Msgr. Richard J. Schuler

Author: John Janaro

MSGR. RICHARD J. SCHULER by John Janaro Incense rises from around the marble altar, drawing one's eyes from the Lamb of God at the front of the altar to the painting of Christ crucified above it, the Blessed Virgin and St. John standing at His feet. On the altar a priest is making present that all- encompassing sacrifice, "" (Heb. 10:10). He invites the congregation to pray and they respond in a resounding tone that fills the church with the sound of that tongue which is the sign of the Universal Church; the Latin of the See of Peter, in which Christians of every race and nation give glory to the Father through Jesus Christ "" (Jn. 17:11).

A choir begins to chant, drawing all who hear into the mystery of God's salvation. The congregation is intensely aware of this reality, and involved in it as they offer themselves in union with the Eucharistic sacrifice. Here indeed is the People of God, "" (1 Pt. 2:9). Every moment of the liturgy speaks of the offering "holy and undefiled" of Jesus Christ to the Father, the mystery of redemption filling every mind and heart, informing every action, every word, every strand of music.

Liturgical renewal is centered on Jesus Christ, and because of this it makes unique demands on those who share in His ministerial priesthood. Its essence is to involve the faithful more deeply in the liturgy; to strengthen the Mystical Body of Christ. Here at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, Minnesota something extraordinary is happening- authentic liturgical renewal. There are many parishes where "renewal" has meant divorcing the liturgy from its past, or from the norms that give it unity and meaning. For St. Agnes, however, it has meant reflecting the Universal Church. This effort of renewal is led by Msgr. Richard Schuler, a man who has molded his priesthood according to the Church, always listening attentively to her voice; a man who stands with the Universal Church as she authentically presents herself today; a man who calls the Catholic Church-the Bride of Christ-the "great love of my life."

"" (Ps. 43:4). It is not surprising that Richard Schuler's heart was drawn to the Church, for his young life was surrounded by evidence of her truth and splendor. He was born on December 30,1920 across the river in Minneapolis, one of three children who survived for Otto and Wilhelmine Schuler. Theirs was a "very Catholic" neighborhood, dominated by Ascension Church and its school and convent. Young Richard was summoned to lunch and supper each day by the Angelus bell. The priests of the parish were dedicated and well loved, as were the sisters. Often, when one of the sisters needed transportation in her tasks, Otto Schuler would drive her, and the boy Richard would go along in the back, catching a glimpse of the motherhouse and wondering at all that it represented.

Catholicism was the root of a joyous home life, filled with the security, warmth, and love of an Austrian/Bavarian household. Discipline was enforced primarily through the integrity and strength of character of his parents. There were not many "rules" in the family, but the Schuler children were well aware of what their parents expected of them, and failure brought with it its own shame.

Richard's faith, then, was firm from childhood. The support of family and neighborhood reflected the general vitality of the Church in the Twin Cities as a whole. Richard was never made to feel that being a Catholic was unusual or somehow incompatible with social life. When he was old enough Richard began school at Ascension, and soon displayed an interest in music. At the age of eight he began studying piano with the sisters; and sometimes, like other children, he had to be prodded into his daily practice. Nevertheless he was soon contributing to the music of the liturgies in his parish.

As he grew older, Richard's appreciation for the Church grew deeper. He entered De LaSalle High School and began to learn more about the Church's history, her great saints, her impact on culture, art, and-as always-music. The Pilgrim Church, in her journey through this life, touches upon many aspects of earthly experience and transforms them into signs of the hope that she has in the coming of the Kingdom. Richard saw this hope built into the institutions and the routines of his youth, but most profoundly in the splendor of the liturgy. One Easter Sunday Richard traveled with his father to St. Paul Cathedral to see a pontifical High Mass. He was captivated not simply by the form of expression, but also by its meaning. "" (1 Cor. 15:55)? Jesus Christ is God in the flesh whose death had brought life to the world, and everything about the Church proclaimed this reality.

Richard wished to become immersed in this proclamation. Reflecting on the enthusiasm of his high school years, he says, "The Church was everything that we were. It was our whole life." As Lent of his sophomore year approached, Richard made a resolution-to unite himself each day to Christ in the Eucharistic sacrifice. When he saw the richness of Christian life-its prayers and processions, its worship and witness; when he heard the Word of God, or the chant that raises the heart to God-when he saw and heard these things he saw and heard Jesus Christ. Now he wanted others, in seeing and hearing himself, to see and hear Christ.

"If you want to be a priest, you'd better be a good one" was all that Otto Schuler had to say when he heard of his son's wish. That statement contained the promise of both support and constructive criticism that only a family can give. Richard would maintain contact with his family throughout his years of study for the priesthood, drawing from them encouragement and an increased zeal to serve God's people.

