Father Don Levernier
By Father Gus Guppenberger
Connection to the universal Church—that's one of the five facets of Glenmary's home mission ministry captured in stained-glass symbols in the windows of Our Lady of the Fields Chapel at Glenmary headquarters in Cincinnati. When explaining these windows to the various groups that visit, I can speak with great enthusiasm about "Catholic nurture," "evangelization," "ecumenical cooperation" and "social outreach." But when I get to "connection to the universal Church," it always seems more remote.
That's where I look to my classmate Father Don Levernier. From his earliest days with Glenmary, Father Don, a native of Glenview, Ill., saw and expressed the beginning and the end of all ministry as centered on the universal Catholic Church.
Back in our days in the seminary, Don knew the history of the various Eastern Rites of the Catholic Church—Coptic, Byzantine, Maronite, Melkite Greek Catholic, etc. When he was ordained in 1961, he was thrilled to concelebrate an Eastern Rite liturgy in the English vernacular and distribute Communion under both species. It was always his concern to be united with the universal Church.
He anticipated with enthusiasm the promulgation of new sacramental rites and translations, yet he never used such rites or translations before the prescribed date. Some thought Father Don too much of a stickler for such details. But this attention to detail also made him keenly aware of special exceptions in canon law that could benefit his parishioners. His guiding principle—"Sacraments are for people"—made him a truly pastoral minister to his parishioners. (He would, of course, quote the Latin: "Sacramenta propter hominem.")
After serving as office manager at Glenmary's Cincinnati headquarters, Father Don pastored Glenmary missions in Franklin and Bryson City, N.C., Sylvania, Ga., and Hugo, Okla.
Father Don's concern for the universal Church led him in 1992 to request an appointment to minister in Lithuania where the church was in a mission condition after 50 years of communist rule. He did this in the spirit of Glenmary founder Father William Howard Bishop, who hoped Glenmary could help establish home mission communities in other countries. (Glenmary has supported such efforts in Colombia and India.)
For most of the last 10 years of his life, Father Don served at the cathedral parish in Vilnius, Lithuania, where his duties included teaching English classes for theology students and celebrating a weekly Mass in English. Father Don returned to the United States in May 2001 after being diagnosed with cancer.
During his battle with cancer, he often encouraged visitors with expressions of faith: "I'm dying, but I'm OK." "I'm not afraid to die. It would be a denial of all that I lived for."
In the last days before his death on May 29, 2002, Father Don gave this advice to novice director Father Tom Charters: "Tom, the novices need to be grounded in Jesus. They need to keep Jesus at the center of their lives. That is what is most important. They need to know Jesus."
And just as Father Don wanted to connect me and other Glenmarians to the universal Church—and to Jesus—during his lifetime, I feel certain he will continue that ministry for us beyond death. As he put it: "I'm not leaving Glenmary ministry, I'm only changing my address."
Father Don was a man of God, a man of the Church, a man of and for God's people.