Today I learned that Fr. Ken Schmidt, the pastor of the St. Thomas More Student Parish (“St. Tom’s”) has been reassigned by the bishop. He moves on to St. Catherine of Sienna church in Portage.
This is not welcome news.
But it is expected news.
It is expected because there are simply not enough priests to staff all the churches in the Kalamazoo diocese. And the trend of declining numbers in the priesthood has been going on for years (decades really). We could debate the reasons behind the decline and what the other options are for addressing the needs of the Catholic Church in Southwest Michigan, but at the end of the day it wouldn’t change anything. It would not be productive.
And it wouldn’t get Ken to stay at St. Tom’s.
I wish I was a better Catholic. I haven’t gone to Mass on a regular basis for sometime now. I’ll go on the big days (Christmas, Easter, family events), but when it comes to every Sunday I find that I just can’t get out of bed. A lot of that is related to my depression. My depression has a tendency to really get amplified when I go. I could go on about that … but today I want to talk about Ken. What I share comes from my interactions with the man. It may be much less than others who are at St. Tom’s every week, but for me these brief moments have made quite an impact on my life.
First, the basics (courtesy of St. Tom’s website):
Father Ken Schmidt, the pastor of St. Tom’s, celebrates the sacraments, as well as coordinates the strategic planning and financial aspects of our vibrant student parish and has led student delegations to our sister parish in El Salvador on spring breaks. Ken works with the other Pastoral Team members in most aspects of the parish life, oversees parish administration, and also is a co-founder and facilitator of the diocesan Trauma Recovery Program. He and Sharon Froom have taken the Trauma Program to many dioceses across the USA and internationally, to Rwanda, Kenya, and Ireland.
Father Ken has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature, a Masters degree in Divinity, a PhD degree in Canon Law, and a Master of Arts degree in Counseling Psychology. He is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor. He is also a certified member of Catholic Campus Ministry Association, sponsored by the USCCB, United States Catholic Conference of Bishops. He also works in the Tribunal, and as director of Priestly Life for the Diocese of Kalamazoo.
Father Ken was named pastor at St. Tom’s in 1995 and continues to serve the many student members and permanent residents of the parish with great faithfulness and joy.
Now, the advanced stuff. Ken has been the priest who was there when I was an undergrad at Western Michigan. He was there when I graduated and moved from being a student member of St. Tom’s to a permanent resident. He was there for Cristiana’s baptism. He’s always been there.
I have never known a person, much less a priest, who is as understanding, compassionate, and dedicated to his flock as Ken. When it comes to the sacraments, especially the Sacrament of Reconciliation, there is no one that I want to celebrate it with than Ken. His ability to just show his compassion with a look; his ability to lighten a room with his dry wit; his ability to laugh … and I mean really laugh – makes him someone that can be trusted. And in a world where it’s hard to find those who can be trusted, Ken stands out and shines brightly. Might explain why he is a counselor in addition to being a priest.
So let me say “Thank you, Ken.” Thank you for being a light and the big rock in the foundation that is St. Tom’s (and indeed, the Catholic Church).
I’ve written about Ken many times on this blog and many of those posts were triggered by his wisdom in his homilies. He’ll tell you that he’s not wise, he gets that from God. That might be true but it seems at times I’ve heard Ken’s voice more than God’s. A common theme that Ken has always reminded us that “All the time, God is good!” Through trials and tribulations, Ken has always had faith that God will pull us through and save us from the worst. Specifically, he said in 2012:
“Even when the beasts attack us (literally or figuratively), even when our temptations appear again and again, even when we feel isolated and unprepared for what suddenly turns our world on its head, we’ll know that we will survive and not be destroyed, because we remember God’s promise, and God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good!”
He’s never wavered in that faith in the goodness of God (or if he has, I’ve never seen it).
He’s also been one to remind us, and to remind church leaders, about what it’s supposed to be about. Catholicism is not about rituals and practices. In 2014, nailing the point and the feeling I have about the Church, he said (emphasis added):
Having religious practices is fine – but they aren’t the core of faith, they aren’t essential. Some people think St. Tom’s is not a Catholic Church because we don’t have the Stations of the Cross hanging on the walls – so were all the churches before that practice became common in the 18th century not Catholic churches …
The core of Christian faith is a relationship with Jesus, who died and then was raised from the dead, the Christ who comes to make his dwelling place with us …
Listen to the Spirit of Jesus who reminds us what Jesus taught; what he really taught, and there’s plenty there to keep us busy for a lifetime – love your enemies; forgive those who have harmed you; feed the hungry; clothe the naked; visit the sick and the imprisoned. Strive to be last, not first. And listen for the Word that God speaks to you personally …
Not only did he and I related to each other in that one, but he and I are very impatient. During Advent in 2009, he said (emphasis mine):
“Advent is really hard. It’s a time for waiting, which I don’t do well at all. I want to know, now; I want to plan; I want control. But it’s God’s schedule, not my schedule. Advent is a season that says, “slow down; stop; wait; hope; be patient; expect.”
These are only 3 of the many homilies that he’s delivered throughout his priesthood, just a small sampling. I’m afraid I’m not doing justice to what the man says or how he says it. But he connects. He connects with you. He doesn’t judge you. He is there for you.
And most importantly, Ken is courageously loyal. He’s loyal to his parishioners – giving all he can for the benefit of the St. Tom’s family. He’s loyal to those in his life. And he’s loyal to the Bishop. He wrote a letter earlier this year to the parish, touching upon the possibilities that a major change was coming. In it he wrote, “If I move to another collaborative, let me be clear that I will do so willingly I have no intention of arguing with my bishop. That is what I promised when I was ordained as a priest to serve the Diocese of Kalamazoo.”
There are times where we really need courage to remain loyal to one another. Ken has this courage. He showed that courage when he steered St. Tom’s through a physical change. We built a new church years ago and I was blessed to be a part of the design group who worked with the architects on some of these aesthetics (for lack of a better word). Through Ken’s leadership, St. Tom’s was reborn and was transformed to be ready to handle a new generation of parishioners who no longer sit in cramped seats practically on top of one another.
Ken’s courage to follow the bishop’s orders will provide those of us who remain at St. Tom’s (and I hope that we all will) the example of how to be courageous, how to be loyal, how to be family – no matter where we are.
I think Ken will be the first to remind us that we are one body, we are part of one spirit. We celebrate one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. No matter where in this world we travel, there is one Mass that we celebrate at the table of our one Lord.
That table may look a little bit different in Portage than it does on WMU’s campus. But it’s the same one.
And it will have Ken’s smiling face there.
Thank you, Fr. Ken, for being my friend. Thank you for being my confessor. Thank you for being my priest. Thank you for baptising Niki & Cristiana. Thank you for praying for us. Thank you for everything you have done, you continue to do, and everything that you are.
Thank you for reminding me, reminding us that, “All the time, God is good!”