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Father John J. Dietzen

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March 31, 2011

PEORIA, Ill.  —  Father John J. Dietzen, the foremost question-and-answer columnist in the Catholic press for 35 years, died March 27 at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria. He was 83.


 Father John J. Dietzen (CTfile photo)

A priest of the Diocese of Peoria whose weekly “Question Corner” columns have been offered through Catholic News Service since 1975 and were later compiled in book form, Father Dietzen had been hospitalized since suffering a heart attack March 6 at his Peoria residence.


Bishop Daniel R. Jenky of Peoria was principal celebrant of a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. March 31 at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Peoria.


Father Dietzen served as associate editor of The Catholic Post, the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria, from 1957  —  when it was known as The Register — until 1973. He is a former board member and secretary of the Catholic Press Association of the United States and Canada.


Following the Second Vatican Council, Father Dietzen in 1968 began a question-and-answer column in The Catholic Post called “The Question Box” to help readers understand the changes taking place in the church.


Letters began coming in on all aspects of Catholic life, ranging from marriage and family issues to ecumenism, Scripture, the sacraments and more. After the column was syndicated by CNS, Father Dietzen would regularly receive hundreds of questions each week.


The purpose of his column — and book compilations which followed, including The New Question Box, first published by Guildhall in 1981, and the current 560-page Catholic Q&A: All You Wanted to Know About Catholicism (Crossroad)  —  was to help readers “recognize how our Catholic faith, in all its living expressions of worship, faith and service, can enhance (our) intimacy with God,” Father Dietzen wrote in 1997.


Father Dietzen has for years been “the most popular and widely circulated columnist in the stable of Catholic News Service,” said Tony Spence, director and editor-in-chief.


“His great and enduring talent was his pastoral response to the thousands of reader questions he answered over the years,” said Spence. “He never compromised the church’s teachings and always encouraged his readers to look to their parishes and the sacraments for solace. He never forgot that, at the end of the day, it was a human being who put a question in his box and that person required a human answer.”


In addition to his question-and-answer compilations, Father Dietzen also was author of two other books: With Heart and Hand: A Guide to Personal Prayer for the Modern Catholic, published in 1966, and Doors of Hope: Paths for Renewal in the Catholic Church (Templegate, 2009).


He completed his studies for the priesthood at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary in Mundelein, from which he earned a master’s degree in English and bachelor’s and licentiate degrees in sacred theology and was ordained to the priesthood in 1954.


A former parochial vicar at St. Mary’s Cathedral Parish in Peoria, he served as pastor of St. Mark’s Parish, Peoria, from 1973 to 1983, and of Holy Trinity Parish, Bloomington, from 1983 until being granted senior priest status in 1998.


Father Dietzen also was a pioneer in the areas of pro-life and family life. While with the diocesan newspaper, he served as diocesan director of family life programs, introducing and coordinating new programs such as Cana nights for married couples, pre-Cana for engaged couples and Beginning Experience for the divorced, widowed and separated.


He is survived by a brother, Donald Dietzen, of Danville; and a sister, Holy Cross Sister John Margaret Dietzen of Notre Dame, Ind.

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