Name: Msgr. W. Robert Schmidt, Ph.D.
Years ordained: 52
Current assignment: Retired, but still active in many parishes throughout the diocese and elsewhere.
How did you know you were being called to the priesthood? My mother was born in Ottumwa, the youngest of 13 children. Her father, an immigrant from Ireland, came to America at 17 and settled in the Ottumwa area. He was a very loyal Catholic and shared his faith and great Irish humor with his family. The example of his faith “stuck,” and as long as I can remember, every member of the family was a devoted Catholic. My father was born in a little town close to Ottumwa, the oldest of six boys. My great-grandfather was an immigrant from Holland who eventually settled in Ottumwa. My father’s family was very active in the Methodist church. My father converted to Catholicism four years after his marriage to my mother.
As a result of the good example of most of the Catholics and Methodists in my family, as well as the good example of the priests and Sisters of Humility serving at St. Joseph Hospital and all the Catholic schools in Ottumwa, I was blessed with a “calling” to serve God in a special way. The idea of becoming a priest was fostered by the wonderful example of the Sisters and local priests, especially Father Michael Broderick — one of my teachers at Catholic Central High School. I was accepted in the seminary at St. Ambrose College in Davenport in 1949 with approximately 140 other seminarians enrolled.
After graduating from St. Ambrose in 1953, I was accepted at Mt. St. Bernard Seminary in Dubuque with approximately 135 major seminarians. I was ordained June 1, 1957. My Methodist grandmother died one year before I was ordained. She was a dear lady who made certain I received “care packages” on a regular basis – the best baked goods you could imagine. I became the “most popular” seminarian in Iowa.
Aside from your ordination Mass, what was your most memorable Mass? This is a difficult question. I have many fond memories of “special” Masses – funeral Masses for my mother and father, my 25th and 50th anniversary Masses, Catholic school Masses, graduation Masses for Catholic high school and colleges/universities and funeral and wedding Masses for relatives and friends.
What is the most rewarding about being a priest? My most rewarding experience has been in service as a Catholic school teacher and administrator. After completing graduate classes at University of Notre Dame and the University of Iowa, I was appointed to serve as the diocesan superintendent of schools for 27 years from 1970-97. I also have fond memories of serving as a priest in Clinton, Charlotte, Sugar Creek, Villa Nova, Lost Nation, Toronto, Iowa City, Blue Grass, Muscatine, Davenport and Buffalo and as an instructor in the nursing program at Mercy Hospital in Iowa City.
What is most challenging about being a priest? The busy and sometimes demanding schedule! I realize this more as a “retired” priest than ever before. As I assist in so many of our parishes, it becomes very obvious that most of our priests are very busy and dedicated. Some of our priests are simply overworked with the care of two or three parishes, financial and personnel concerns, attending various parish council/committees and civic meetings. There is only so much that can be delegated — the people still expect “Father” to be present and this might be absolutely necessary in some situations. Preservation of Catholic school education has to be one of our priorities. Our Catholic schools provide an essential form of education in our culture. A splintered type of moral/religious education might be good, but it is incomplete. Priests must play an essential role in Catholic school education. This has never been an “easy” role and it will never be one that can be taken for granted.
All of this might be challenging, but possible, if we follow the wisdom of St. Thomas Aquinas. He firmly believed that to maintain balance in life three conditions are required: we must be people of daily prayer, have a work ethic and enjoy daily relaxation. This is a challenge for priests as well as all other people.
What is your favorite Scripture passage? Psalm 127: “If the Lord does not build the house, in vain do its builders labor; if the Lord does not watch over the city, in vain does the watchman keep vigil…”
What is your hobby? I enjoy swimming, playing the piano (in my own good way), reading and entertaining people (meals) at my condo.