|+Father James Sweeney|
Conferral speech for the Distinguished Alumnus Award given posthumously at the 1995 Saint Meinrad Alumni Reunion
Presented August 9, 1995
Several years ago, this Distinguished Alumnus Award was established for those Alumni of Saint Meinrad who have in some way merited particular recognition for their service to the Church and Saint Meinrad. Just as importantly, this award seeks to recognize those who have exemplified Gospel values not only in their chosen work, but in the very manner of their life. All of us who have passed through these halls have in some way internalized the Benedictine values of ora et labora, discovering the sanctity of work and prayer, holiness an knowledge. There are some, however, who have given something extra of themselves. They have appropriated the tradition and values handed down to them, and have in turn handed down to new generations of Christian faithful that same tradition, those same values, by their own lived example.
This year, the Board of Directors is in the somewhat unusual position of presenting the Distinguished Alumnus Award posthumously. Among the Board, there was a genuine desire to recognize someone who distinguished himself in his life and ministry not through spectacular accomplishments, but in the midst of the ordinary and everyday, faithfully and conscientiously.
It was in the context of those discussions that the name of Father Jim Sweeney kept surfacing. He is one who exemplified so many of the good qualities we discussed, and who – even now – remains very much alive in memory.
When Father Jim Sweeney died in February of 1990, it was apparent that the local Church of Indianapolis lost a loving and dedicated pastor. A parishioner wrote a touching memorial shortly after his death in which she noted the many ways in which Jim was “special.” In part, it read:“Special is how and what Father Sweeney made us feel. Father Sweeney didn’t know the word ‘stranger.’ It was the quiet talk we had with his ears and heart wide open. It was the special dinners, lunches, or early morning breakfasts…we all know how Father Sweeney loved to eat! It was the phone call just to say thank you for your help, to wish you a happy birthday, to sing a verse of happy Valentine’s Day, or just to let you know he was thinking about you.”
When Jim Sweeney went to God, his brother priests lost a caring mentor, confidant and friend. He trusted the people around him, his staff and his parishioners. People, in turn, responded to that trust. His parishes were vibrant communities. He made everything look simple, easy and natural. His vision of ministry, and more importantly, his authentic living out that vision, was a powerful example to many a seminarian and newly ordained. A few months after Jim’s death, a brother priest who had served with Jim wrote:
“Father Jim accomplished a lot in a little time by trusting and loving people, by not fearing the gifts of others, and by knowing that God is really in charge. What good lessons to learn!”
When Jim Sweeney “knocked at the gate of his heavenly state” his fellow alumni lost one who had walked the halls of learning, faith and understanding with them. He was a loyal supporter of all the works of Saint Meinrad, and so he supported and furthered the works of the Church before the eyes of the world.
In everything he did, Jim Sweeney brought people to God. Not just in his preaching, or presiding at the Sacraments, but his genuineness, his compassion, his faithfulness. He saw goodness in every person me met; man or woman, young or old. In quiet and unassuming ways (and those are relative terms for one of Jim’s disposition!), Jim built up the Kingdom of God. And he did it very effectively.
And people remember. Still, when monks of Saint Meinrad are assisting in parishes around Indianapolis, people approach them with remembrances of “Father Jim.” Relatives recount anecdotes. Classmates tell stories. Jim has, in his own way, become part of the oral tradition of the local Church.
A Distinguished Alumnus of Saint Meinrad is a source of inspiration. Jim did this – and more – and the degree to which people comment still today is an even stronger indication of the significance of good and effective ministry in people’s lives.
It would be a great pleasure to present this Distinguished Alumnus Award to Jim. But now it is to his memory, and to those like him, who faithfully, quietly, and unassumingly, build up the Kingdom of God, that this award is dedicated.
One of Jim’s most significant connections to Saint Meinrad is in the person of his brother, Father Timothy. Together they were formed in the faith by the local Church of Indianapolis. Together they came to Saint Meinrad in pursuit of knowledge and understanding. Together they worked to build up the Kingdom of God. In different places, in different ways, but always out of love for the same Church.
We are pleased that Father Timothy is able to be here today to accept the 1995 Distinguished Alumnus Award for his brother, the Reverend James J. Sweeney of the class of 1958.