Upon graduating from high school, Richard attended St. Thomas College in St. Paul, all the while keeping in mind his vocation, and forming friendships with those of his fellows who shared the same ambition. Playing the organ to finance his education and studying year-round, Richard earned the bulk of the requirements for his B.A. in English after just two years.

Now, at last, he was able to enter St. Paul's Seminary. After settling into his room on the first day, Richard put on his cassock and collar for the first time and looked at himself in the mirror. Soon he would be a priest he thought to himself. The year was 1940, and while the world plunged into war Richard plunged into the depths of the mystery of the Church. The seminary life was intense and somewhat removed from the world; here Richard broadened his intellectual life and his musical life, singing in the choir and-as always-playing the organ. After five years, ordination approached, and the candidates made their eight day silent retreat. As Richard prayed about his future, the future of the Church, and the future of the world during those days in August 1945 he could only guess from the sounds of celebration outside that the worst war in history had ended.

"" (Jn. 14:27). The world hungered for the peace of Christ, and young Fr. Schuler heard the sounds of Peace in the music of the Church, music that was becoming increasingly important to his life as a priest. As a history and Latin teacher at Nazareth Hall Preparatory Seminary in Saint Paul for ten years, Fr. Schuler used his musical talents in the service of the school and the diocese, training choirs and directing a guild of Catholic organists. He decided early on that a career in secular music could not be reconciled with the demanding duties of a priest; also, sacred music had a unique character and purpose that seemed to touch upon his personal vocation.

During the summers of 1947-1950, on his own time and at his own expense, Fr. Schuler pursued a Master's degree at the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. He earned an M.A. in music theory. As he reflected upon the history and structure of Church music, he grew to love more deeply the mystery and unity of the Church herself. Fr. Schuler's "romance" with the Church continued, and-like all lovers- he sought the presence of his beloved in all her fullness and beauty. Therefore he wanted to continue his studies in that great city where the Universal Church is most poignantly made visible; where Peter, who guarantees the Unity and Universality of the Church, shepherds a flock that stretches to the ends of the earth.

"" (Rom. 1:12). Rome and the unity of faith-Fr. Schuler wished to be close to the center of the Church's life. He applied for a Fullbright Scholarship from the State Department to study music in Rome, and backed his application with intense prayer. He offered Mass in union with each of the saints in the Roman canon, the great Roman martyrs whose very lives were conformed to the Blood of Christ that he was presenting on the altar. With this offering he promised a pilgrimage to the church of each of these saints in Rome, praying there a rosary and meditating on the redemption in which each had shared.

"" (Lk. 9:23). The enrichment of faith comes through the Cross, and Fr. Schuler's great pilgrimage of faith began and ended at the foot of the Cross. Even as Fr. Schuler received his scholarship and prepared to go to Rome, his father died. This left him with obligations to his widowed mother, and the Archbishop suggested she accompany him to Rome. Otto Schuler had taught his family to be devoted to the Church, and though they were saddened by his death, Rome offered an opportunity to be closer to that Church. And so, in the fall of 1954, mother and son set off on their journey.

Rome brought an increase of faith through music, liturgy, and the constant view of Peter feeding his sheep. Fr. Schuler spent the year studying 15th and 16th century manuscripts at the Vatican Library, and he was associated with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music and the State University of Rome. He also attended every ceremony, beatification, or papal appearance that he could. Through friends he was able to obtain an audience with Cardinal Ottaviani, who arranged for Fr. Schuler and his mother to be present at Mass in the Sistine Chapel. Life in Rome during the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII had a profound influence in shaping and solidifying his appreciation of and commitment to the Church, One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.

But there is always the Cross. Every man has a natural desire to control the circumstances of his own life, to direct himself by his own choices. The priest, however, stands fully in the Person of Christ, offering himself freely in obedience to the Father. Fr. Schuler returned from Rome in 1955 filled with a faith that could move mountains. It seemed that no task would be too difficult, no burden too great to bear as he awaited assignment to his first parish. The Archbishop however, did not treat him as he had expected-instead he assigned Fr. Schuler to teach at St. Thomas College. This was not what he had hoped for; in fact he feared that, because of some misunderstanding, he was being disciplined for leaving the diocese and going to Rome.

Fr. Schuler nevertheless accepted his new tasks and embarked upon them with all the determination that he had. He taught theology and music for the next fourteen years, thus continuing his service in the intellectual life. Moreover, he lived the life of a college professor, which gave him a certain freedom-freedom to further his education and establish contacts with members of the Church all over the world. Because of this flexibility Fr. Schuler was able to become significantly involved in the liturgical renewal, and more importantly his education and his "obedience of faith" enabled him to discern the spirits that were behind various trends in liturgy. The Holy Spirit was preparing him for his work at St. Agnes, moving his heart so that it would be sensitive to the call of the Church.

