Words of Remembrance for Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC
Written and Delivered by Brother Kevin Stanton, FSC
Mass of Christian Burial
La Salle University Chapel
Philadelphia, PA February 24, 2022
Most of our lives as Brothers are fairly predictable in terms of the continuity of our community living and school work. Not so, I’m afraid, with our Br. Joseph. Over the years the question often was: Where is he now? and What is he doing? Which is apparently why he thought it might be best for Marisa and I to share reflections tonight. He asked me to speak from the perspective of his life as a Brother. I suspect this might be because I am one of the few Brothers, still living, who knew him in his classroom teaching days. Bear with me.
Sixty years ago I spent two years in community with our Br. Joe at Calvert Hall – his second assignment, my first. Then, some eight years ago we met again, this time in our Yeadon Community, with both of us by then semi-retired. In the decades in between Joe was, by any measure, an extraordinary Brother on a unique Lasallian journey, touching the hearts and souls of people worldwide through his teaching, youth work, adult retreat work, spiritual guidance and writing, all over a span of 65 years.
Some of us here this evening might remember that, in his 1968 eulogy for his brother Bobby, Ted Kennedy borrowed a line from George Bernard Shaw that went something like, “Some men see things as they are and ask, why? I dream things that never were and ask, why not?” Different personalities for sure, but I think that, like Bobby, Joe was a “why not?” and a “what if?” person. Although a quiet and unpretentious man by nature, he was always probing, always challenging himself and others to see issues and events with new eyes.
Most people are surprised to hear that the young Br. Joseph was a Maxima Cum Laude physics major at LaSalle. Surprisingly, he was never assigned to teach that subject. Instead, Religion, Math and English became his academic concentrations during his classroom years in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Philadelphia. During our time together at Calvert Hall we were the young guys in a community of 32 and totally immersed in teaching assignments and extracurricular activities. Picture, if you will, Joe as the band moderator, marching down Charles Street on St. Patrick’s Day, or as the assistant yearbook moderator, spending late afternoons after a full day of classes helping students come up with witty photo captions. If Friday or Saturday nights were free we would be beating each other up on the basketball court. A skinny guy, but I can attest to his sharp elbows.
What I still recall from those days was that, a month after we first met in 1962, Vatican II held its opening session. That historic event captured Joe’s attention from the outset. In my still rather sheltered existence I was wondering why the need for an Ecumenical Council? Joe, on the other hand, was in another realm already formulating his “why nots?” and “what ifs?” for the Church.
In 1964 Joe had a year off to study for a Master’s Degree in Math at Notre Dame, having previously earned graduate degrees from La Salle, Duquesne and Catholic University. That accomplished, he was assigned to West Catholic Boys where, for the next five years, he taught Religion and Math, while also serving as Principal for a year. One of his Algebra II students in those days was a lad by the name of Bobby Schieler. Now our Superior General, he admits math wasn’t his strong suit, but that he may have been inspired to pursue history after Joe gave an assignment to read a book entitled Men and Numbers, a collection of biographies of great mathematicians. It was also during this time that Joe was advocating for changes in the sizes of our communities and encouraging brothers to consider moving into smaller residences apart from our schools. Given our long standing District custom of having large numbers of brothers in our traditional apostolates, this proposal would meet with some resistance early on. So, a why not? moment.
As we know, those early post Vatican II years were ones of great ferment in the Church, accompanied as they were by the turmoil surrounding the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. Challenging as these times were for the country, they were especially disorienting for young people. The times seemed to be calling for some new thinking that would engage young people beyond the classroom. So, it was perhaps providential that in the midst of such societal upheaval, Joe took a position as Assistant Director with the Archdiocesan Youth Department in Philadelphia. There he teamed up with his brother, Fr. Frank Schmidt, the dynamic duo from St. Helena’s parish, joining with other likeminded men and women to spearhead programs that would energize hundreds of high school students to become engaged in a wide range of Church based service activities. What if? indeed.
