Bishop Noll alum Bob Buchanan shares memories of Pope Benedict

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Bob Buchanan, a 1982 graduate of Bishop Noll Institute, met Pope Emeritus Benedict at the Vatican on several occasions. (Photo provided)
Information provided by Bishop Noll Institute

HAMMOND, Ind. (January 8, 2023) – As Catholics around the world mourn the loss of Pope Emeritus Benedict on December 31, 2022, one Bishop Noll alumnus with connections to the pope is grieving the loss on a personal level.

Dr. Bob Buchanan, of the Bishop Noll Class of 1982, met the pope at the Vatican on several occasions and described him as very kind, unassuming, and humble. He was funny and gentle, Buchanan said.

About Dr. Bob Buchanan

A devout Catholic who serves on the board of directors for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, Buchanan was appointed by Pope Benedict to serve on the international Pontifical Academy for Life. The Academy is made up of about 120 scientists and theologians from around the world who advise the pope on bioethical issues that impact human life and Catholic morality. Buchanan spoke to Bishop Noll graduates about that role during his 2018 commencement address.

Visit with Pope Emeritus Benedict

He continues to serve on the Academy under Pope Francis and plans to attend its next meeting at the Vatican in mid-February, his first visit since February 2020, before the global pandemic. During that visit, he and a friend on the Academy, Dr. John Haas, had the chance to have tea with Pope Emeritus Benedict. Haas spoke fluent German, and Benedict enjoyed their talks about Bavaria.

“I was thinking this would be one of the last times I would visit the tiny former convent that the pope emeritus was living in,” Buchanan said. “The pope looked frail but hadn’t lost his mental capacity. He was spending his time studying and praying. That was what he wanted to do all along. He never really wanted to be pope or the head of the dicastery or one of the main governmental offices of the Vatican.

“Because he was such an astute and talented theologian, Pope John Paul II (now Saint John Paul II) invited him to be the cardinal head of the dicastery, but that really wasn’t his calling,” Buchanan said of Benedict. “He had always hoped to continue his career as a professor of theology and philosophy. He had hoped to be a quiet academician and in his spare time, he would be praying, and teaching, and writing things.

“Before he knew it, he was in the whirlwind of the Vatican and then named pope,” Buchanan said.

Remembering the former Pope

Buchanan remembers “a certain gentleness of Benedict,” and called him “a good shepherd.”

Buchanan also remembered the pope’s humor: “The first time I met him, he said ‘Professor, I heard you are the professor of neurosurgery of Texas. That would be a big job,’ and he laughed. I said ‘No, just a little bitty corner of Texas.’”

Buchanan is the chief of neurosurgery and chief of functional neuroscience at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute in Austin. He also is an associate professor at the University of Texas’ Dell Medical School.

While watching coverage of the funeral proceedings this week, Buchanan noted that a familiar face, Archbishop Georg Gänswein, remained at the pope’s side in death as he did in life.

“Benedict’s secretary Georg was like a son to him,” Buchanan said, noting it is sad that the archbishop lost his own father some time ago and is now losing his father figure.

“This is the way life goes; there’s a time to live and a time to die. I’m sure (Benedict) will do well at the pearly gates. Hopefully Peter will give him a thumbs-up,” Buchanan said.

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