February 5, 2016

Brothers’ reunion is made possible through touches of mercy, forgiveness

As part of their journey to re-establishing the special bond they had in their childhood, Norb Schott, left, and Ted Schott made a visit to SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, where the brothers walked together through the cathedral’s “door of mercy.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

As part of their journey to re-establishing the special bond they had in their childhood, Norb Schott, left, and Ted Schott made a visit to SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, where the brothers walked together through the cathedral’s “door of mercy.” (Photo by John Shaughnessy)

(Editor’s note: Pope Francis has declared a “Holy Year of Mercy” in the Church that continues through Nov. 20, 2016. As part of the Year of Mercy, The Criterion is inviting our readers to share their stories of how their lives have been graced by the mercy of God and other people—and how that mercy has made a difference. Here is the second in a continuing series of stories.)
 

By John Shaughnessy

Watching Norb and Ted Schott smile as they share stories and a small bag of chips, there’s a temptation to view the two brothers in their sixties in the context of a quote from author Clara Ortega:

“To the outside world, we all grow old. But not to brothers and sisters. We know each other as we always were. We know each other’s hearts. We share private family jokes. We remember family feuds and secrets, family griefs and joys. We live outside the touch of time.”

The closeness between the two siblings on this cold, winter afternoon in 2016 seems as warm and timeless as the black-and-white snapshot of the two of them from 1953, when older brother Norb—7 at the time—protectively placed his hand on the arm of then 3-year-old Ted.

Yet like many stories of family, the closeness in those past and current images of Ted and Norb hasn’t been seamless through the years. There have been times of distance and separation before they recently reconnected—a reunion made possible through touches of mercy and forgiveness.

It’s a story the brothers want to share during this Holy Year of Mercy, a story they hope will help people reconcile and reconnect with loved ones who have drifted away.

Family memories and a special bond

Norb and Ted grew up in a family of seven children, the sons of a grocer and a homemaker who reared their family in the Fountain Square neighborhood on the south side of Indianapolis. Their parents also raised their children in the Catholic faith, attending Mass together as members of Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish.

The brothers—born next to each other in the family line-up—remember their walks to the parish school together, especially the ones on bitterly cold winter mornings. With much more fondness, they also recall the family vacations in the summer when their parents loaded up their children and camping equipment for a trip to a state park.

“We would always check into a motel on Saturdays to get cleaned up and ready for Mass on Sundays,” Norb says with a smile.

Ted flashes a smile, too, as he remembers the fun they had bouncing on the motel beds.

“It was a good time together as a family,” Norb says. “When we took those long vacation trips, I remember we dropped our heads on each other’s shoulders and fell asleep.”

The bond between Norb and Ted had its own special connection.

“Mom used to always tell me, ‘Take care of your brother Theodore,’ ” Norb recalls. “I suspect, as only a mom can, that she knew he would have a troubled life with mental illness. I felt protective of him.”

Yet that protective approach slipped away when they became adults.

A dramatic change

“My younger brother has been afflicted with mental illness since he was a young man,” Norb notes. “He cannot hold a job for long. He has been evicted by friends and landlords. I fell into the current of thinking that he was at fault.”

Through the years, Norb also became consumed in his nursing career and his life with his wife Marian and their family in the Indiana community of Roachdale.

And when Marian was diagnosed with a deadly respiratory disease several years ago, he became her primary caregiver. He focused on her needs as she inspired his faith by her “beauty and strength during her suffering and discomfort.”

Norb’s world was rocked to its foundation in January of 2015 when he lost the woman he fell in love with in 1979. Another jolt came several months later when his and Ted’s youngest brother, Henry, died of cancer.

“It made us realize we’re mortal,” says Ted, now 65.

Henry’s death also led to a challenge—and an opportunity—for Norb last summer. It came from his baby sister, Mary, who had started praying the rosary once a week with Ted at his home.

“She insisted that I come to pray the rosary with them,” says Norb, 69, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle.

Norb couldn’t believe Ted was actually joining in the litany of prayers to the Blessed Mother: “Him pray the rosary? He hasn’t belonged to a parish for years. Surely, he is unworthy. How can he possibly change?”

Then another thought filled Norb’s mind: “How can I possibly change?”

He drove to Indianapolis to pray with Ted and Mary.

‘Watch out for God’s grace and mercy!’

“I took the chance the Holy Spirit was whispering in my ear—‘Go pray. Give it to Mary,’ ” Norb says. “Not only did we pray the rosary, we started sharing a meal and wonderful conversation.”

Ted nods and adds, “We would sit out front and say the rosary. Mary would bring sandwiches over. It was really nice.”

The two brothers have continued meeting weekly.

“Norb just kept calling me up and coming over,” Ted says.

“Without Marian, there was a vacancy in my life,” Norb says. “It just felt good to be with him. The Holy Spirit guides me. Now, I can’t wait until the week provides me the opportunity to see him.”

In their weekly meetings, Norb has learned some of the details of Ted’s struggles and successes in life, including “how he reaches out to other mentally ill people and provides comfort.”

“To be with him, to see his housing, to see how he gets by, it’s an eye-opener for me,” Norb says. “I’m fascinated by how he’s trying to be independent.”

It’s just one of the ways their reunion has been a revelation to Norb, a reunion he credits to God’s “grace and mercy.”

Wanting a way to thank God for his mercy and for leading him back to his brother, Norb came up with what he considered a fitting plan that ties in with the Year of Mercy.

He learned that two churches in the archdiocese have been designated as pilgrimage sites that Catholics may visit to receive a plenary indulgence during the Year of Mercy. The churches are SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis, and the Archabbey Church of Our Lady of Einsiedeln in St. Meinrad.

Norb asked Ted to join him in a visit to the cathedral in Indianapolis, followed by attending the daily 5:15 p.m. Mass in the cathedral’s Blessed Sacrement Chapel. Entering the cathedral on this recent cold, winter afternoon, the brothers pass through the designated “holy doors,” which are also called the “doors of mercy” during this special year.

The looks on their faces indicate it feels right to be there, in the same way they had already opened a new door in their relationship, leading them to each other again.

“This has meant the world to me,” Ted says outside the cathedral. “I appreciate Norb coming around. It’s been wonderful. He’s just such a gentle spirit.” Pausing for a moment, his eyes sparkle with a touch of brotherly mischief when he adds, “And he does buy me dinner once in a while.”

The line leads the two brothers to laugh together.

“Watch out for God’s grace and mercy!” Norb says. “The Good Shepherd will always surprise us as he did me. I feel wholesome. It feels like a Spirit-led friendship. I couldn’t imagine this would happen.”
 

(The Criterion continues to invite our readers to share their stories of how their lives have been graced by the mercy of God and other people—and how that mercy has made a difference. Please send your stories and responses to assistant editor John Shaughnessy by e-mail at jshaughnessy@archindy.org or by mail in care of The Criterion, 1400 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46202. Please include your parish and a daytime phone number where you can be reached.)

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