Jubilarian Profile: John Schulmeister Marks 50 Years as a Friar

HNP Communications Friar News

This is the eighth in a series of profiles of HNP friars commemorating anniversaries of Franciscan profession in 2012. The last issue of HNP Today featured Donald Chin, OFM.

BALTIMORE, MD. — While most friars have had several assignments during their years in ministry, John Schulmeister, OFM, has happily stayed put for the past 30 years.

He has managed to hit the trifecta of ministry, balancing roles as a college professor, hospital chaplain and parish priest. “I’ve done three things in the last 30 years,” said the affable friar. “I’ve been a professor, a hospital chaplain and I’ve helped in a parish. I’ve lived in the same house in the same neighborhood.”

But ministry for this jubilarian, who joined the Franciscans in Lafayette, N.J., in 1962, has been anything but routine.

Teaching philosophy at Notre Dame of Maryland University, a Catholic college for women, and being the chaplain at the R Cowley Adams Shock Trauma Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, keeps him quite busy. He also assists at St. John the Evangelist Church, an archdiocesan parish, and lives in the rectory on weekends.

“I liked what I was doing. My life has been good. It’s been a good run,” he said.

Chaplain and Professor
Earlier in his career, he was an instructor at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, N.Y. He then earned a master’s degree at the New School for Social Research in New York City and a doctorate from the University of Georgia in Athens. In addition, he has served as chaplain at Notre Dame of Maryland and the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The graduate of SBU said he first met the Franciscans at church growing up in Paterson, N.J. He attended public schools, but knew he had stirrings of joining the priesthood as a teenager. “There was a Franciscan friar at the church where we went. He was a lot friendlier than the grumpy pastor,” he recalled. John was ordained in 1967.

The house that John has rented since 1983 is a short walk to the trauma center, allowing him to get there quickly. He counsels mostly families looking for a spiritual presence during their time of crisis.

Surprisingly, he said, most people don’t ask the “Why me?” question, but rather, just want to know that someone cares during their time of need.

A Gentle, Caring Presence
“What people want is a caring presence and a reminder of God’s presence. They don’t want to hear pious words from me, and I try not to do that. It’s a gentle presence — human and spiritual.”

While this could be a high burnout job, John said he has balanced it with his time in the classroom. Teaching philosophy, he said, fed the “rational, calm part of my life.”

He also describes himself as a reflective, meditative kind of person, who leads a rather quiet life and recharges often.

Unlike most friars, John lives alone, cooking for himself Monday through Friday. Weekends are spent at St. John the Evangelist rectory. When he wants Franciscan fellowship and camaraderie, his nearest brothers from the Province are at St. Camillus in Silver Spring, Md. He remains close to fellow jubilarian John McVean, OFM. And he says he will be eternally grateful for the kindness of the late Alban Maguire, OFM, without whom his life journey would have been very different.

John, who used his religious name, Lawrence, until June 2009, has his mother alive at 94 and living in New Jersey. He also has a brother and his family there. He visits them on his time off. He said he doesn’t take many fancy vacations, choosing, instead, “to hang around” during his time off from the college and the hospital.

He likes to spend time with his dog, a Doberman Pinscher. And he says the Hours in Latin. “Most people would be surprised to hear that about me,” he said with a smile. “I like the Latin language.”

While he knows his vocational path has been anything but typical, he thanks the Province for its support and leadership over the years. “I’ve always found the Provincial leadership to be very caring of the men. It’s a big plus.”

One thing he’s found very ironic is that he shared a birthday with another friar, the late Francis Storms, OFM. Both born on Nov. 17, 1942, in Paterson, John guesses that they were delivered in the same hospital. Yet, he said he never met Francis.

“In Paterson, N.J., on the same day, another baby was born who went on to become a friar of Holy Name Province.”

— Wendy Healy, a Connecticut-based freelance writer, is a frequent contributor to HNP Today. Upcoming jubilarian profiles will features Sebastian Tobin, OFM, and Michael Tyson, OFM, as well as three silver jubilarians.