The 1917 song Back Home Again in Indiana, composed by James F. Hanley, meant nothing to me before I entered seminary. Before becoming a seminarian for the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, I had spent nearly every moment of my life in the great state of Indiana. I grew up in Carmel, a city just north of Indianapolis. I attended Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana for two years before entering seminary. North central Indiana was the unchanging backdrop to my life. Familiarity, though not in this instance breeding contempt, did breed within me a certain apathy toward my home state and home diocese. Nothing, however, causes the heart to long for one’s home more than an extended absence. Studying for three years at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Minnesota and then for these past four years at Mundelein has provided an opportunity for that longing. The Diocese of Lafayette is my home, and I truly desire to be back home again in Indiana.
Stretching from the Illinois to the Ohio border, the Diocese of Lafayette covers a significant portion of the Hoosier state. The Diocese of Lafayette extends as far north as Rensselaer (a town about an hour and a half south of Chicago) and drops all the way down to the suburbs of Indianapolis. As such, Lafayette can boast about quite a bit of diversity of peoples and cultures. Growing up in Carmel, I experienced the busy life of a large suburban parish. Since entering seminary, I have experienced the rest of this diverse diocese. I have been able to serve in cities such as Lafayette or Muncie, which have their own distinct flavor and cultures. I have been able to serve in small towns such as Peru and Otterbein, oases against rolling fields of Indiana farmland.
It has been driven home to me again and again since joining seminary: if you want to be an effective priest in the Diocese of Lafayette, you’d better be prepared to talk finance with the businessman in Carmel just as easily as you talk about planting season with the farmer in Otterbein.
Learning the “language” of the diocese and about the great people within it has afforded me the opportunity to experience some of the hidden gems that make the Diocese of Lafayette unique—indeed, that make the state of Indiana unique. Spending the summer of 2019 in Peru, Indiana, I learned that this city affectionately titles themselves the “Circus Capital of the World.” In the early twentieth century, this railroad hub of a town served as the winter headquarters for such illustrious circuses as the Ringling Brothers. Since 1960, the city has put on an amateur circus every July, meaning circus tryouts and practices are as common for children in Peru as playing school sports is in most other towns. Ministering in Peru meant recognizing how important this community event is to families—it also meant being crazy enough to try the trapeze myself!
Spending my pastoral internship semester in Oxford and Otterbein, Indiana, I quickly learned the most honored civic figure was named Dan Patch. I also quickly learned that this Mr. Patch was not a person…but a horse! Dan Patch, a famous pacer horse that was raised in Oxford, Indiana, and helped put this small town on the map in the early twentieth century. Every year Oxford celebrates this source of civic pride with an event called “Dan Patch Days.”
These various little gems throughout the Diocese of Lafayette help show the unique charm of these Indiana towns. These gems and local culture also help speak to the nature of the people of the Diocese of Lafayette. Whether in the suburbs or in the farmland, I have always found the people of Lafayette to be welcoming, generous, and full of gratitude. Beyond this, I have always found the people of the Diocese of Lafayette to truly be salt of the earth. It is this fact, above all, that motivates me as I finish out my final year in seminary and prepare for priestly ordination in June. Wherever I have been in the diocese, I have always found people who simply want to know Jesus Christ and to follow Him in a deeper way. This simple faith and love that I have so often encountered has edified me and helped me refine and focus my own formation during these years in seminary. People want to know—whether they work at a financial firm in Indianapolis, an industrial plant outside of Lafayette, or simply on the tractor—that the Lord matters in their life, in their occupations, and in their day-to-day interactions with those closest to them. These people are the salt of the earth and expect their priests to bring Christ to them, to keep that salt flavorful and to thus allow them to go out and change the world through the Gospel.
If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then I can assuredly say that my time away in seminary has made my heart grow quite fond of returning home and engaging in this mission of evangelization in the Diocese of Lafayette. I long to be back home again in Indiana. To be able to, in some way, help build up our Lord’s Kingdom is humbling. To help build up this Kingdom in one’s home is a privilege and one of the greatest tasks I look forward to in priesthood.