May 21, 2024 // Diocese

After 50 Years in Ministry, Father Bill Schooler Set to Retire

When Monsignor William Schooler – widely known as “Father Bill” across the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend – reached the priestly retirement age of 75, he asked Bishop Rhoades if he could stay on at his current parish for one more year. This summer, Father Schooler is about to turn 76, and it was announced in mid-May that he will be retiring from active ministry.

Father Schooler has been serving as Pastor of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Granger for 23 years, almost half of his life as a priest. He was ordained in 1974, though his journey to the priesthood began long before that.

Father Bill Schooler stands with Bishop Pursley at his ordination at St. Jude Church in Fort Wayne in 1974.

“I was always fascinated by priests as a child,” Father Schooler told Today’s Catholic.

Born in Decatur, Father Schooler moved with his family to Wabash while in middle school. Their new pastor, Father Robert Zahn, “made a big impact” on the young Schooler, especially during his mother’s near-death experience. “I was so impressed with his kindness to us,” Father Schooler said.

It was Father Zahn who arranged the money to send Schooler to a seminary high school, a common institution in the time before the Second Vatican Council. While Father Schooler said he is grateful for the education, he is glad that seminary high schools are no longer commonplace, and he regrets missing the opportunity to grow up with his siblings. “I just think that we have figured out it’s better to form your adolescent formation in a more normal environment,” Father Schooler said.

After high school, Father Schooler attended St. Gregory’s for college, which has since closed. An “excellent” Jesuit teacher influenced Father Schooler’s decision to major in English literature. Father Schooler began taking annual trips with classmates to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario – a tradition he still carries on today with four of his former classmates.

Father Schooler poses with cyclists from St. Pius X who rode from Canterbury, England, to Rome in 2014

After receiving his ordination and master’s degree in theology at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, Father Schooler’s first priestly assignment was as associate pastor at St. Matthew Cathedral in South Bend, a role in which he served until 1979. However, his full-time job while there and at his subsequent assignment, St. Monica Catholic Church in Mishawaka (from 1979-1984), was as chaplain and teacher at Marian High School.

“I had to learn how to go from studying academic theology to teaching high school students,” Father Schooler said. He added: “I think it helped me with my preaching. Being a teacher helped me to develop a preaching style.” Father Schooler explained that he became used to presenting orally during his teaching years and not just reading a printout, something that he carried through with his homilies.

One of Father Schooler’s former students, Monsignor Michael Heintz, will take over as Pastor at St. Pius X. (Father Schooler remembers him being a “very bright” student.)

Derby Photo
Father Schooler speaks at the dedication of the new St. Pius X Church in 2017.

Father Schooler served as Pastor at St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Columbia City from 1984-1988, and as Pastor at St. Jude Parish in Fort Wayne from 1988-2001. Father Schooler credits these positions with teaching him how to be a pastor.

When Father Schooler was assigned to St. Pius X Church in Granger in 2001, the Holy Cross priests who used to administer the parish had just left. Father Schooler and Father Daniel Scheidt stepped in as the first diocesan priests of the parish. They also came at a time when the surrounding Granger area was growing, as was the parish. The church constructed 10 years previously was already too small for the burgeoning congregation.

So, Father Schooler went to work with building projects that took most of his next 23 years at the parish, which also built and opened a school in 2008, which Father Schooler called “more work,” but “I think we’re a better, stronger parish with a school,” he said. The old rectory was torn down and a new one was built in 2014, then the new, much larger church was dedicated in 2017.

“I’ve really enjoyed watching the parish grow,” Father Schooler said. “It was very difficult raising money for all the building projects. … I’m absolutely done raising money,” he said with a laugh.

Father Schooler throws out the first pitch at a South Bend Cubs game in 2023.

In that time, Father Schooler has also been able to accompany generations of parishioner families. “I’ve baptized, I’ve married, I’ve buried, done that cycle many times,” Father Schooler said.

Father Schooler said it was hard for him to leave every parish assignment he’s had. He feels no different about St. Pius X, his last and longest assignment. “Well, that’ll make it more difficult to leave, being here that long,” Father Schooler said. “You know, this is my family. And it’s going to be very difficult to step away. But I have to do that, because it’s not fair to the parish, and it’s not fair to the new pastor. And I’m especially happy about who’s going to succeed me. I think he’ll do a really good job.”

Before he leaves, Father Schooler will celebrate the 50th anniversary of his ordination as a priest with a special Mass at St. Pius X on Sunday, May 25. Upon his retirement, he said he will be moving to a private home in Mishawaka and plans to do some traveling. He also hopes parishes will contact him for help with their needs.

“I’m convinced this is the right time to do it,” Father Schooler said of his retirement. “It’s time for new leadership in the parish. It’s time for me to let go of all that administration and to focus on why I was ordained a priest … to celebrate Mass, confessions, the sacramental ministry. The sacramental ministry is why we were ordained.”

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