October 1, 2002
Father Frederick Schell, S.J., (1916-2002) an uncompromising rock for the Truths and Traditions of Holy Mother Church, passed away September 28 - Our Lady's Saturday at the age of 86. He will be greatly missed by the remnant of Traditional Catholics whose souls he touched in manifesting so many good fruits during his many years in the harvest of God's lambs.
Father Schell was born in 1916 in El Paso. He joined the Society of Jesus and was ordained to the priesthood after World War II. As he could not take the situation within the Society, he sought out incardination in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles in the 1970s, where he made a number of friends among the priests there.
The breaking point for Father Schell came, however, when he was told in November of 1977 that he would have to give out Holy Communion in the hand. Pope Paul VI had granted the American bishops the permission they sought to regularize the abuse they had "tolerated" (actually, initiated) in many places ever since the new Mass started in 1969. "They told me I would have to give out Communion in the hand on November 20, 1977," Father Schell told us, "I told people at the time, 'This is a sacrilege. They can't make me do it." He saw so clearly what so many priests acquiesced to in a perversion of a true Catholic understanding of the word "obedience." Father Schell was not out to please man but God, "So, I preached against it on November 13, 1977," he told us, "and by the next week I was gone. The last twenty-five years have been the happiest of my life."
Father Schell opened up shop about fifty miles north of Los Angeles, attracting a steady stream of parishioners who had grown sick and tired of the liturgical irreverence, the improvisation, the showmanship, and the doctrinal impurity found in their local parishes. Although he was then in his fifties, he drove from Granada Hills to Garden Grove to Bakersfield to Ventura to offer the Mass of our fathers week in and week out. He placed everything in the hands of the Blessed Mother. The Archdiocese of Los Angeles knew all about him, but never lifted a finger to sanction him.
Father Schell told us the story on March 11, 2002, of the time that one of Cardinal Mahony's auxiliary bishops came to the chapel where he offered Sunday Mass. Although he was dressed in civilian clothes, a woman recognized him and told Father Schell. "I told her to tell him, 'Tell him to stay out of the way and that he'll hear a good Mass if he wants to stay.'" The woman did as she was instructed. Word got out that the auxiliary bishop was there, and each of the children knelt down before him to kiss his ring, embarrassing the fellow no end.
Father Schell minced no words about the state of the church. About the bishops, "They're bums, each and every one of them. Bums. . . . They're fence straddling mugwumps. One week they're mugs, the next week they're wumps." He agreed with my assessment about in "A Mere Matter of Preference?" that the Novus Ordo was ultimately harmful to the Faith. "That's right," he said very matter-of-factly. "I agree with that."
I kept thinking while at breakfast with him that he would have enjoyed meeting the late Father John J. Sullivan, whose life and priesthood I described in "Jackie Boy" just about two years ago now. When I told him about a priest at Holy Apostles Seminary who had said that Our Lord was conceived in a perverse, violent manner, Father Schell jumped right in, "I would have punched him right in the nose." I told Father Schell that's exactly what Father Sullivan did. Father Schell was very pleased. It should be noted, however, that Father Schell told us after he had treated us to breakfast, "I'm all talk now. I don't too much fighting these days."
Sharon and I were amazed at the physical condition in was in after all of the years of driving hundreds and hundreds of miles every week. We were also amazed at his "breakfast of champions," as Sharon called it, which consisted of endless cups of coffee (with loads of cream and sugar in each cup) and a cinnamon role with gobs and gobs of butter on it. At 86, the food police had not caught up with Father Schell.
Both Sharon and I came away from that meeting with the belief that we had met a saint. Naturally, Father Schell did not believe he had done anything extraordinary. He simply offered people the Mass, giving them an oasis in a desert of the Faith. And he had the humility to recognize when he was slowing down, being willing to turn over the network of parishes and the academy he had built up over a quarter of a century to Father Perez, who he had just met a few years before. Father Schell did not build up a cult of personality around him. He simply was a priest who wanted to offer Catholics the Traditional Latin Mass and pure instruction in the Faith.
The Padre Pio Academy in Garden Grove is well attended by well behaved children. I told Sharon after attending our first Mass there with Father Perez in February of this year, "You tell me who the crazy ones are around here? The people who sit back passively and accept liturgical abuse and outright heresy, who expose their children unthinkingly to the rot of sex-instruction, or these good people who simply want to save their own souls and to help their children get to the highest place in Heaven possible next to that of the Blessed Mother? Who are the crazy ones?" A photograph of Father Schell hangs in the academy. When I saw it for the first time, I told Sharon and Father Perez, "He looks for all the world like Milton Berle." Father Schell told us when he met him that he had been told that many times.
