Archabbot Timothy Sweeney, OSB
Community: Saint Meinrad Archabbey
Date of Birth:07/27/1935
First Profession: 08/15/1956
Date of Death: 08/17/2017
View Funeral Homily
At four o'clock in the morning on August 17, 2017, Father Timothy Sweeney, O.S.B., monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, died in his infirmary cell, thus bringing his three-month struggle with lung cancer to a peaceful end. He was a jubilarian both of profession and priesthood, and served the Saint Meinrad monastic community for 17 years as its abbot.
Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 24, 1935, Father Timothy was the second of two boys to James M. and Helen (Cahill) Sweeney. He was given the name Robert Joseph at his baptism. His brother, James, now deceased, was a priest of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, and in 1987 received a kidney from Father Timothy.
After completing his elementary education at St. Philip Neri School in Indianapolis, Father Timothy enrolled in our high school seminary in 1949. Graduating from high school, he was invested as a novice on August 14, 1955. He professed his simple vows on August 15, 1956, and his solemn vows on that same date three years later.
Continuing his studies at Saint Meinrad, Father Timothy received a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from our College and a Master of Divinity from our Seminary and School of Theology. He was ordained to the priesthood on May 7, 1961.
After his ordination, Father Timothy pursued graduate studies in theology for two years at the pontifical Athanaeum Sant' Anselmo in Rome, where he received a licentiate in sacred theology. He then attended the Institut Catholique in Paris, France, from which, in 1968, he earned a licentiate in philosophy.
In 1968 he returned to Saint Meinrad as a member of the philosophy faculty of our College. He taught philosophy for the next 10 years, during which time he also served the monastic community as subprior (1970-1975) and as master of novices and juniors (1972-1975). In 1975, he was appointed prior of the Archabbey.
On June 2, 1978, the monastic community elected him as the seventh abbot and fourth archabbot. He received the solemn abbatial blessing from the Most Reverend Francis Shea, bishop of the Diocese of Evansville, on June 17, 1978. Observing that he was the first non-German abbot of Saint Meinrad, he quipped that "the monastery is now in the hands of the Irish."
The agenda of one of the first chapter meetings he called as abbot was to decide whether Saint Meinrad should renovate its 19th-century monastery or build a new one. He approved of the chapter's decision to build and, in the course of the four years of planning and construction, made at least two decisions that, while somewhat controversial at the time, earned him the gratitude of future generations of monks: the installation of air conditioning and the inclusion of a full bathroom in each monastic cell.
Under his leadership as abbot, Saint Meinrad also built a new library; renovated the former monastery (now St. Anselm Hall) for seminary and graduate theology use; began the four-year process of completing the renovation of the Archabbey Church begun after the Second Vatican Council; expanded and formalized the missions of the College, School of Theology, and Abbey Press; and enjoyed the significant growth of its endowment.
In June 1993, having requested and received permission from the Abbot President of the Swiss-American Congregation, Father Archabbot Timothy announced his decision to resign from the abbatial office on June 2, 1995, the 17th anniversary of his election. The lengthy advance notice was to allow the monastic community ample time to prepare for the election of his successor.
At the time of his resignation, he was the longest-serving abbot in the Swiss-American Congregation, and during many of those years he served as a member of the Abbot President's Council of the Swiss-American Congregation. He also served two terms on the Priests' Synod of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
Father Timothy had also requested and received permission to return to his ordinary place in seniority after his resignation, the first of Saint Meinrad's abbots to do so.
Following his resignation at the age of 60, Father Timothy spent six months as administrator of St. Bridget Parish, Liberty, IN, and then six months as administrator of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish, Hammond, IN. He was then appointed pastor of Parish of the Immaculate in Owensboro, KY, where he ministered to the parishioners there for 9½ years. From there, he moved to St. Paul Parish, Tell City, IN, where he served as pastor for 3½ years.
He returned to the monastery to teach philosophy in our seminary for the 2009-2011 academic years, and then assumed responsibilities as administrator of St. Charles Parish, Bloomington, IN, for six months. Following this, he spent nine months at Blue Cloud Abbey, Marvin, SD, assisting with their archives and facilitating their discussions as to the future of the Blue Cloud community.
Returning to the hill in September 2012, he maintained and managed the archives of Saint Meinrad and of the Swiss-American Congregation, while also serving the parishes of St. Isidore, Bristow, IN, and St. Martin, Siberia, IN, as their administrator.
Father Timothy was known for his homilies. Whether given as abbot or as pastor, they were crafted with care, delivered well, and frequently referenced contemporary or classical literature. Father Timothy enjoyed reading fiction, biographies and poetry, and T. S. Eliot was cited not infrequently in his offerings to confreres and parishioners.
Father Timothy loved his Church, his extended family, his many friends, and his Notre Dame football.
In early May of this year, Father Timothy received his diagnosis of lung cancer with calm curiosity. He thoughtfully considered the treatment options available and decided to let nature pretty much take its course. He knew his remaining time would be measured in months, and he was determined to make the most of it. This he did. He continued to celebrate the Eucharist in his room, and he joined his confreres at the common table and recreation as long as he could manage.
Perhaps one of Father Timothy's favorite passages from the Rule was the verse from Chapter 27, captured by a confrere's calligraphy, handsomely framed and hanging in the abbot's office during his tenure: "The abbot should realize that he has undertaken care of the sick, not tyranny over the healthy." Father Timothy took Benedict's words to heart. He was a wise and challenging leader, a patient and forgiving pastor.
He was one who did take care to arrange everything in such a way that the strong did indeed have something to yearn for, and the weak nothing to run from. May his heart now overflow with the inexpressible delight of love as, having shared patiently in the suffering of Christ, he now shares also in his kingdom.
At the time of his death, Father Timothy was 82 years old, in the 61st year of his monastic profession and the 56th year of priesthood. He served his community as abbot for 17 years.
The Office of the Dead will be prayed at 7:00 p.m. CT on Monday, August 21, in the Archabbey Church. The funeral liturgy will be celebrated at 10:00 a.m. CT on Tuesday, August 22, in the Archabbey Church. Burial will follow in the Archabbey Cemetery. For the repose of his soul, three Masses will be offered by each monk of the Archabbey. The customary suffrages are recommended to all monks of our Congregation.
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