Few people in the Philadelphia Archdiocese may have met the man, but most readers of The Catholic Standard & Times would recognize the name Father John Dietzen. The priest of the Peoria (Ill.) Diocese, whose syndicated question-and-answer column has appeared in this newspaper for more than 30 years, died this week at age 83.

His face and byline became the most familiar of any Catholic press columnist. The hundreds of questions he fielded from readers every week and the one or two of which he answered in his column echoed the questions raised by ordinary Catholics: Why does a priest say such and such at Mass? Why does the Church teach this or that? What is the meaning of a puzzling passage in a Gospel? {{more}}

The questions often included phases such as “my friends and I were wondering,” or “could you explain….”

Faithful people were seeking answers to questions about their faith. Readers, since 1968 when Father Dietzen began his column at his home diocese’s newspaper until the present time, asked the fundamental question: Why?

Father Dietzen found much hope in that question. Far from becoming discouraged that people questioned the foundations of the faith in areas ranging from dogma to worship and Catholic practice, he dove into the history and development of thought concerning a particular topic. He gave explanations to the questioner and by extension all readers with the thoroughness of a teacher and gentleness of a pastor.

“What is very moving and inspiring is the desire that so many people, good people, have to grow in their faith and understanding, to grow in their grasp of their movements with God and prayer,” Father Dietzen said in 2000. “They’re really wanting to become more intimate in their spiritual lives, with each other, with God, and that surfaces so much.”

As the title of his column, the Question Box, indicated, Catholics must continue to seek reasons for our beliefs and practices throughout our lives. Many of those submitting questions to the priest from Peoria had some knowledge of Catholic teaching but sought a deeper understanding.

Catholics should not see the search for deeper understanding as a sign of shaky faith but as the next logical step in their faith journey. The process of faith seeking understanding, as St. Augustine put it, is a valuable and necessary one aided by good communicators like Father John Dietzen through the Catholic press.

May God welcome him into his eternal reward in heaven.