I realized after meeting Father Schell how wrong I had been over the years, that the circumstances of the postconciliar church had produced men of remarkable courage, men of such profound humility that they did not care what anyone thought of them or what sacrifices they had to make to be faithful to the Church's living liturgical tradition. And I prayed all the more fervently that the Holy Father would erect an Apostolic Administration so as to give these courageous men the canonical recognition that is their due as they seek to honor the Blessed Trinity fittingly and serve the cause of the formation and salvation of immortal souls.
We kept in contact with Father Schell after we left California. He was so pleased to get the news of Lucy Mary Norma's birth. It was, therefore, with great delight that we looked forward to seeing him again in California when we flew out there in May in association with a talk I was to give at a Una Voce-Los Angeles/Latin Mass Magazine conference on May 25.
We met Father Schell at his home in Granada Hills. He took us to a wonderful restaurant perched above the intersections of Interstates 405 and 5 and California Route 118, a place that had a breathtaking view of the entire San Fernando Valley. It was clear, though, that he had slowed down in the two and one-half months since we had first met with him. He was preparing to go home.
Father Schell, who was so happy to met our daughter, told us that he was retiring from all of his active work, giving it all away to Father Perez. "I'm praying to Our Lady for a quick exit," he told us, "probably sometime within the next six months. She usually gives me whatever I ask of her." Selfishly, we hoped that he would be around for a lot longer than six months. We so enjoyed visiting with him, partaking of his wisdom and being inspired by his great love of Our Lord and Our Lady.
I was told several days later that Father Schell's used his last sermon to urge his parishioners to read the issue of Christ or Chaos he had had reproduced. "I've given you many things over the years," he told them. "This is the last gift I am giving you." To say that I was touched and honored beyond words is an understatement. That a man of his courage and wisdom and foresight would find my work in any way edifying for his people is a gift I will always cherish.
We spoke on the phone several times in the last few months. He told me that he was doing all right, but that he was glad he had made the decision to retire. Again, Sharon and I were hoping to see him on our next journey California, though we do not know when that is going to take place. Our Lady had other plans.
Sharon found out from a dear friend of hers in San Juan Capistrano, California, that Father Frederick Schell, S.J., died peacefully in his sleep on Saturday morning, September 28, 2002. He died on Our Lady's day, Saturday. Father Patrick Perez told me over the phone that evening that he had conditionally anointed Father Schell several hours after his death, telling me that there was a smile on his face. As well there should have been. Though we never presume the state of any soul at the moment of death-and are duty bound in both justice and charity to pray for the souls of the faithful departed for as long as we are live, Father Schell is one of those men, as a great Catholic philanthropist and defender of the Traditional Mass noted that same evening, "you pray to as well as pray for." Whether he is in Purgatory or Heaven, the prayers of Father Frederick Schell will be most powerful to aid the restoration of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Humanly speaking, it is sad to realize that we will never see him in this life again. If it were at all financially possible, Sharon and I would fly out to California for his Requiem Mass. Our faith teaches us, however, that we are never separated from the souls of the faithful departed. The doctrine of the Communion of Saints teaches us that each part of the Church-Militant, Suffering, Triumphant-are connected to each other. Indeed, we are overawed at the childlike simplicity Father Schell had in Our Lady's intercessory power to grant him a quick exit from this vale of tears although nothing was really wrong with him physically at all other than the toll that eighty-six years of living the Priesthood and Victimhood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ takes on a courageous son of the Church.
Father Schell cared nothing for honors, nothing for prestige, nothing for the perquisites that so many priests (even those who are orthodox and who recognize in the Traditional Latin Mass the best way to worship the Blessed Trinity and to sanctify souls) are willing to sell their souls in order to obtain. He cared only about fidelity to Christ the King and Mary our Queen by giving the souls who sought him out access to the closest thing to Heaven imaginable: the Traditional Latin Mass.
Yes, the Providence of God is amazing. I needed to have the scales taken from my eyes to appreciate men like Father Frederick Schell. And I will never cease to pray to Our Lady so that those who remain after him - and those who will come along after them - will one day be recognized by Holy Mother Church herself as nothing other than priests who care about true reverence in Mass and integrity in handing on the Deposit of Faith in all of its purity. It is men such as Father Frederick Schell who kept the Traditional Latin Mass alive in the midst of a veritable revolution to flush the past down the Orwellian memory hole.
While praying for Father Schell's soul (he probably gave "Jackie Boy" Sullivan a punch in the nose in eternity for not "getting it" about the Traditional Mass), we also give Our Lord and Our Lady thanks for his courage and zeal, his humility and self-effacement.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And let perpetual light shine upon him. May his souls - and the souls of the faithful departed - rest in peace. Amen.