REMSEN – An ordinary assignment in Mary Arens’ theology class at St. Mary High School in Remsen, turned into an extraordinary classroom experience.
The fifth grade class was assigned to do a report on one of the sacraments of the Catholic Church.
Grace Galles chose holy orders and approached Arens with the question, “Can I interview my uncle?”
Grace’s great-uncle is Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, Ohio. Grace’s sister, Emma, is a junior, and immediately requested that the juniors be in on the interview.
With the help of their mother, Kelly Galles, a Skype was arranged with Archbishop Schnurr on Oct. 10, in Arens’ classroom.
Fifth graders, junior students, along with special guests, including Carolyn Arens, the archbishop’s sister, Father Bill McCarthy, and Deacon Rick Roder. Two additional great-nieces of Archbishop Schnurr, Kaitlyn Van Den Top and Bella Arens, who are students at St. Mary’s, were also present.
Archbishop Schnurr explained the difference between a bishop and an archbishop, as the “arch” being more of an honorary title, but it does designate who the leader is when the bishops of the diocese meet.
Archbishop Schnurr celebrates Mass daily. He typically puts in a 9 to 5 workday at his office, as he oversees 211 parishes, 25 high schools, and 93 elementary schools. The evenings are often meetings and appointments.
The Hospers native explained his pathway to his vocation started when he was a fifth grade Mass server at St. Anthony Parish and was asked if he ever thought about becoming a priest. When he entered high school, the pastor suggested a high school seminary for the teenager.
Growing up in the Hospers parish, Archbishop Schnurr was inspired by Msgr. George Theobald. He just “liked what he saw” in the image of Msgr. Theobald.
As a seminarian, Archbishop Schnurr studied in Rome from 1970-74 where all classes were in Italian. He also learned to love Italian food and after returning from Rome, learned his way around the kitchen and even has a pasta recipe in the Remsen St. Mary’s Parish cookbook.
Following his ordination some 44 years ago, Archbishop Schnurr served several years in the Diocese of Sioux City before spending time in Washington, D.C. for 20 years and as bishop of Duluth, Minn., before being named to Cincinnati.
Archbishop Schnurr celebrates about 50 confirmation Masses a year, and, in total, about 5,000 are confirmed in his diocese.
“The tendency of the past has been to teach the Catholic faith as the ‘Faith of the Don’ts,’” he said. “When in reality, Jesus taught with love, as in John, chapters 10 and 15 especially. Pope Paul IV said, ‘We need to witness to faith, not to just be taught about it.’ Responding to Christ’s teachings makes us a witness.”
When asked when the church might ordain women priests, Archbishop Schnurr replied that this subject had been studied many times, most recently with Pope John Paul II. The conclusion was that Christ designated men as church leaders, as he chose men as his apostles, and that continues to be Catholic Church tradition. He noted this question often comes up when there is a shortage of priests. The archbishop thought in Cincinnati, they may be over that hump as ten years ago, there were 27 seminarians and today, there are 65.
Noah Schroeder asked Archbishop Schnurr his thoughts on the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. He replied that it has made him “frustrated and angry,” and acknowledged Americans are distressed about this as well as priests, bishops, and seminarians, and insisted, “We need to get this right.”
Sam Medina wondered if we should be following the Catholic Church blindly. Archbishop Schnurr thought it was not healthy to follow anything blindly.
“When one raises questions and then understands, it breeds faith,” he said.
Wesley Smart asked about the archbishop’s favorite gospel passage. He replied it was the passages in the Gospel of John on joy and peace – not being the absence of war, but the human restlessness written in the human heart.
The Skype ended with the sound of the bell and a blessing for all by Archbishop Schnurr.