That mentality was also evident in 1975 as Joe went national to become Assistant Director of our Sangre de Cristo Retreat Center near Santa Fe, New Mexico. In its early years the program there was designed as a three month renewal experience for U.S. Brothers in their mid-thirties. He would return later to Sangre in the early 90s, serving in that ministry for 22 years. His vision would help in expanding the program to include participants and presenters from other religious orders of men and women in the U.S. and abroad, as well as a number of priests and even a bishop. Its international composition became an ideal setting for men and women to have the space to reflect together on their lives as well as what if? opportunities for service in a post-Vatican II church. It was also during these desert years that Joe began to put his reflections into writing. For him this became a kind of vocation within a vocation, a new outreach that would become an integral part of his ministry for the rest of his life. Praying Our Experiences was followed over the years by several books on St. Therese of Liseux. He would endorse the royalty checks from these books, but never claimed any of the proceeds. He still shopped at Thrift Shops for his distinctive wardrobe and at Dollar Stores for his other essentials.
In between his two Sangre posts Joe came back East as the Director of the Christian Brothers Spiritual Center in Adamstown, MD. At the beginning of his five year tenure there the program essentially served the retreat needs of students from our Baltimore District schools, as well as other regional Catholic schools. Under his leadership the program would expand to also respond to the spiritual needs of adult groups from the tri-state area.
After leaving Sangre Center in 2009, Joe then went international, volunteering to serve on the formation staff of our De La Salle Center in Nairobi, Kenya. During his five years there, working in the training of our young African brothers, he was also a counselor and lecturer at Tangaza University’s Institute for Spiritual Formation.
Returning to the U.S. in 2014 Joe took up residence in Philadelphia. His work ethic was still daunting as he immersed himself in research and writing on St. Therese, firmly believing that her path of non-violence was essential to Christian life and the well being of society. Accordingly, he crisscrossed the country spreading that message through his lectures, workshops and retreats. When home he was steadfast about maintaining his vegetarian diet. Memories of our Yeadon community at a local diner after Mass on Sunday and watching him coax a waitress into serving him sweet potatoes and broccoli which, of course, weren’t on the breakfast menu.
To sustain the volume of work Joe was accustomed to required a great deal of personal discipline. He was not a man inclined to waste time. Nevertheless, those of us who were privileged to live with him found him to be generous in sharing community responsibilities, a servant leader to the core who was always available to listen and gently guide those who sought his counsel. In ministry and in the everyday give and take, he was Brother. How graced we were to share so many days and years of “why nots?” and “what ifs?” with him.
With the onset of some health issues and resulting surgeries, Joe decided three years ago that it would be best to move to De La Salle Hall in Lincroft. He benefitted from the care he received there, even finding renewed strength to work on a final book on Therese of Liseux in collaboration with Marisa Guerin. Things seemed to be getting a little better, that is until Covid intervened.
Many of you will remember that the sub-title of his book, Praying Our Experiences, is An Invitation to Open Our Lives to God. That phrase might in fact capture the essence of Joe’s life quest, as well as what he wanted to share with all those whose lives he touched. Br. Dennis Lee, our former Provincial, in sending his condolences from Nairobi a few days ago noted that our young African Brothers still find great wisdom in that book.
May that invitation now be fulfilled for our Br. Joseph in the presence of our risen Lord, and may the memory of his faith-filled and zealous life be a lasting inspiration for all of us who loved him. Live Jesus in our hearts!
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, rest in peace. Amen.
Words of Remembrance for Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC
Written by Marisa Guerin
Delivered by Mary Kate Gaus
Mass of Christian Burial
La Salle University Chapel
February 24, 2022
It is an honor to offer some reflections on the life of Brother Joseph Schmidt. Some time ago, when he asked me (Marisa Guerin) to co-deliver his funeral eulogy along with Brother Kevin Stanton, Brother Joe asked that I especially talk about his relationships over the years with the young people of Philadelphia, with other communities outside the Brothers, and also about his writings on St. Therese. I’ve done my best do that, with apologies for the inevitable overlap with Brother Kevin’s reflections.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the world and the Catholic Church were exceptionally dynamic and turbulent. Here in Philadelphia, Brother Joseph was an influential leader in the Archdiocesan outreach to young people, working alongside the Youth Department head — his brother, “then-Father, now-Monsignor” Francis Schmidt — along with “then-Father, now-Bishop” Robert Maginnis, with the late Father John Nevins, and with other dedicated adults throughout the schools and parishes of the Philadelphia region.
