December 1, 2022 | Archives
Fr. Stephen Van Lal Than

Sr. Lorraine Lauter, OSU, decorates a Christmas tree in 1982. COURTESY OF ARCHIVES

‘I am a key to peace’ – Bishop Soenekker’s 1973 Christmas message


The Christmas season has the power to bring out the best in all of us. Giving, gathering, and sharing, this time of year we become more Christlike than any other. It is almost paradoxical that our heightened joy during Christmas exists alongside the sadness that we can feel when we reflect on the state of the world during these cold, early nights. That sadness perhaps comes from the most Christlike parts of us. In our great joy, gathering with family and sharing gifts, we mourn for those who do not have these things. We mourn for those who hurt and have so little. We mourn for the world that struggles because it refuses to let God’s love and peace in. It seems that this happens year after year. However, as our diocese’s second bishop, Bishop Henry J. Soenneker (1961-1982), assured the diocese so many years ago, we are a people of hope and are called to be God’s peace in this world.

In December 1973 Bishop Soenekker sent a Christmas greeting to the diocese. He began by reporting that it would be the first Christmas in 23 years that Bob Hope would be on American soil to celebrate. The previous 23 he had been overseas entertaining the troops. This was a joyous sign in the final years of the long war in Vietnam. However, the bishop was distressed with the problems that seemed to be tearing our country apart, especially in the field “of labor, race, education, civil servants and farm workers.” He lamented that each side claimed, “that justice is on their side.” In all this the bishop called for peace.

Bishop Soenneker’s solution was clear but not at all simple; the peace must be made individually. Amidst all the beautiful snow and Christmas lights, the bishop asked each person to remind themselves, “I am a key to peace.” The other option was easy and unacceptable, “to blame others for the trouble and turmoil.” We all had a part to play in making peace, peace within our families, peace within our country, and peace within our Church.

These reflections were meant to further perfect an already generous and loving flock. The bishop praised the generosity of the diocese whose Christmas collection had sent thousands to those suffering the effects of hunger and natural disasters all over the globe. These acts were a shining example of what our individual actions could accomplish. The correlations between the bishop’s concerns 50 years ago and our current time are obvious – but so is the generosity and compassion of our diocese. These things I will not dwell on. This month we celebrate the birth of our Savior and King. Let us be a beacon of joy, hope, and peace this month.

Though our struggles seem to remain the same year after year, so too does our strength. Just as Bishop Soenneker pointed out, no struggle and no modernized replacement should “detract from the true light and meaning of Christmas… In adoration we kneel before this child which we know to be true God and true man.” Let us make peace this Christmas because the battle is over; our victory has already been born unto us.

Edward Wilson is the director of the Diocese of Owensboro’s Archives and the Archives of the Ursuline Sisters of Mount Saint Joseph. Comments and questions may be sent to

Originally printed in the December 2022 issue of The Western Kentucky Catholic.

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