February 13, 2009

Father Donald Schmidlin was a pastor, Catholic Charities director

By Mary Ann Wyand

Father Donald L. Schmidlin, a retired diocesan priest, died on Feb. 5 in Indianapolis of complications from cancer. He was 78.

Until shortly before his death, Father Schmidlin had resided at Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House in Indianapolis, where he celebrated Masses, heard confessions, assisted with the Tobit Weekend marriage preparation program for engaged couples, helped with other programs and ministered as a spiritual director.

In addition to his parish assignments, Father Schmidlin served as the director of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis from 1963 until 1976.

During a July 2007 interview, Father Schmidlin reflected on his 50 years of priestly ministry.

“I want to fan alive the flame of faith so it burns, to help people discover God as the deepest appeal in them, as what they really want,” Father Schmidlin said. “Have I done that? I’m trying. Am I there yet? No. Has God helped me do that for other people? Yes.”

Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein was the principal celebrant for the Mass of Christian Burial on Feb. 9 at St. Matthew Church in Indianapolis. Burial was in the Priest’s Circle at Our Lady of Peace Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Father Jim Farrell, director of Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House, was the homilist for his longtime friend.

Before his death, Father Schmidlin asked Father Farrell to deliver the homily.

With his usual sense of humor, Father Farrell said, Father Schmidlin told him, “ ‘Don’t make me out to be a saint when you preach at my funeral.’ ”

Father Farrell told the gathering that he had known Father Schmidlin since 1975.

“I met Father Don in my first assignment at St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis,” Father Farrell recalled. “He was in residence there as director of Catholic Charities, and I was a newly ordained priest. That’s when we became friends. It was during that year when he acknowledged that he suffered from a disease called alcoholism and he went away for treatment.”

When Father Schmidlin returned to active ministry, Father Farrell said, “he never hesitated to acknowledge that he had this disease. He let this illness become a way of ministering to other people. He could acknowledge that he faced struggles and challenges in life, and I think it made him more available and approachable to the people of God because they could relate to someone else who had a weakness they might have. I think that came out of his willingness to acknowledge his humanity.”

As the director of Catholic Charities, Father Schmidlin “really lived Matthew 25, which was the Gospel [reading] today,” Father Farrell said. “It ends with ‘Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do unto me.’ ”

After retiring from active ministry in 2001, Father Schmidlin lived at the St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, where he enjoyed serving Indiana University students and other parishioners.

“He forged many new friendships there that sustained him during these last years and particularly during his illness,” Father Farrell said. “In the last several years, he had gone to Creighton University [in Omaha, Neb.] and got a certificate in spiritual direction. He loved that ministry, and had a lot of [people] that came to him regularly. They loved the way he listened to them and helped them identify the movement of God in their lives.”

Father Michael O’Mara, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis, remembered Father Schmidlin as a longtime friend, mentor and spiritual guide.

“[Father] Don was a very spiritual man who based his spiritual guidance on ‘God is love,’ ” Father O’Mara said. “Don always assured me of God’s love.”

In May 2008, Father O’Mara and Father Schmidlin traveled to Colombia and Venezuela on a mission experience to South America with the Christian Foundation for Children and the Aging (CFCA).

“He had sponsored a child through CFCA and wanted to meet him,” Father O’Mara recalled. “He didn’t speak Spanish, but he communicated with everyone. The people who spoke English took him under their wings and he took them under his. When necessary, I was his interpreter. … When he met his sponsor child, Ramon, [in Venezuela] he was so loving. … I know that this child had won a place in Don’s heart.”

Donald Lewis Schmidlin was born on Oct. 24, 1930, in Indianapolis to Alphonse and Rosalyn (Rettich) Schmidlin. He attended St. Therese of the Infant Jesus (Little Flower) School in Indianapolis.

After completing grade school, he attended the former Saint Meinrad Minor Seminary and the former Saint Meinrad College before studying for the priesthood at the Theological College of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

He earned a master’s degree at Loyola University in Chicago.

He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Paul C. Schulte on May 3, 1957, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey Church in St. Meinrad.

Father Schmidlin celebrated his first Mass at St. Therese of the Infant Jesus Church in Indianapolis.

His first assignment was as associate pastor of Christ the King Church in Indianapolis on May 20, 1957.

On May 20, 1961, he was named temporary associate pastor of Holy Angels Parish in Indianapolis while he completed graduate studies at Loyola University.

On Nov. 13, 1962, Father Schmidlin was appointed coordinator of activities for the archdiocese’s Catholic Charities Bureau then director of Catholic Charities on June 13, 1963.

He was named associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis on June 14, 1963.

On May 16, 1966, he moved to St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis and was reappointed director of Catholic Charities.

On Feb. 8, 1969, Father Schmidlin was named associate pastor of St. Mary Parish in Indianapolis and reappointed director of Catholic Charities.

He was appointed to his first pastorate at St. Patrick Parish in Indianapolis on June 24, 1970, and reappointed director of Catholic Charities.

On Oct. 16, 1974, Father Schmidlin moved to St. Pius X Parish in Indianapolis and retained his assignment as director of Catholic Charities.

He resigned from his Catholic Charities position in 1976.

On Aug. 18, 1976, Father Schmidlin was named administrator pro-tem of Holy Rosary Parish in Seelyville and St. Augustine Mission in Fontanet.

Later that year, on Oct. 6, he was appointed pastor of St. Mary Parish in Rushville.

Two years later, on Aug. 1, 1978, Father Schmidlin was named pastor of St. Joan of Arc Parish in Indianapolis.

On July 8, 1987, he was appointed pastor of Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ Parish in Indianapolis.

His final pastorate was at St. Matthew Parish in Indianapolis, where he served from April 14, 1993, until his retirement from full-time ministry on July 2, 2001.

After ministering part-time at St. Paul Catholic Center in Bloomington, he moved back to Indianapolis and resided at the archdiocesan retreat center, where he ministered part-time as a retreat master and spiritual director.

On Oct. 3, 2007, he was appointed sacramental minister of St. Andrew the Apostle Parish in Indianapolis.

Surviving are two sisters, Rosalyn Quill and Franciscan Sister Mary Schmidlin; three brothers, Paul Schmidlin, Ledger “Joe” Schmidlin and Edward Schmidlin; 14 nieces and nephews; and many great-nieces and great-nephews.

Memorial gifts may be made to Catholic Charities Indianapolis or Our Lady of Fatima Retreat House. †


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