By DEIRDRE C. MAYS
CHARLESTON Paul Schroeder is a natural in his job. The new diocesan director of Catechesis, Initiation and Evangelization has been involved in ministry for most of his adult life.
He comes to serve South Carolina Catholics from the Diocese of Erie in Pennsylvania where he was associate director for religious education. They are originally from Lansing, Mich., but Schroeder and his wife, Beth, and two children Hannah, 3 and Daniel, 1, wanted to live closer to family.
Schroeder is well-versed in Catholic theology. He is a former seminarian who left St. John Provincial Seminary in Michigan six months before his diaconate. At age 26, he had finished his degree in theological studies and had been placed in a parish in Lansing for what he refers to as “a year of discernment.” He recognized his calling was for different work.
“I came to the realization that I had real gifts in catecheses, working with youth and RCIA,” he explained. “I also was coming to the realization that the priesthood was not the kind of life I wanted to live.” Schroeder, now 34, wanted a family. In some ways, it was a tough decision to make but it was one supported by his bishop, Kenneth Povish.
“Some of my priest friend’s were disappointed but, for the most part, they want people to be happy and the bishop was ecstatic when I came back to work in the diocese,” he said.
The church, however, did not lose his services. He is devoted to his work and has always been very much aware of what his faith means to him. In grade school he wanted to be a priest. In college, as young people often do, he struggled with his faith for a time. When a close friend was killed by a drunk driver in his junior year, Schroeder’s grief brought him in touch with the emptiness he felt being disconnected from his Catholicism.
“God has a way of getting your attention and making you realize that there is a void in your life,” he said. It was then that the notion of ministry took root. In his senior year, he consulted his guidance counselor and made the switch from a biology to religious studies major. His parents were supportive.
He brings that background of support, religious education and lifelong faith to his job directing people in their road to Catholicism. In his new position he plans to listen a lot and hear hopes and concerns while being a support to the religious education directors on the parish level.
“My biggest concern is that we have a real problem with our youth involvement,” Schroeder said. “They don’t feel like they have ownership in the Church.”
Schroeder hopes to develop processes where youths can learn about their faith and the Church yet take pride in their membership.
“The Church and my faith are very important to me and I hope to help others in their faith,” he said. “Kids today are the ministers of tomorrow and if we don’t instill in them a desire for church and faith then we won’t have anyone to pick it up in the future. If we’re not doing a good job then we are short-changing the catechetical mission of the Church and our kids because we’re not giving them all we can give.”
His office encompasses many aspects of faith including the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults.
“RCIA is a process rather than a program of conversion, it’s ongoing,” he explained.
He tries to instill his own gifts from Catholicism in that work as he said that his faith determines who he is.
“Stability and guidance comes from my faith and it has brought me through darkness and bright times,” he said. “But I still have an awesome task ahead of me. Not only are you working with youth who are the adult Catholics of tomorrow but adults in a journey of faith and their relationship with God who you are bringing into your faith and faith communities. I’m no expert on any of this but there are people in the field who have been in the field longer than I have. I just hope that some of my experiences will be of benefit to their work.”
In years ahead, Schroeder hopes to look back at his life and see that he has tried to be a disciple of Christ.
“I hope I will have brought more awareness of God’s presence to people I have met,” he said. “I hope to have helped people to come to a better understanding of their relationship with God.”