Msgr. Ed Meulemans (1928-2018): Lived active retirement among Native American community

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Msgr. Ed Meulemans

Born: Feb. 23, 1928

Ordained: June 11, 1960

Service in the Diocese of Phoenix: 1998-2018 at St. Peter Parish and School in Bapchule and surrounding missions

Died: Dec. 24, 2018

He was known as monsignor, superintendent, rector, vicar general, proud Army veteran and chaplain many times over. His preferred title, however was simply “Fr. Ed.”

Fr. Edward Meulemans’ ministry spanned diverse roles in the Diocese of Superior in Wisconsin where he was ordained. He slowed down slightly when he retired in the southwest in 1998, but was a regular and endeared face across the Gila River Indian community.

Fr. Meulemans supported church life at St. Peter in Bapchule and its surrounding missions. He formally took on what would be his final chaplain role — this time at St. Peter Indian Mission School — in 2006. Fr. Meulemans passed away Dec. 24 at the age of 90. The faithful in both dioceses held visitations and a funeral Mass with the junior high boys of St. Peter requesting after the midnight Mass on Christmas to sing at their chaplain’s funeral.

“Fr. Ed loved being a priest. He never missed a day without having Mass. He loved being a priest and being the hands and feet of Christ,” said Sr. Martha Mary Carpenter. The St. Peter principal and Franciscan Sister of Charity met Fr. Meulemans the year of his Arizona arrival. She called him a vital part of the school, liturgy and Catholic identity.

A good 95 percent of school Masses feature dramatized versions of the Gospel story and the priest was patient to see them through. She described Fr. Meulemans as a grandfather image to the students. During the Year for Priests, shortly before he was named a monsignor, Fr. Meulemans wrote a prayer for priests that the students said at each Mass.

The tradition had a short absence, but ultimately lived on. Those who gathered for his funeral Mass in Arizona could take home a unique picture of their beloved priest with the prayer printed on the back.

The priest, himself, reflected on his life in the Church in 2011, a year after being named a monsignor. He particularly mentioned the little children at St. Peter Mission School as full of faith, hope and love. On behalf of all those he served, Fr. Meulemans wrote, “It is, among so many of them, a very strong, wise and consistent faith. They are the best proof that the spirit is truly alive in the Church today.”

Sr. Martha recalled many a lively dinners with the late priest. He stayed on the reservation each Thursday through Sunday.

“Our supper talks would seem endless sometimes,” Sr. Martha said. Fr. Meulemans easily discussed an array of topics from theology to history to education to diocesan protocol. He could go on for an hour about the quality of a particular general in World War II. Although the years differed, his birthday mirrored that of the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima. Fr. Meulemans served in the Army for 13 months including in a post-war Japan.

Masses:

9 a.m. Dec. 29 at St. Peter Parish in Bapchule

11 a.m. Dec. 31 at Cathedral of Christ the King, Superior, Wisconsin

His ultimate sign of a meal with great people: when Fr. Meulemans forgot what he ate.

Fr. Ed was preceded in death by his parents, Phillip and Frances Meulemans, and his sister, Alice Casey. He is survived by his sister, Jean Jackelen; brother, William Meulemans and many nieces, nephews and many brothers and sisters in Christ.