Bleichner, Howard P., P.S.S.

December 14, 2022

January 11, 1937

Born January 11, 1937, and raised in Pittsburgh, PA, Fr. Bleichner was one of two children of Howard and Catherine (nee Hoban) Bleichner. He died from complications related to Parkinson’s disease on December 14, 2022. He is survived by his sister, Joan Stanley.

Fr. Bleichner was educated in Pittsburgh parochial schools. He earned a B.A. in 1958 from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH. He then entered St. Mary’s Seminary & University where he earned the S.T.B. in 1965 and the S.T.L. in 1967. He was ordained for the Diocese of Pittsburgh, PA, on May 13, 1967. He immediately joined the Society of St. Sulpice and was admitted in 1970.

As a Sulpician candidate, Fr. Bleichner was first assigned to teach at St. Charles College, Baltimore, MD (1967-1968). In 1968 he completed the M.A. degree at Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA. He then went west to teach at St. Patrick’s Seminary, Menlo Park, CA (1968-1969). After two years of teaching, he began doctoral studies in theology at the University of Tubingen and was awarded the D. Theol. in 1973. He returned to the U.S. to begin teaching at St. Mary’s Seminary & University from 1973 to 1977. He then went west to St. Patrick’s Seminary to teach there from 1977 to 1988 and served as its Rector from 1978 to 1988. Fr. Jerry Coleman, who succeeded him as Rector, said: “Perhaps his greatest achievement was to build a solid and professional faculty devoted to scholarship, pastoral sensitivities, and in many cases well-praised theological publications.”

After a sabbatical from 1988 to 1989, he served as the Executive Director of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation and Committee on Vocations from 1989 to 1992. During this time, he oversaw the development and drafting of the fourth edition of the Program of Priestly Formation. He was made Rector of Theological College, Washington, DC, and during his term (1992-2002) he oversaw a major renovation of the dining room and chapel.

Following a sabbatical from 2002 to 2003, he retired but did not stop teaching. He returned to the west coast to live in his own home in Santa Cruz, CA, and to teach part-time at St. Patrick’s Seminary for ten more years (2003-2013). He wrote two books: View from the Altar: Reflections on the Rapidly Changing Catholic Priesthood and In the Circle of Mysteries: The Coherence of Catholic Belief.

With his health starting to weaken, he moved back to his home diocese of Pittsburgh to reside at its own seminary, St. Paul’s Seminary, and to teach part time for them in their program affiliated with Duquesne University (2013-2015). By this time, his needs for healthcare made it imperative that he move to a facility where he would have ready access to whatever care he needed. In 2015, he moved to the senior living facility of Brookdale in Mount Lebanon, PA.

Throughout his career, Fr. Bleichner was universally acclaimed as an excellent teacher. He excelled in exercising his intellectual abilities. Students found him to be a master of his subject matter and a clear presenter who was also witty and at times poetic. Fr. Bleichner was a master of the metaphor. He frequently, and with ease, used a metaphor to encapsulate his point. Sometimes this would provoke strong reactions from others. As an administrator, he was straightforward and willing to face difficult matters. He was highly respected by church leaders for this ability.

Fr. Tom Hurst, who served as Vice Rector at T.C. when Howard was Rector remembered him as an inspired preacher:

Howard took seriously the words of St. Paul to Timothy, “… proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is inconvenient or convenient; convince, reprimand, encourage…” (2 Tim 4:2).  Howard had an in-depth understanding of Scripture as the word of God for us. He had incisive observations for its application in our lives as individuals and as members of a community. His good friend Fr. Bob Leavitt reflected on Howard the priest. Inside the formidable public person was a sensitive even shy, spiritual man. He prayed and recited the Mass Prayers with a deep inner devotion to the mystery. There was a calm and contemplative spirit about him.

The Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated at St. Basil Church of Holy Trinity Parish, the church in which Howard was baptized, in Pittsburgh, PA, on Tuesday, December 20, 2022. The Most Reverend David A. Zubik, Bishop of Pittsburgh, presided and Fr. Clement Gardner, a longtime friend, was the homilist. Fr. Bud Stevens, the first provincial consulter, was the official representative of the Province. Fr. Bleichner was interred beside his parents at St. Michael’s cemetery in Pittsburgh. Fr. Daniel Moore, Provincial, commented, “With the passing of Fr. Bleichner, the Province, the Society, and the Church has lost a significant spiritual father.”

May he rest in the arms of the God he sought and served so well.

 Rev. Anthony J. Pogorelc, PSS
Provincial Secretary and Director of Personnel