By Bonny Van

The Catholic Commentator

“We’re four different children but we’re one,” said Mary Muench Pringle, sister of Bishop Robert W. Muench. She was describing the closeness, the love and the faith-filled dynamic of the Muench family.

Bishop Muench’s sisters, from left, Jo Ann Talken, Mary Pringle and Marsha Morse

 

The Muench family emigrated to the U.S. from Germany, settling in Kentucky, according to Pringle. When Bishop Muench was three-years-old, his father, William Anthony; mother, Mary Kathryn (Allgeier); older sister, Jo Ann Muench Talken; and baby, Mary, who was 8-months-old, moved to New Orleans for his father’s job.

“There was no favoritism in the family,” said Pringle. “We were one, we were all part of one another. Even today we have a hard time when we are separated. Jo Ann being out of town in California; Marsha, Bob and I do a lot of things but we’re always missing a piece of us when Jo Ann’s not with us.”

Being so close and close in age also came with its challenges, as Pringle related times she caught her parents’ ire over scrapes created by her older brother. The memories of these episodes still fill her with joy and tears of laughter.

“He was always up to something,” she laughed. “I was his little drag along, whatever he wanted to do, whatever trouble he wanted to get in and I was so easy going that I got in, more trouble because of him and he would be Mr. Innocent, (saying) ‘Me? I didn’t do anything.’ ”

Bishop Robert W. Muench’s parents William and Mary Muench

 

One particular incident that still makes Pringle laugh involved bedtime, when the children shared one large room upstairs in the family home. According to Pringle, her older brother would cause a noisy commotion then feign sleep when their father walked up the stairs to scold them.

“And, I used to tell Dad, ‘Really? Do you think I’d be sitting up there yelling by myself knowing what was going to happen?’ But, he (Bishop Muench) was always full of it with me and always dragging me in trouble,” Pringle laughed.

Early on, the family knew their brother would be a priest.

“It was kind of funny because a friend of my mom said, ‘You know, he is going to be a priest or a radio announcer,’ ” said Talken. “He was very sick when he was a baby. Mom stayed up all night and prayed to the Blessed Mother and devoted him to Mary, and he’s mentioned that sometimes at the altar.”

“His vocation was always there. Always,” said Pringle.

Pringle then described how her 9-year-old brother spent playtime pretending to celebrate Mass as a priest, with her as an altar server.

“He would set up a little table outside the garage door, take the dictionary he used and we sat there and I was his altar server and I better listen to what he said and how he said it because he would tell me I didn’t do it right or whatever,” she laughed.

Bishop Muench left the family at age 13 to begin studying for the priesthood at St. Joseph Seminary. Family trips to St. Benedict for the once-a-month Sunday visit created cherished memories for the three sisters. There were picnic lunches, fishing and exploring in the woods. When Bishop Muench was ordained a priest May 18, 1968, youngest sister Marsha Muench Morse recalled her brother’s happiness.

“He just radiated!” she said, with tears in her eyes. “And as a teenager, (I’m thinking) I’m not just seeing that – that’s real! He (was) so happy, he (was) just radiating in the praise and glory he has for God and from then on, I knew he was happy in what he did.”

Bishop Robert W. Muench serving wine.

 

After his ordination, the bishop served in various capacities for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, including as a religion teacher, director of vocations, vicar general and auxiliary bishop of New Orleans. When Bishop Muench was appointed the ninth bishop of Covington, Kentucky, it was like a homecoming of sorts, with extended family members already living in Kentucky.

“We always had some wonderful trips to see him when he was in Covington, Kentucky,” said Morse. “It was always hard to leave him.”

In 2001, Bishop Muench was appointed to fill the vacant See in the Diocese of Baton Rouge, a blessing for both the faithful and the family.

“And, Bob (Bishop Muench) kept saying, ‘This doesn’t really happen, to be this close to home,’ ” said Morse. “And, he kept telling us, ‘Don’t expect it, don’t expect it.’ ”

Despite the demands on his schedule, the bishop maintains close relationships with his siblings and their families, performing marriages, baptisms and first Communions. And, he has formed special bonds with his nieces and nephews, taking special care to spend “15-20 minutes and they could talk about anything,” according to Morse.

“That’s the kind of connection he has with each of them, and he loves them all and watches over them all, like they are his own,” said Morse.

“He has a special connection with the youth,” said Pringle. “And he’s just as good with the elderly as he is with the youth. They have a special place in his heart, also.”

Three years after Bishop Muench was installed as the fifth bishop of Baton Rouge, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the bishop jumped into action.

“Mom and dad lost everything in Gentilly,” said Morse. “But, I tell Bob (Bishop Muench) all the time, there was a reason you were brought here … more than just being bishop.”

“Bob (Bishop Muench) was able to handle the tough times in Baton Rouge through his faith in God,” said Pringle. “That’s what we were raised with and that’s the only road you went down. That’s just what we knew and it’s never let us down. We’ve all had tragedies in our lives; we’re not exempt. And, it’s always been our foundation. We’re very, very blessed to have always had this. It’s just been a God-given blessing.”