This preparation included a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of Minnesota, which Fr. Schuler completed in 1963. It was here that he became more involved with the larger musical world and furthered his own reputation as a musician and director of the first order. He also became involved in the Church Music Association of America, and began writing articles for its publication .

Meanwhile the same Spirit that was leading Fr. Schuler, inspiring in him deep devotion to the music of the Church, was also desiring to renew the whole life of that Church, and began by touching the humble heart of Pope John XXIII, who sought to promote renewal by calling for an Ecumenical Council. In doing so he initiated a drama of struggle between those who lived in the Spirit, Who "" (Rom. 8:27), and those who followed other spirits who "" (Rom. 1:23).

Fr. Schuler followed the Second Vatican Council with great interest, particularly the development of the Constitution on Sacred Liturgy. In that Constitution he heard a call for renewal in the liturgy, in order that the Eucharistic sacrifice might penetrate more deeply the whole of the Mystical Body. To further this end the Council called for "active participation" by all the faithful in the liturgy, and made allowance for new creativity and diversity in liturgical life, while at the same time insisting on the preservation of the venerable traditions and indeed for a greater appreciation of them. Development in continuity with the past; vernacular in addition to Latin; the beauty and simplicity of Gregorian chant along with any other music-old or new-that was both "sacred" and "art": Vatican II was a challenge to the Church to make liturgy more vital, more vivid in its reflection of the sacredness of the Eucharistic Sacrifice-the offering that bears fruit in the nourishment of men unto eternal life.

Fr. Schuler heard this challenge and responded with enthusiasm; for musicians and singers this challenge meant a greater love for the Gregorian chant, along with the charge to expand the corpus of Church music. This task carried with it a great responsibility: that this music preserve the character of "sacred art," as is proper to liturgical music, and without which it would be unable to fulfill its purpose.

Deeply conscious of this responsibility and now widely recognized for his ability in the field, Fr. Schuler accepted the honor and duty of being chairman of the Fifth International Church Music Congress that met at the close of the Council in 1965. It was here that he first sensed the coming crisis of faith that was to afflict so many in the Church, plunging them into confusion in the years that followed. Some at the Congress had clearly lost sight of the essence of the liturgy, and reflected this loss in their desire for a secularization of Church music. A spirit of novelty and experimentation, a spirit of individualism that reflected neither the character of the Mass nor the unity of the Church, was breaking forth in the liturgical movement, particularly in the United States. It spread from the liturgy to the whole of Church life, threatening the very identity of the Christian in the face of a world that was following "" (2 Tm. 4:3).

Elected vice president of the papal federation of church music societies founded by Pope Paul VI, and as a member of the American bishops' advisory board on church music, Fr. Schuler was able to follow the developments around the world following the close of Vatican II. In the midst of the storm, he stood fast, determined to implement the renewal that the Church had called for. God had prepared him for this time, strengthened his faith, and imparted to him a sense of vision and a mission to prepare those entrusted to his care for a renewed outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

"" (Eph. 611). Msgr. Schuler was now outfitted for a new and especially demanding work-his loyal insight, his reading of the "signs of the times," gave him the discernment necessary to implement the Council in every facet of church life. Therefore, in 1969 he was called forth from the life of teaching and made pastor of the parish of St. Agnes. He now brought his lifelong love for the Church-his romance with a Bride whose beauty had grown only more vivid with the years-into a constant and absorbing service to the People of God. And the needs of his people-great and small-convinced him even more deeply of the Church's call; he saw in his daily parish duties a more concrete expression of the meaning of the priesthood.

St. Agnes is a large "national" parish with members all over the city of Austrian- Bavarian background. In addition to the pastorate, Msgr. Schuler became superintendent of St. Agnes elementary and high schools. The work with the schools was particularly difficult in the early years of his administration. During the early 1970's Msgr. Schuler found himself in a struggle for the control of the curriculum. The Diocesan Education Office had recommended certain textbooks of religion that contained fundamental errors. When Msgr. Schuler refused to use the texts in his schools, the Office attempted to pressure him through his own teachers and through various diocesan channels. He refused to be intimidated, however, insisting that the board did not have the authority to impose the texts. Ultimately his right of refusal was recognized An important battle had been won, and the Catholicity of the curriculum was thus insured.

Further, Msgr. Schuler established his own certification program for teachers, steering them clear of programs constructed by bureaucratic offices that are often confused as to the nature of Catholic education. In these ways Msgr. Schuler fulfilled his duties as educator and priest, insuring that St. Agnes' schools remain today a mirror of the teaching Church, and that their administration, classrooms, and textbooks serve as a light to reveal that Church to young minds.

