By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — It had to be the Beatitudes. What other Gospel could possibly be right for the funeral Mass of Father Francis Schuele?
“For Jesus,” said Father Don Farnan in his homily, “the champions of faith were the humble, politically powerless, forgotten and marginalized. He was referring to people like Francis Schuele and those to whom Frank dedicated his life ministry.”
Father Francis Schuele, 71 and a priest for nearly 47 years, died March 6. His Mass of Resurrection was celebrated March 10 at St. Thomas More Parish, where he spent the final years of his vocation, and where Father Farnan is pastor.
The church was filled.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, they who mourn, the meek, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the pure of heart, the peacemakers, Jesus preached on the mount.
“Then Jesus saved for last, the most important of all,” Father Farnan said.
“He saved for last the ones who side with heaven, even when any fool can see that it’s the losing side from every earthly perspective and that all you get for your pain is more pain,” Father Farnan said.
“And to these, Jesus looked right in their faces and said, ‘Blessed are you.’ And the faces in the crowd looked right back at him — rundown peasants, poor widows, rugged, dirty fishermen and labors, enslaved by foreign tyrants, outcasts of every kind, not a hero among them,” he said.
“They’d been walked on, worked over, cussed out and left behind because of what they believe, and what they believe is that God is with them in their struggles, that heaven awaits them, and that their reward in the world beyond this one will be great,” Father Farnan said.
Such was the life of Father Francis Schuele.
“Frank’s life was also a sermon, not unlike the Sermon on the Mount,” Father Farnan said.
“The great saint of Assissi once instructed his friars to preach the Gospel always and use words only if necessary,” he said.
“Frank understood this message well. It was first given to him by his parents on the south side of St. Joseph. His dad worked in the stockyards and his mother was always there for her children. When she wasn’t, she was usually a block away at St. James Church on her knees. What Frank inherited from them was hard work and deep faith,” Father Farnan said.
Father Schuele was gifted with a brilliant mind, and a frail body that he somehow managed, through hard work, to keep going for 71 years, but also made him a target.
“In high school, he was drawn to chess, opera, reading novels in German and interests that booted him beyond the fringe of teen-age society. Too school for cool. The things he did, he did with sincerity, and his peers gave him a hard time for it,” he said.
Bishop Helmsing, however, recognized the brilliant mind and sent Father Schuele to Rome to complete his seminary training. There he was ordained by Pope Paul VI in 1968, but not before colitis — one of many physical ills he would suffer through the rest of his life — took its toll and put not only his ordination, but his life in question.
“He looked like a skeleton,” Father Farnan said.
“Frank was fully aware that God placed upon his shoulders a heavy cross, but he also possessed a firm determination to do what he was called to do,” he said.
Early in his career, he was assigned to campus ministry with Father Michael Gillgannon, where Father Schuele honed his Catholic Christian commitment to peace and social justice. From there he worked on the staff of the Missouri Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of the church in Missouri, researching and drafting documents for Missouri’s bishops, and from there, he worked at Holy Cross, St. Augustine, St. Therese Little Flower, Christ the King parishes in Kansas City, and Coronation of Our Lady Parish in Grandview, then with the diocesan Office of Peace and Justice (now the Office of Human Rights) before becoming pastor at his home parish, St. James in St. Joseph, then at St. Cyril in Sugar Creek.
“His physical infirmities increased,” Father Farnan said. “In addition to the colitis and gastrointestinal diseases, he dealt with spinal deformity and scoliosis, blood clots, strokes, staph infections, heart issues, mounting muscular and skeletal obstacles, later MRSA and finally pneumonia,” he said.
“But through it all, his mental and spiritual drive persisted as he fought these horrendous battles daily, waking up three to four hours before his first morning duty just to get his body going,” Father Farnan said.
“At St. Thomas More, he was known especially for his compassion to the sick and dying, and those seeking reconciliation. He would go the extra mile for anyone because he simply believed that is why he was put here,” Father Farnan said.
“It was not unusual for him to spend hours at the bedside of a dying and lonely person,” he said.
“He’d wake up early on Christmas morning to visit those who had no family. He delivered fish on his bike each Friday to a shut-in who anticipated that one simple pleasure. His niece Katie summarized it well — he loved aggressively,” Father Farnan said.
But Father Schuele’s life wasn’t sad.
“His sense of humor was every bit as strong as his sense of honor,” Father Farnan said.
“You witnessed it in his hearty laughter, his booming voice, the jokes he shared, the ways he was almost transported to another dimension listening to great jazz or classical sounds, or the way he got excited about some new discovery he made,” he said.
“He was quirky, funny, irritating, insightful, frustrating, clever and able to size up situations pretty well,” Father Farnan said.
“And he was happy, the kind of happiness that is tied to the Beatitudes,” he said.
“As many of you are aware, people can be cruel sometimes. Some attacks toward him were bitter, some vicious. He always responded with kindness and compassion, the same way he did since boyhood,” Father Farnan said.
“He gave until he could give no more. He gave every ounce of grace that God entrusted to him. He gave it for the betterment of the world and the glory of God,” Father Farnan said.
Pinned to a cork poster board in the narthex of St. Thomas More Church, were dozens upon dozens of hand-drawn, hand-written “Get Well” wishes from the children of St. Thomas More School, wishes and prayers that were instead answered by Father Schuele’s call home.
“You are blessed by God to be a priest, and an amazing person to the school and all others,” wrote John.
Avery wrote, “We miss you so bad and we also love you.”
Wrote Dyllan: “Let the Lord guide you. Let the Lord help you while you are sick. Trust in the Lord.”
From Marin: “We are praying for you and I bet you can’t wait to get back to being a priest.”
From Molly: “I loved how you explained goodness with an Oreo cookie.”
From Ciara: “I’ll keep you in my prayers and that’s a promise.”
At the end of Mass, Father Schuele’s younger brother, Father John Schuele offered the family’s gratitude, both to the congregation and for the life of Father Francis.
“Suffering easily becomes bitterness,” Father John said. “Francis had his moments but he transcended them. In his case, from suffering, he learned compassion.”
And his brother never lost hope.
“Hope is the issue, hope is the virtue of our times,” he said. “You can always hope as long as God is God.” ❏