Funeral Mass is Thursday for Father John J. Dietzen, 83

Father John J. Dietzen, 83, episcopal vicar for senior clergy of the Diocese of Peoria and the foremost question and answer columnist in the Catholic press in the United States for more than 35 years, died on Sunday morning, March 27, 2011, at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center in Peoria.

The pastor emeritus of Holy Trinity Parish in Bloomington and a former pastor of St. Mark’s Parish, Peoria, Father Dietzen had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack at his Peoria residence on March 6.

Bishop Daniel R. Jenky, CSC, of Peoria will be principal celebrant of a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. Thursday, March 31, at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Peoria. Homilist will be Msgr. Gerald Ward, and burial will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Peoria.

Visitation is scheduled on Wednesday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. at St. Vincent de Paul, with a prayer service at 7 to be conducted by Father Mark DeSutter. Visitation will continue on Thursday morning from 10 a.m. until the funeral liturgy.

Father Dietzen served as associate editor of The Catholic Post from 1957 — when the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria was known as The Register — until 1973. He is a former board member and secretary of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.

Following the Second Vatican Council, Father Dietzen in 1968 began a question and answer column in The Catholic Post called “The Question Box” to help readers understand the changes taking place in the church.

Letters began coming in on all aspects of Catholic life, ranging from marriage and family issues to ecumenism, Scripture, the sacraments, and more. After the column was syndicated by CNS in 1975, Father Dietzen would regularly receive hundreds of correspondences per week.

The purpose of his column — and book compilations which followed, including “The New Question Box” first published by Guildhall in 1981 and the current 560-page “Catholic Q&A: All You Wanted to Know About Catholicism” (Crossroads) — was to help readers “recognize how our Catholic faith, in all its living expressions of worship, faith and service, can enhance (our) intimacy with God,” Father Dietzen wrote in 1997.

“What is very moving and inspiring is the desire that so many people, good people, have to grow in their faith and understanding, to grow in their grasp of their movements with God and prayer,” Father Dietzen said in an interview with the Catholic New World, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Chicago, in 2000.

“They’re really wanting to become more intimate in their spiritual lives, with each other, with God, and that surfaces so much,” he said.

Father Dietzen has for years been “the most popular and widely circulated columnist in the stable of Catholic News Service,” said Tony Spence, CNS director and editor-in-chief.

“His great and enduring talent was his pastoral response to the thousands of reader questions he answered over the years,” said Spence. “He never compromised the church’s teachings and always encouraged his readers to look to their parishes and the sacraments for solace. He never forgot that, at the end of the day, it was a human being who put a question in his box and that person required a human answer.”

In addition to his question and answer compilations, Father Dietzen was also author of two other books: “With Heart and Hand: A Guide to Personal Prayer for the Modern Catholic,” published in 1966, and “Doors of Hope: Paths for Renewal in the Catholic Church” (Templegate, 2009).

Born in Danville on Aug. 19, 1927, to John W. and Margaret (Leven) Dietzen, he attended St. Joseph’s Grade School and Danville High School. After two years at St. Bede College in Peru, Ill., he explored the field of radio and television broadcasting for a time before completing his studies for priesthood at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, from which he earned a master’s degree in English and bachelor’s and licentiate degrees in sacred theology.

He was ordained to the priesthood on June 6, 1954, by Bishop William E. Cousins at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria.

A former parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Peoria, he served as pastor of St. Mark’s Parish, Peoria, from 1973 to 1983, and of Holy Trinity Parish, Bloomington, from 1983 until being granted senior priest status in 1998.

Father Dietzen was also a pioneer in the areas of pro-life and family life. From 1957 to 1973, he served as diocesan director of family life programs, introducing and coordinating new programs such as Cana nights for married couples, pre-Cana for engaged couples, and Beginning Experience for the divorced, widowed, and separated.

He was founding chairman of the diocese’s Respect Life Board, which oversaw the establishment of the Family Resources Center in 1980, a free-loan library in downtown Peoria offering thousands of books and films to teach reverence for life in all its stages. He also served as chaplain of St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Lacon from 1968 to 1973.

A retreat master, teacher, lecturer, and participant in ecumenical dialogue, Father Dietzen had been episcopal vicar for senior clergy of the Diocese of Peoria since 2002.

He is survived by a brother, Donald Dietzen, of Danville; a sister, Sister John Margaret Dietzen, CSC, of Notre Dame, Ind.; six nieces and nephews, and 11 great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents; a brother, Robert, and a sister, Sister Catherine Dolores Dietzen, CSC.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Father Dietzen Scholarship Fund at Central Catholic High School, 1201 Airport Road, Bloomington, IL 61704 or to the Sisters of the Holy Cross Ministry with the Poor, Development Office, Bertrand Hall, St. Mary’s, Notre Dame, IN 46556.

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