The students themselves, however, have at times been a source of trouble. At one point, some of the high school students threatened a "strike." Msgr. Schuler's response was straight-forward and firm-he simply informed the students that he would refund the tuition of any who wished to leave. The students saw that he had no intention of wavering in his authority, and the crisis was averted; moreover no one took him up on his offer.

"" (Mt. 11:30). Parish work, despite the trials brought about by the confusion of the contemporary situation, has brought many consolations. The parishioners of St. Agnes have eagerly shared in Msgr. Schuler's vision of liturgical life. According to the New Order of the Mass with its prescribed ritual and the use of Latin, Msgr. Schuler celebrates a Latin High Mass each Sunday. He has gathered dedicated singers in the area into the Twin Cities Catholic Chorale, and he directs them in a variety of church music, from Gregorian chant to the great masses of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert which they present along with members of the Minnesota Orchestra on thirty Sundays each year. Also, Msgr. Schuler has served as president of the Church Music Association of America since 1975, and edits the quarterly magazine Sacred Music, using it as a medium for the authentic renewal of the liturgical music he loves so greatly.

The Eucharistic sacrifice is the center and source of an active parish life. Msgr. Schuler sees his mission to parishioners as a fostering of the personal vocation to holiness that each possesses. The priest stands in the Person of Christ, and as such he is the vehicle through which the faithful are drawn into the mystery of Christ. The sense of this responsibility permeates every facet of his ministry. Whether he is preaching in the pulpit, exercising his "prophetic mission"; or imparting in the confessional the mercy of God to a prodigal son; or graduating a class of high school students; or leading a Corpus Christi procession on the church grounds, with 1000 people proclaiming the Word made Flesh and adoring His presence in the Eucharist; or involved with his music or other apostolic activities-Msgr. Schuler seeks to be another Christ, washing the feet of his disciples, searching for the lost sheep, teaching in the temple, dying on the Cross. Msgr. Schuler is very aware of the fact that the pastor's time belongs wholly to the parish he serves. This service, however, does not seclude him; on the contrary it strengthens his bond with the whole Church, so absorbed is he in the rhythm of her daily life.

Springing forth from this daily life have been significant contributions to the Universal Church. Following the 1976 Conference of the Episcopal Church in Minneapolis that authorized the ordination of women, Msgr. Schuler became acquainted with several Episcopal priests who were convinced that this decision was not good. He arranged an audience for two of them with Cardinal Seper, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome. Both of them desired conversion to the Catholic Church, along with their congregations, and ordination to the priesthood. Because of dissatisfaction with the Anglican communion, they were determined to seek full union with the Catholic Church. As a result of meetings with Cardinal Seper, Rome approved an "Anglican Use" by which entire Episcopal congregations could enter the Church as parishes, and their priests could be ordained priests and serve as pastors. The reunion of separated communities envisioned by Vatican II was thus served by the efforts of Msgr. Schuler. The "Anglican Use", however, still faces various difficulties in its application and organization, and therefore remains one of his areas of constant prayer and concern.

Msgr. Schuler also has worked for the whole Church by fostering vocations to the priesthood. Eight priests have been ordained from his parish since he became pastor, and he serves as a spiritual director for many young seminarians. Pursuing a priestly vocation in these difficult times can be full of frustration when so many, especially in seminaries, misrepresent the Gospel. Msgr. Schuler seeks to insure that these young men are granted a vision of the Church as she truly stands; he listens to their problems, helps them in their study, and invites them to share in the liturgical life of his parish, so that they might praise God in their joys and draw strength from Him in their sufferings in union with the parishioners of St. Agnes, who are so steeped in the renewal of the Church. Msgr. Schuler hopes that in this way these young men will hear the true voice of the Church, and become seeds of her renewal some day in their own parishes.

Msgr. Richard Schuler is in all things a man in love with the Catholic Church. It is a true love, one that cannot be clouded over by deceit or discouragement because it is constantly focused on the beloved in all her goodness-a goodness that has its source and its strength in the Lord Jesus Christ. He thus stands as a prophetic witness-a witness first and foremost because he hears the voice of God and seeks in his priesthood to present Jesus Christ in all His truth and power, Jesus who is Head of the Mystical Body present in the world today. Msgr. Schuler testifies to what he hears: in his music, in his preaching, in his work in the parish, in his concern for vocations, in the obedience of faith that underlies his response to the call of the Church and shapes his entire priesthood. And his witness continues today as he invites all to join in with the voice-the song-of the Church: "" (Dn. 3:61 ff).

This is Chapter Three of the book, "Fishers of Men," published in 1986 by Trinity Communications.