By Megan Erbacher
The Message assistant editor
After 36 years and 12 liturgical cycles, senior priest of the Diocese of Evansville Father Donald C. Dilger bids farewell to his weekly Sunday Scripture column he penned for The Message.
Father Dilger, 92, said he began writing the column around the mid-1980s after Paul Leingang, now-retired editor of The Message, asked prospective deacons how to improve the diocesan newspaper. Once then-Bishop Francis R. Shea heard their response, he asked Father Dilger to write the weekly column.
“When I look back, I don't think they were that good at first,” Father Dilger admitted. “Frankly, I reached my peak in 2023. And I thought this is the time to step down, step back, and let the younger talent take over because 36 years is a long, long time. That’s almost two generations, and I was getting tired of writing on the same readings that often.”
However, he noted there was always something new to learn. He rarely referred back to his old columns out of fear someone would accuse him of self-plagiarism.
“Every time I wrote, even in the 36th year, I checked everything to make sure it was accurate,” he said.
Father Dilger often used the Hebrew Scriptures, the Greek Old Testament, the Greek New Testament and the Latin New Testament.
“The fathers of the church,” he said, “because there you can find a lot of things and sometimes very funny things by the fathers of the church. Not everybody always caught my humor, but those who did, they lived happily.”
Every year, Father Dilger would set aside June 1 through July 22 to write all of his columns for the upcoming liturgical year, which took discipline. He continued writing for 36 years because he enjoyed it.
“I am fanatical about teaching,” he said. “I must teach. I’m a teacher. I was born for it, and I think I’m good at it. I’ve had lots of practice. That’s why I continued for so long. It gave me a chance to teach the scriptures the way I think they should be taught, not just sweet nothings, but to get to the root.”
Jeremiah 15:16 is one of Father Dilger’s favorite quotations from scripture. His translation, “I found your words. I consumed them. They became the joy of my life.”
A favorite memory for Father Dilger is the number of people who, over the years, saved every Sunday Scripture column. When they passed away, their heirs found the clippings with their notations, which meant they studied them, he explained.
Father Dilger recalled a parishioner who once told him, “You write and you preach as if you had been there.”
“I always tell people, ‘You’ll be saved,’ when they say I read your column,” he said with a smile.