Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul pastor-emeritus and Chattanooga native celebrated for decades of service to priesthood
Prayers were made, a homily was preached, songs were sung, a standing ovation was given and heartfelt thanks were returned as a Mass in honor of Monsignor George Schmidt, who is retiring as pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga, was celebrated March 1.
Some 500 people were in attendance at the basilica to celebrate the priesthood of Monsignor Schmidt, who spent 28 years as pastor of the basilica. The monsignor, who is a native of Chattanooga, expressed joy at the Mass, which ended with a long line of well-wishers shaking his hand and giving him hugs.
The Mass was followed by a formal dinner at The Read House in downtown Chattanooga near the basilica that was attended by 350 people.
Bishop Richard F. Stika was principal celebrant of the Mass. Bishop David R. Choby of the Diocese of Nashville concelebrated with Abbot Cletus Meagher, OSB, and Monsignor Xavier Mankel. Cardinal Justin Rigali attended in choir.
Fellow priests concelebrating included basilica parochial administrator Father David Carter, Father Bertin Glennon, ST, who is in residence at the basilica, Father Peter Iorio, Father Gilbert Diaz, Father Mike Nolan, Father Bill Gahagan, and Father Mike Creson.
Monsignor Schmidt now will be in residence at St. Jude Church in Chattanooga.
Bishop Stika thanked the monsignor for his service to the Church and told those attending Mass that the basilica’s pastor emeritus is not retiring from the priesthood, just as pastor of the basilica.
“Monsignor George Schmidt has given so much of his life to this parish,” the bishop said. “He’s moving on to a different assignment, but the thing is he isn’t moving on from the priesthood, for he is a priest of Jesus Christ forever. So we celebrate with Monsignor this day with a sense of thanksgiving for his goodness and his kindness and his love for the people who have been part of this parish for so long.”
Bishop Stika said the monsignor now will be entering a new phase of his priesthood.
“Today is indeed a special day, but I would like to, perhaps, clear up some confusion. You know, some of you might think that Monsignor George is retiring as a priest. That never happens. He’s retiring from his responsibilities of making sure that the basilica runs smoothly. So now that he is the pastor-emeritus, you know what that means? That means that Father David has to worry when the roof leaks and not Monsignor George,” Bishop Stika said with a smile.
The bishop reiterated that “a priest never retires” because “at the moment that the bishop lays his hands on his head, Monsignor George Father George at the time changed ontologically … he has an indelible mark on his soul that said to him and to the community that surrounds him, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’
“For these many years, especially here at the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul, Monsignor has served and will continue to serve as a model, as a mentor, as a disciple, as an apostle, and especially as a man who has great love for his parish community and this great basilica.”
The bishop fondly recalled two occasions in which he had good news to report to Monsignor Schmidt. One was “the time I called Monsignor from Rome and said to him that the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has designated this great love of yours, this great church, this great edifice dedicated under the patronage of Peter and Paul, that the Holy Father has recognized this church as a minor basilica, to give it a unique and special title.
“The second time was when I invited him to come over to my house just a few years ago. He entered the house with fear and trepidation—well, maybe not. But he, along with two other priests of the diocese, I was privileged to say that I had recommended to Rome, to the Holy Father, that they have the title of monsignor. Some people might think that’s an antiquated title, and the Holy Father has kind of put it on the shelf even. But it is one of the ways that a bishop can say to a priest: thank you. Thank you for service and goodness and kindness.”
Bishop Stika said “we celebrate the priesthood” of Monsignor Schmidt, “but one of the best ways to honor him for his service to the Church is to pray for vocations for men to follow him so that they, too, can feel in their hearts, in the depth of who they are, that call of Jesus Christ to come and to follow to build the kingdom, to celebrate the sacraments, to love the people that he would be entrusted to, to be of service.
“So if you want to honor Monsignor, and I’m sure he’s willing to take cards and envelopes, but even more than that, if you want to honor Monsignor, pray to almighty God that in the name of Monsignor George, ‘Lord, send vocations to the Church.’ Men to follow him, women religious, religious brothers, and deacons. To pray for vocations, so that all of the work that Monsignor has lived and completed here at this basilica and as it continues on at St. Jude’s, may it continue on because good and faithful men will follow Monsignor as he followed the others.”
Monsignor Schmidt spoke at the end of Mass, thanking all who attended and all who helped organize the evening’s festivities.
“I thank all of you,” he said. “I especially thank Father Bertin Glennon, whom I shared the rectory with for many years. He helped me and all of us have a long, excellent time together. I could not have done it without him.”
The monsignor said he “never intended to retire from Sts. Peter and Paul, but my health issues made that change necessary.”
“As many of you know,” he said, “my brother and I were altar servers in the parish during the ’50s and early ’60s. There were family events in the beautiful church. There was my ordination, my sister’s marriage, baptisms, funerals, and the celebration of my 25th anniversary as a priest. And we shared many such events with many of our families, but now I need to take a slower pace as you know. I am residing at St. Jude with Father Charlie [Burton], Father Paul [Valleroy], and Father Moises [Moreno]. I hope to concelebrate Mass with them. I invite you to visit St. Jude, as I would very much like to say hello to you. Thanks to all of you for all that you did for me and with me. God bless you, I’ll keep you in my prayers.”
At the dinner in his honor, Monsignor Schmidt was presented with a papal blessing, a framed copy of his monsignor appointment, and news that a scholarship is being established in his name at Notre Dame High School for students exemplifying the strong characteristics of Monsignor Schmidt. The scholarship, with an original goal of $25,000, already is endowed with more than $28,000, said George Valadie, president of Notre Dame High School, which is where Monsignor Schmidt graduated.
Bishop Stika then presented the papal blessing.
“Monsignor, in the name of all the people you’ve served over the years at Peter and Paul and other assignments, and in the names of all my brother priests and deacons in this diocese, I just want to say thank you,” the bishop said. “Thank you for all those things that people know about, but also thank you for those things that are contained in the hearts of people you’ve served throughout the years, so ad multos annos, many more years of service to the Church, and thank you for the witness you give of the priesthood of Jesus Christ.”
Monsignor Mankel gave a presentation about Father Schmidt being named a monsignor. Then Father Glennon revealed several statistics on Monsignor Schmidt.
“Since July 1986 and continued until very recently, in this period of time, Monsignor led this parish through 250 weddings, 650 baptisms— those included the ones he did as a deacon— 150 confirmations, and 500 funerals. As the bishop has said, for these many years, we have seen a leader who told us, whether we wanted to hear it or not, the story of Jesus and invited us, again, to accept—many did.”
To conclude the dinner for Monsignor Schmidt, a slide show was presented showing him through the years with basilica members, and an Elvis impersonator serenaded the monsignor with several numbers, including “Love Me Tender,” “Teddy Bear,” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”