Father Donald Antweiler puts the cross into his crossword puzzles.
The Jefferson City native, who is pastor of Immaculate Conception parish on that city’s East Side, has been constructing the “Across the Diocese of Jefferson City Crossword Puzzle” for The Catholic Missourian for 18 years.
“I see it as building-up the faith community and the faith of the diocese,” he said. “That’s my goal ... in addition to having fun with it!”
The first puzzle he remembers doing was for Sister Flavia Buersmeyer of the School Sisters of Notre Dame, who was the librarian at St. Thomas the Apostle School in St. Thomas while he was pastor there.
“She and her family were the theme of the puzzle,” Fr. Antweiler recalled. “She loved to work crossword puzzles and all kinds of word games, so I concocted that for her. She was formidable at the Scrabble board, and we used to play a lot.”
“Maybe they’ll linger”
Fr. Antweiler and Father Michael Coleman came up with the idea of featuring a locally-produced crossword puzzle in The Catholic Missourian.
Fr. Antweiler created a half-dozen samples, while the editor worked on figuring out how to create the grids using the limited typesetting software the paper had at that time.
Finally, the “Across the Diocese Crossword Puzzle” made its grand debut in the Feb. 9, 2001, edition of the paper.
Reader response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.
In the 18 years since then, Fr. Antweiler has created almost 700 puzzles, each one packed with historical and ecclesial minutia and peppered with popular culture references, humor and recurring themes.
Experience has only enhanced his enthusiasm.
“It does take some time to do the research, but I enjoy it,” he said. “I just love history. It’s harder to keep abreast of pop culture. You have to try to keep it as broad as possible.
“My focus is our Catholic Christian faith and the Church and Missouri, with a special interest in our diocese,” he stated. “I try to include faith education, diocesan history, Scripture and people. I’m trying to promote the faith that way.
“Hopefully, it’s building-up the Body of Christ by helping the people get to know the geography and history of our diocese, the structure of the Church, the saints, Scripture ... that kind of thing,” he said.
He sets out specifically to help people of all ages become “a little more familiar” with Sacred Scripture.
“Maybe a reader already knows the passage or word, or they may have to look it up,” he said. “In doing that, one might become a little more knowledgeable about where a particular book is located in the Bible.
“And while they’re there, they may linger a bit.”
Keeping it interesting
Fr. Antweiler tries not to make the puzzles too difficult.
“I’m not trying to out-puzzle the puzzle workers,” he said. “It needs to be challenging but also fun. I don’t want to discourage people. I’m aiming at an interesting, challenging and doable puzzle for a local but broad audience.”
Sometimes, he can’t get all the words he wants into one puzzle, so he moves in another direction with it.
Other times, he scraps the puzzle and starts over.
“I do a lot of them in my head while I’m driving,” he said. “Sometimes I stop and jot down a few words here and there.”
The puzzles have evolved. Most now revolve around themes, such as the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, the Seven Deadly Sins, the Apostles and Saints.
He also builds puzzles around the nicknames of Missouri towns, covered bridges in the state, Missouri forests, trout fishing in Missouri, Rails to Trails in Missouri, Scott Joplin and the state’s other Ragtime composers, etc.
The themes and rudimentary information come off the top of his head.
The rest comes from Google, a dictionary, his own history books, Canon law, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, a Bible concordance and stacks of facts and quotes he has amassed over the years.
He keeps a running list of people and places he encounters in books, newspapers or the history of saints.
“Even then, you’ve got to make it interesting to people,” he said. “You try to find the intriguing facts about a person or place, and write it up interestingly.
People will sometimes thank Fr. Antweiler for the puzzles and perhaps remark that last week’s was hard.
Sometimes, they ask about something more specific.
“I don’t always know what they are referring to because I work ahead and never know when a particular puzzle is going to run,” he said. “But I do feel affirmed by their interest and I hope I am creating something that is fun, intriguing and instructional, especially about our faith and our diocese.
“I hope I’m not overstating it to say I regard it as a ‘niche ministry.’”
Online and interactive
The Catholic Missourian’s online edition was years in the future when Fr. Antweiler started making puzzles.
Shortly after the online edition went live in February 2018, Kelly Martin, who had been laying out the puzzle for years, found compatible software that allows the puzzles to be worked online.
Go to The Catholic Missourian’s online edition at www.cathmo.com. About halfway down the home page, click the image of the puzzle, then click on the link to “Complete the puzzle ONLINE.”
An interactive grid will appear, allowing users to click on each row of boxes, see the clue and type in the answer.
“It’s something a little different that I think will appeal especially to young people,” said Fr. Antweiler.
The puzzle can also be downloaded from the online edition and printed out, and can always be found in The Catholic Missourian print edition.
Of Priesthood and puzzles
Fr. Antweiler grew up on a 200-acre farm just outside Jefferson City.
He has always liked word games, but never got interested in crossword puzzles as a child or even as a young adult.
But now, children and adults alike are interested in puzzles. Several Catholic schools have taken to working the puzzles in class.
“I was teaching in a classroom when the teacher mentioned she used the crossword with her class,” he stated. “I was surprised and very gratified by that.”
Geographical familiarity with the diocese has come with experience.
Ordained in 1973, Fr. Antweiler has served as a deacon in Hannibal; as an associate pastor in Columbia and Boonville; and as pastor in St. Thomas, Monroe City and Indian Creek, Loose Creek and Bonnots Mill and now at Immaculate Conception in Jefferson City.
He studied at St. Peter Interparish School in Jefferson City; St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Hannibal; and Cardinal Glennon College and Kenrick Seminary, both in St. Louis.
“I’m enjoying being a priest,” he said. “I guess Priesthood is like the crossword puzzles: challenging, interesting and fun.”
He said that as he “matures,” Priesthood just keeps getting deeper and better, “even in the midst of all that goes on today.”
“God is so good!” he said. “The Holy Spirit is my energy and friend. Jesus Christ is my rock. I’m very grateful.”
Fr. Antweiler can be reached by e-mail at: email@example.com.