The Catholic Commentator 

A simple phone call from Archbishop Philip M. Hannan of New Orleans in the spring of 1968 would change the course of Bishop Robert W. Muench’s priestly ministry. 

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Bishop Robert W. Muench has long held a passion for Catholic education, dating from his days as a high school teacher and educator in the Archdiocese of New Orleans.  Photo by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator 

 

In May 1968, Archbishop Hannan told Bishop Muench that he was going to be re-assigned the next day to full-time high school ministry at St. John Prep in New Orleans. That one phone call launched a 50-year passion and love of Catholic schools.

Bishop Muench recently reflected on his years as an educator and prominent force in Catholic education during Catholic Schools Week. 

“Catholic schooling stands as one of my greatest gifts in my life,” Bishop Muench said. “Every year, particularly during Catholic Schools Week, I reflect on the priests, religious sisters and dedicated lay people who contributed significantly to my well being and for whom I am eternally grateful. 

“Many of them have gone on to eternal life and surely went straight to heaven, if for no other reason than putting up with me.” 

Through his years as a priest and auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and bishop of the Diocese of Covington, Kentucky and the Diocese of Baton Rouge, Bishop Muench said he is always inspired by the enthusiasm and vitality of students, from the joyous giggling of pre-K students, from knock-knock jokes to the impressive accomplishments of older students. He said celebrating the annual Catholic Schools Week Mass has been what he called a “singular joy.” 

“(Catholic Schools Week) allows all involved in the ministry of Catholic school – clergy, religious, lay faithful – to highlight the purpose, role, vision and commitment to help form, inform and transform our students,” the bishop said. “It recognizes the contributions of administrators, teachers, faculty, parents, board and home and school association members, volunteers, benefactors and alumni.  

“It underscores the nature and function of faith development as its essential purpose.” 

Bishop Muench has always taken great delight in his annual school visits, and the warm response from students confirm that he is always a welcomed visitor. Each school year the bishop spends at least one day at each of the eight high schools in the diocese and will spend a combined 30 days a year visiting high school and elementary schools. 

“Being in the presence of our students brings special joy and meaning to those called to serve,” the bishop said. 

Quoting St. Matthew’s Gospel, Bishop Muench added that Jesus taught “the gift you receive, give itself as a gift.” 

While a seminarian, Archbishop John P. Cody sent Bishop Muench to Catholic University in Washington, D.C. to study theology and work on his master’s degree in education. Archbishop Cody told the bishop at the time to plan on being appointed as principal of a Catholic high school after ordination. 

Bishop Muench served four years as a teacher and counselor at St. John Prep before asking Archbishop Hannan to reassign him to a parish ministry. He also assisted in the chaplaincy program at Brother Martin High School in New Orleans. 

“From these assignments, I had the privilege of ministering in and for Catholic schools and sought to promote their Catholic identity, catechesis and holistic promotion of student formation,” Bishop Muench said.