Together, these visionary and innovative leaders created an amazing number of diverse programs that involved thousands of teenagers, including myself. We gave Brother Joseph the friendly nickname “BJ,” and we were changed for life by our contact with him. He led Operation Discovery and it’s spin off Discovery Leadership Institute, powerful leadership development programs for talented youth from underserved minority neighborhoods, and he was the spark plug for the creative, multi-year Archdiocesan Conference on Youth, which engaged Catholics – young and old – in looking deeply into the needs of youth and how the Church might serve them better.
If you dropped by the Archdiocesan Department of Youth offices on any after-school afternoon, you would have found a bee-hive of activity, with teenagers literally everywhere – planning programs, organizing service projects, gathering in prayer and community, and generally having a blast. It was meaningful and exciting and fun at the time, but looking back, I now understand that this approach to youth ministry was also extraordinarily unusual. It reflected a brilliant insight into the way that leadership skills, personal faith and a spirit of community are nurtured. BJ and his brother and colleagues were always present, genuinely leading, but always showing a profound respect for and trust in the potential of young people to be leaders of their peers and real contributors to their Church and world. Brother Joe guided our efforts with wisdom and humor and genuine affection, gently nudging us towards our best selves.
In Brother Joe’s own words, commenting on those years of ministry with his brother and others: “Although we didn’t say it, our work then was part of building the Kingdom of God and it came out of the Gospel. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom is here, and that we contribute to it. We tried to live this, rather than just say it out loud. Our work was our little contribution to sharing God’s love, building that part of the Kingdom, concretized in action.”
The relationships Brother Joe developed with the former young people of fifty years ago have stood the test of time, and the ripple effect of Brother Joe’s influence made a decisive difference for many of us as we went on to take up our vocations, careers, families, public service, and ministries.
Those of you who connected with Brother Joe in his other ministries over the years will recognize the qualities that have always marked his way – respect and humility, careful listening, kindness and humor, along with his ability to startle you with a funny and provocative comment, or to offer just the right gently challenging question that left you pondering, and then seeing things in new and helpful ways.
I think one could safely say that Brother Joe’s own mentor in growing spiritually and psychologically was St. Therese of Lisieux. He was a highly regarded scholar of her life and teaching, and in addition to his widely-read book, “Praying our Experiences,” he published four books on Therese’s wisdom and her Little Way. His fifth and final book on Therese was completed just a few weeks ago – “Life Lessons from Therese of Lisieux: Mentoring Our Restless Hearts.” Hopefully, it will find a publisher and join the rest of his legacy as a foremost interpreter of Therese for our time.
We each have our own memories and recollections of Brother Joe, and in the days to come we may find solace in sharing them with others. We might take some of his own wisdom with us as we leave.
If Brother Joe were here, he might remind us to be kind and patient with one another, loving other people on their terms, not our own.
He might call us to practice nonviolent love modeled on the life of Jesus, taking action for good in the world and resisting evil, but without hating or demonizing those we may experience as enemies.
And he might especially encourage us to trust that God loves each of us as we truly are, imperfections and all, and that God will be with us through every experience, joyful or sorrowful to our very last breath.
This is the good news of the gospel, and the path to a loving and meaningful life.
We praise God for the gift of Brother Joe’s life. May he rest in peace.
Words of Remembrance for Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC
By Brother Malachy Broderick, FSC
When I think of Joe Schmidt, I am reminded of Jesus’ words in Mark’s gospel, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.” [Mk. 6:4]
Joe was an authentic prophet, i.e. one who understood the “signs of the time” and tried to sensitize his Brothers to the present reality and offer insights as to how to cope with it. Joe was brilliant, not only brilliant, but a deep thinker – the deepest thinker I have ever met. He immersed himself in Scripture, the documents of Vatican II, Lasallian spirituality and Jungian psychology.
