|July 7, 2014 • VOL. 52, NO. 12 • Oakland, CA|
Father Schmidt observes priesthood challenge
— 'Trying to make unity out of diversity'
Some people may have known Rev. Paul Schmidt as a classmate — he attended St. Bernard Elementary School (1944 to 1952), Bishop O'Dowd High School (1952 to 1953) both in Oakland, St. Joseph's College High School in Mountain View (1953 to 1958) and St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park (1958 to 1964).
Others may have served with Father Schmidt on various committees or groups: He had been a member of the diocesan vocation committee, diocesan liturgical commission and diocesan music committee.
Still some may remember Father Schmidt from his days as the long-time columnist of this newspaper, The Catholic Voice. From 1973 to 1989 he shared his reflections on the Sunday readings.
Now Father Schmidt is assuming yet another title, that of retired priest of the Diocese of Oakland. This new chapter in the priest's life comes just a month after he celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood.
But as Father Schmidt recently observed, a priest may retire from being a pastor but a priest doesn't retire from being a priest.
Many so-called retired priests continue to serve the church like a kind of ecclesiastical Eveready battery — they help out at parishes that are short of priests, celebrate Mass on the weekends or fill-in for a pastor who goes on vacation. If or when a priest is no longer able to carry on physical tasks, he prays on.
"Retired" priests take a page from the notebooks of women religious, another group of non-retirees. "The Sisters have a nice way of describing it, they call it a ministry of prayer and reflection," Father Schmidt said. "When you are no longer able to do anything else, pray for the Church."
Looking back on his 50 years as a priest, Father Schmidt said that there have been a number of things that have happened in the Catholic Church that he didn't see coming. One has been the continuation of Catholic education without the Sisters. Father Schmidt recalled that the school at a parish he was first assigned had religious women in every classroom. Now lay teachers usually outnumber religious teachers in Catholic schools.
Parishes are also different from what they used to be. In many places parishes went from being European-heritage-based to becoming more ethnically diverse. The same goes for the personnel. When he was in Concord the priests who served there were mostly of European heritage, while at the Pinole parish it is more usual to have priests and parishioners who have come from all over the world, including people from Thailand, Pakistan, India and Africa.
Trying to serve such a diverse community is a big challenge, he said. "You're trying to make unity out of diversity."
The parish community at St. Joseph began addressing this challenge more than 30 years ago by hosting its annual Oktoberfest celebration. The event brings people from different traditions and customs together. "It is a unifying event," Father Schmidt said.
The sharing of music and especially ethnic foods has added an exciting feature to the event. At a recent Oktoberfest event the addition of a booth offering Ethiopian food "went over big."
A prolific writer, Father Schmidt said that he enjoyed his years as a columnist for The Catholic Voice. Although he admitted that working on his column at the beginning was challenging because of the newspaper's weekly printing schedule. Things became much better when The Voice changed to a biweekly schedule.
Father Schmidt's favorite writing project came years after his column was completed. In 2005 he was in Rome on a sabbatical around the time of the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. He wrote an account of his experiences for The Catholic Voice. The entries of his days in Rome appeared in the April 25, 2005 issue of The Voice in one article of compilations. This was in the days before everyone started blogging about everything.
After leaving the Pinole parish, Father Schmidt will move to the rectory at St. Albert Church in Alameda where he will "help out whenever needed," he said. Otherwise he has no agenda. Once he settles into his new place, the priest expects that he will have his share of paperwork to plow through — updating his driver's license, filling out change of address documents, insurance forms and the like.
Once those chores are dealt with, Father Schmidt plans to organize his body of writing, which includes much of the hard copy from his columns from The Voice and other Catholic publications he has written for. Then he intends to "give my whole archives to the diocese."
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