Monday, April 20, 2020

A Tribute to Monsignor Richard J Schuler

Today is the 13th anniversary of the death of the Reverend Monsignor Richard J. Schuler, former pastor of Saint Agnes Parish in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Msgr. was born on December 30, 1920 and died on April 20, 2007. It is so appropriate to remember this great, humble, talented, strong willed pastor, musician, author and a priest’s priest.

Back in the early 1970’s, I discovered the journal “Sacred Music” in the library of my college seminary. I was blown away by it and could not wait to see each new issue. One day, an older seminarian pulled me aside and whispered in my ear, “If you want to get ordained, don’t let anybody see you reading that magazine. I would suggest you go back into the stacks and read it in secret.” Can you imagine? And this, in what was considered a pretty orthodox seminary at the time. Reading about true sacred music, Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony, and sacred concert music was dangerous and a waste of time, because everyone knew that Vatican II had done away it.

I began to discover the lies, and yes, they were the lies of those wishing to push a new agenda. I never turned back and tried to absorb as much as I could. Flash forward to 1989. I had been a priest for seven years. A man who owned a carpet store in town called me one day. “Father, I know you love sacred music. Guess what? Msgr. Schuler from St. Agnes is going to address our parish Communion breakfast in Wilmington. Can you come?” Can I come?!? I couldn’t wait! Msgr. Schuler was my, forgive me, liturgical rock star. I expected to see a very serious, scholarly, quiet and reserved man, but not so. Monsignor came right up to me and introduced himself. He was jovial, kind, funny and exuded the presence of a true, happy parish priest. He told me that the Church Music Association (the society that owns and maintains this blog) was going to try something new. They were going to start a Sacred Music Colloquium at Christendom College in the early summer of 1990. He demanded that I attend.

I did, and it was one of the most important decisions of my priesthood. Father Robert Skeris ran the Colloquium with his chosen band, but Msgr. was available and gave instruction the whole time. The first Colloquium was very small and it oozed frustration, anger and deep hopelessness. Msgr had held the journal “Sacred Music” and the music program at Saint Agnes together by himself, against every obstacle, in a hostile environment, in a situation that seemed it would never improve. And yet, he never ceased encouraging us to learn, learn, learn and never stop restoring.

Msgr. kept in touch. Two years later, he invited me to come to Saint Agnes and celebrate the All Souls’ Mass. With absolute joy and deep fear, I said yes. I got off the plane hoping to go right to the church, so that I could practice and go through everything. I had never sung a Mass of this magnitude before. He said, “Oh, don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We are going on a tour of Catholic Minneapolis-Saint Paul.” It was a magnificent tour, including the breathtaking cathedral and the Basilica of Our Lady. We got back to the rectory for dinner. I went to my room after dinner and collapsed exhausted in bed.

The next day, we were all vested for Mass. Msgr. came into the sacristy and said “All is ready. Don’t worry, Father, you will do fine.” And he was off to the choir loft to conduct. Within a few minutes, the somber, solemn tones of Mozart’s Requiem began to sound form the choir loft. The bell rang and the procession started down the side aisle to the back of the church. As I exited the sacristy door, I looked up, and the church was packed with about 1000 people. The veins in my neck felt like they were going to burst. My heart was thumping, and on top of all of this, I had to preach. I barely remember making it to the altar, but I did. The Mass went on. It was one of the most monumental and life changing events of my priesthood. I will never forget it, and it all happened because of Msgr. Schuler.

Once we had removed our vestments, and despite my many mistakes, Msgr. entered the sacristy and graciously said, "Good job Father, you are invited back. Let’s go to the rectory dining room for some libations and nourishment.”

We kept in touch, and I was able to return to Saint Agnes a few more time to celebrate the Mass. Monsignor retired. I was fortunate to visit him a few times at his retirement community. Not long after my last visit, Monsignor was called home to the Lord. I thank God that I was able to attend his funeral. I was sitting in the pews, not far from the sacristy. The bell rang and from the choir loft came the somber tones of Mozart’s Requiem. I was flooded with memories of that day, years ago, when I was given the privilege to celebrate the Mass of All Souls. I was filled with sadness and joy at the same time. This wonderful priest from Minnesota took the time to encourage a priest from New Jersey, whom he had never met and knew nothing about. He taught by word and example how important it is to love and learn sacred music as it has ALWAYS been taught and understood by the Church.

I know there are many others who could give much more detailed descriptions of this wonderful priest, especially those who lived near him and spent a great dal of time with him. It is just amazing, however, to see how his influence spanned thousands of miles and many states and countries. He truly had a long lasting effect.

Monsignor Schuler, Thank You. Requiescat in Pace!

Monsignor asked me to join him for Mass at his retirement residence.

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