In the aftermath of the 1966-67 General Chapter Joe felt that our communal and apostolic lives were in jeopardy for two reasons:
1. We had lost touch with the relationship between Lasallian interior prayer and our ministry of religious education. We identified more as teachers rather than as religious educators.
2. The task of intimacy in our communities. In his writings and speaking he advanced the first by articles on the relationship between the prayer of simple attention and the spirit of faith. See also his book, Praying Our Experiences. He addressed the second by his advocacy for small communities – the so called “six packs” where intimacy had a chance to develop. His insights on these ideas frightened many of his Brothers.
Joe, like De La Salle, was a practical mystic; he was prayerful, perceptive, persuasive, and practical – he was a contemplative in action.
I came to know Joe very well in our five years together at the Spiritual Center in Adamstown. His approach to this ministry was a community of Brothers and Sisters. Not a community of Brothers or a community of Sisters but a community of Brothers and Sisters; a risky venture at best. He challenged us to be contemplative and to share our prayer lives with one another. We had monthly “desert days” spent in solitude and then come together in late afternoon to share our experiences. He challenged us to “think outside the box” and develop new programs for youth and adult ministries.
He realized that women and men living and working together was risky on many levels. Several times a year he engaged professional psychologists to come to help us with relational, emotional, and sexual issues.
The last stage of Joe’s life was transformed by his love affair with Saint Therese of Lisieux. He wrote three books on her life and spirituality and was in process of writing a fourth book when he died.
Therese put Joe in touch with what he called the real original sin, i.e. violence. According to Joe violence is the principal sign of our time. The violence of war between states, political and religious violence, social and economic violence, drug use, corruption and greed in society and church, racism, ethnicism, sexism, abortion, euthanasia, the violence in our communities and in our own hearts. For Joe the answer to violence can be found in “the little way” of Saint Therese of Lisieux: “Perfection seems simple to me. I see it is sufficient to recognize one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child in God’s arms.” In other words, to love! The answer to violence in all its forms is the love of God and neighbor coming from a life of contemplative prayer and intimacy with God and my sisters and brothers.
I am confident that Joe is asking the most Holy Trinity some of these deep questions that plagued him all his life and just maybe the Holy Trinity has some questions for Joe. And more to the point I believe Joe is thoroughly enjoying meeting the love of his life – Saint Therese of Lisieux.
Rest in peace my Brother, my friend and my mentor.
Brother Malachy Broderick, FSC
February 25, 2022
Brother Joseph Schmidt, FSC
Born Henry Joseph Schmidt on 10 June 1934
Entered the Ammendale MD Novitiate on 13 June 1952
Received the Religious Habit and Name Fidelis of Mary on 7 September 1952
Pronounced Perpetual Vows at Ocean Rest in Ocean City NJ on 17 August 1959
Died at De La Salle Hall in Lincroft NJ on 19 February 2022
Thursday, 24 February 2022
Mass of Christian Burial – 7.00pm
La Salle University
De La Salle Chapel
1900 West Olney Avenue
Philadelphia PA 19141
Saturday, 26 February 2022
Graveside Prayer Service & Interment – 11.00am
De La Salle Cemetery
6001 Ammendale Road
Beltsville MD 20705
Luncheon Reception following
Brother Joseph passed away after suffering a fall in his bedroom. He had been on palliative care for the past week.
The District of Eastern North America remembers Brother Joseph with memorial liturgies according to the tradition of the Institute. Through their prayers, communities and individuals entrust Brother Joseph to God’s loving care.
May he rest in peace.
Elkins Park PA
La Salle College (scholasticate)
South Hills Catholic High School
Calvert Hall College High School
South Bend IN
University of Notre Dame (graduate studies)
West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys
Archdiocese of Philadelphia (CYO)
Santa Fe NM
Sangre de Cristo Retreat Center
Christian Brothers Retreat Center
Christian Brothers Conference (formation)
Santa Fe NM
Sangre de Cristo Retreat Center
De La Salle Center Scholasticate
West Catholic HS Community (retreat facilitator)
La Salle University Community (retreat facilitator)
Anselm Hall (resident)
De La Salle Hall (resident)
I met Joe when I attended the Sangre. He was the model of a proper religious mixed with a wonderful sense of humor. I am happy that I had the opportunity to share that time with him.
