
We can get some insight into the reasons for the selection of Monsignor Jack Bendik from a review of his priestly ministry since he left Saint Meinrad in 1967. He was an associate pastor for three years in his home diocese of Scranton, Pennsylvania. Then he spent 16 years in campus ministry at two different colleges. In 1986 he was appointed pastor of Our Ldy o f the Snows parish, where he served for 9 years. Since 1996, after a sabbatical at Saint Meinrad, he has been the pastor of the parish communities of St. Casimir, St. John the Evangelist and St. Joseph’s in Pittston, Pennsylvania. From his biography, it appears he has at one time or other served on every diocesan board and committee. It might be most important to note that he has been asked to serve on the Council of Priests for the past 28 years. Thirty-three years of priesthood, about half with youth on college campuses and half in parish work.
But for those who know Father Jack, the facts are really unimportant. He is not someone you can put on a piece of paper. What distinguishes him is more the quality of his service and of the man himself. Possibly, by listening to some of those who have experienced his ministry and also from some of his own words and reflections, we can better see why he was such an easy choice for this award.
When Father Jack was interviewed for Saint Meinrad’s Annual Report last year, he made some interesting observations. Quote: “In August 1959 I was one of six students sent for the first time from the Diocese of Scranton to Saint Meinrad. No one back home ever heard of the place.” He said further, “Upon ordination, I returned to a diocese that had not really done its homework in preparing its people to understand the challenges of the Second Vatican Council.
There were many times that I was at loggerheads with my first pastor because I was prepared to minister to and with a different Church from the one to which I returned.” But, “my blessing was that I was assigned to work with the students at the local university. The rhythm of prayer that I had experienced in the liturgical life of Saint Meinrad, the love for the continual pursuit of knowledge, and a sense that collaborative ministry was essential to awakening the hearts of our college youth. This led me to realize that my role was not to empower the persons with whom I worked on campus – and eventually in a parish setting – but to enable them to discover the power they had as a result of baptism.”
Some years later, in his first homily at Our Lady of the Snows parish, Father Jack said:
“The hallmarks of ministry for me are:
Presence to others
Partnership with others
Patience with others
Nine years later when he left Our Lady, one of his parishioners sent this note: “Your cheerful smile…Your hearty laugh…Your fervent air…Your humble manner…Your priestly ways…Your gentle kindness…Your dedication…Your voice in song…Your twinkling eyes…Have filled our days.” For those of us who know Father Jack, that was right on the mark.
In addition to his ministry in the Diocese of Scranton, Father Jack has been a loyal and dedicated alumnus of Saint Meinrad. He has provided unselfish service on the Alumni Board of Directors, arriving early to help with reunions, always willing to serve in any way he can. On his many trips back to Saint Meinrad he never fails to find time to visit with, and brighten the days of, the monks of the infirmary.
In some further reflections, Father Jack asked: “So how did Saint Meinrad prepare me? It gave me the foundation, intellectually and spiritually, to be able to minister over these thirty-three years to a wide variety of unique communities of faith – the world of the college campus, a large suburban parish, and a combined parish of three ethnic churches.
I am blessed to live with three other priests. We range in age from 35 to 80. Every day we gather for prayer at 5:00 PM, have a social period after prayer to wind down, and then enjoy supper together (which one of the priests cooks) before beginning our evening meetings and appointments. I am often teased about running my own Benedictine monastery. Everyone in my parish knows about Saint Meinrad and our holy father, Benedict.
The spirit of Saint Meinrad imbues my life. Maybe this is why I have returned every year since ordination for a reunion, retreat, continuing education workshop – or just a week of vacation, often with members of my family. To the monks and the memories of Meinrad I will be eternally grateful.
Father Jack – pastor, campus minister, loyal alumnus, good friend – Saint Meinrad will also be eternally grateful. Now, if Father Mark will join me, we will present the 2000 Distinguished Alumnus Award to Monsignor Jack Bendik.