Kathleen Donohue, osu
Over the years that I served at Christian Brothers Spiritual Center, whenever Joe visited, he was gracious and personable. I was privileged to attend his presentation on St. Therese of Lisieux, offered there in Adamstown.
With prayerful sympathy,
Sister Carol Czyzewski, FSSJ
It was my honor, pleasure and privilege to be an inaugural member of the Discovery Leadership institute in Philadelphia, PA 1972-1974 with Brother Joe at the helm! DLI’s mission was to bring together h.s. males from socio-econ “distressed” neighbors, and provide them leadership training, to then return that development to their neighborhoods then suffering a lack of young, male, productive role models. My teenage service @ Lutheran Settlement House, National Operation Venus and participation in Exper. In Int’l Lvg in Nigeria as an 18-yr-old in 1974 all was under Brother Joe’s “watch!” I was so glad to be able to chat remotely with Brother Joe last year! Great pix– reminds me of Brother Joe during the 1970s! R.I.P. Brother Joe. I am conducting Hearings 2/24 but will be at your Homegoing celebration in spirit! Peace, Coke (Derrick W. Coker, DLI Alpha Class)
Thank you, Brother Joseph, “BJ”. God grant you Eternal Life. I am better for having you in my life as a Teen, and reading and praying your Spiritual books and writings in my adulthood. Grateful.
Go with God, good and faithful servant. ♥️🙏
Brother Joseph was my Math teacher at West during the 60s. Even as a self-absorbed teenage knucklehead, Brother’s spirituality, intelligence,
devotion, kindness, and compassion were obvious to me and my classmates. Just recently, one of those classmates told me a remarkable story of quiet kindness Brother Joseph extended to him during a very difficult period he experienced in high school. An act still fondly remembered more than half a century later. I have the feeling that for Brother it was no big deal. To him, it was just what you do.
Brother Joseph Schmidt joined the De La Salle Christian Brothers at a time when the Church was profoundly changing. New political structures were emerging, and the Church was being challenged and needed to revise its purpose in the modern world. Some men and women were reluctant to accept the change, while others were enthusiastic and committed. In this changing culture, the Brothers of Christian Schools were assembled in Rome in 1965. A vast consultation with the Brothers would ensure that their voices would be heard. They intended to publish a document “A Declaration of the Brothers in the Modern World,” which would give them the guidelines in order to respond to the new needs. These guidelines were published in the Declaration. Brother Joe became impacted by these dreams of the Evangelizing Church in the new world, thus having one foot planted firmly in the 19th century, while one foot was in the 21st.
When I met Brother Joe, I was turning 40 years old and many new structures had been implemented, but not without tensions among those structures. Brother Joe was seen as a promoter of spirituality and ministry. One example of this was his work as a staff member at the Sangre de Cristo Renewal Center. A characteristic of Joe was his stubbornness, emphasizing the presence of God and Christian tradition as well as in other religious tradition. This exploration would take place in an organized program that required precision. It could be difficult to get Brother Joe’s approval at times, but he was always very supportive and encouraging, careful not to impose his views on others.
Brother Joe expressed sympathy and understood that women were not recognized and respected. He in turn made it his life’s work to study and become one of the world’s leading experts on Therese of Lisieux, able to sense that she should be recognized as an icon for women, representing equality and respect. Brother Joe discovered in her, the presence of God in ordinary persons and life events.
Lastly, Brother Joe was emphatically critical of structures of injustice by presenting to us and taking us back to the God of Jesus, the God of compassion and justice. A brilliant man who will be missed dearly with the same intention that he lived his life daily. Much like Therese, we will miss his simplicity and the practicality of his approach toward a spiritual life. “They who instruct many unto justice shall shine as stars for all eternity.” Brother Joe was in perfect accord with Saint De La Salle.
I was blessed to have Brother as my English and later physics teacher at Calvert Hall. He was an inspiring teacher and was a walking example of how to love other people. I hope someday one of my former English students in Baltimore County will say the same about me. Live, Jesus, in our hearts-forever.