June 4, 2024 // Diocese

Father Kummer, Monsignor Schulte Leave Witness of Pastoral, Prayerful Priesthood 

Being classmates can forge friendships that connect people for life. But in the case of Father William Kummer and Monsignor Robert Schulte, that connection also intertwines deeply with the life of the Catholic Church in northeast Indiana. Friends since the first grade at St. Peter Parish in Fort Wayne, these two members of the ordination class of 1975 enter retirement together this month, capping 49 years of priestly ministry. 

Their retirements carry the milestone of their being the last priests ordained by Bishop Leo Pursley, who led the diocese from 1956-76, as well as their being the last of the “lifers,” priests who went straight from eighth grade to Our Lady of the Lake High School Seminary at Wawasee, and then all the way to ordination. 

The pastoral imprint they have made on the diocese since that time exemplifies how the qualities of a good priest – kindness, humility, wisdom, prudence, joy – are not abstract concepts but concrete realities lived out in human encounters, as their many friends and collaborators can attest. 

Pastors in Formation 

Robert Schulte was the youngest of two children – his sister is seven years his senior – of a German family at St. Peter. The Polish parish, St. Hyacinth (now long closed) was closer to their home, but they made the trip to the German parish. He recalls loving music and getting involved in grade school band as well as developing leadership skills from his years in the Boy Scouts. 

William Kummer was also the youngest, but with two older sisters – and now tons of nieces and nephews, as well as great nieces and great nephews. He recalls that, in his boyhood, Fort Wayne was more like a cluster of ethnic villages where, when a mom called out the back door for a kid to come home, neighbors would say, “Wasn’t that your mother? You’d better get home.” The dairy where Kummer’s father worked took over the Pioneer Ice Cream company, and as a young boy on his way home from school, the future priest would occasionally stop at his dad’s office, where the production people would give him a taste of the raw ice cream.

Monsignor Schulte cites as “big influences on me” priests at the parish, including his boyhood pastor, Monsignor John Bapst, and later Father Eugene Koers, Father Bob Yast, and Father Larry Kramer. He also cites Pope St. John XXIII, a “pivotal, humble guy,” as a major spiritual influence, someone “always surprised by the way God works in your life.” 

The transition to seminary came naturally for both Schulte and Kummer. 

“Every priest has a vocation story. … I have none,” Father Kummer told Today’s Catholic.  “It just seemed like a good thing to do.” And as he progressed from high school seminary onward, he notes, “I never thought of any reason why I shouldn’t continue.” 

“You go to the seminary to kind of make a decision,” Monsignor Schulte says of the prevailing thinking of the time. “I knew I wanted to serve people,” he says. And he did so with summers at St. Joseph Hospital in Fort Wayne and Boy Scout camps. Finally, after his first year of theology, he decided the priesthood was his path “unless God put a major roadblock in my way.” 

Father Robert Schulte, 1975

Assigning seminarians to parishes in the summer was a novelty in those days, and Monsignor Schulte was among the first in the diocese to have such an assignment. As the reforms of the Second Vatican Council were unfolding at that time, he found himself coming home and fielding questions about these changes from relatives and friends. 

The two men parted ways after Wawasee, with Monsignor Schulte going to study at St. Meinrad’s in southern Indiana and Father Kummer attending Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and School of Theology in Cincinnati. While at St. Meinrad’s, Monsignor Schulte found his spiritual life deepened by the monastic practice of the Benedictines, their example alone having a profound influence. Meanwhile, Father Kummer’s liturgical education came from Jesuits at Xavier University, with one of them counseling him, “When you’re celebrating Mass, that is not about you.” 

The ordination class of 1975 was the largest in years for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, with five men ordained, and it would remain the largest for decades to come. Monsignor Schulte recalls the hype at the time about the “Five for God,” but views it in context today: “There was a big push in guys going to the seminaries in the 1950s and ’60s,” he says. “We were a residual of that.” 

Father William Kummer, 1975

‘Priest of the Streets’

Father Kummer’s first assignment was at St. Joseph Parish on Brooklyn Avenue in Fort Wayne, where he found himself appointed as the parish’s administrator only 10 months after ordination. The situation only steepened a learning curve that formed him as a pastor. 

“You might come out of the seminary a little bit naive,” he says of his early days in ministry. While he knew intellectually that the Church contains all kinds of people, he was still confronted head on with the reality that “God doesn’t have a cookie cutter.” 

“If that’s true for the priest, it’s way truer for the people you serve,” he says. Also factoring into his experience was his nature as a fairly shy and introverted person now living a very public life. 

“I learned to take preaching more seriously than I might have done in the seminary education days,” he says of his early years and his intentionally developing a homiletic style. “I don’t go to the ambo without some preparatory work.” This began as a typed manuscript and progressed to notecards and later to an “outline in my brain.” 

He adds, “I don’t preach at the wall.” 

And making eye contact isn’t the only way he has found to serve God’s people, a job he characterizes as “to take all of this wisdom and put it into the context of people’s real lives.” 

In that regard, he sees every new day as an opportunity and has relished how he can’t plan every moment of every day, because he never knows who he’s going to run into or who is going to walk in the door. 

“That’s a blessing of parish ministry – that we don’t know,” he says. 

He also finds joy in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, loves weddings, and tries to meet the needs of grieving families at funerals. “That’s what we’re here for,” he notes. “I seriously try always to identify people’s strengths and their goodness. I don’t focus on people’s problems or their mistakes.” 

But Father Kummer is quick to note that, personally, “I have no particular talent. I just smile a lot,” and that he’s “just a priest of the streets. That’s what I do.” 

Throughout the course of his priesthood, those streets have included Wabash, Huntington, the Southwood Park neighborhood of Fort Wayne around St. John the Baptist Parish, which he served as Pastor from 1990-2002, and Plymouth, where he was Pastor of St. Michael Parish from 2002-13. He still has many friends in these places.

“He was enjoyable to be with,” recalls Kathy Girres, who worked at St. Michael’s for the entirety of Father Kummer’s time as pastor. She says he was a boss “who kept everything calm and running smoothly. It was joyous to have him.”

Kathy and her husband, Ray Girres, have kept in touch with Father Kummer and still get together with a group from across the diocese to play cards.

“One of his rules is ‘don’t trump Father’s ace.’ But we ignore that usually, and he doesn’t get too upset,” notes Ray. He adds, “I’ve always enjoyed his homilies. He would make a very good point, and I think his rule was ‘about seven minutes,’ which I appreciated.”

Mary Glowaski, who now serves the diocese as assistant to the bishop in pastoral care, worked in ministry with Father Kummer for more than eight years at St. John the Baptist. 

“In him I found one of the kindest, most humble men I have ever known,” she says. “In our 30-year friendship, I have never heard him say an unkind word about anyone, and his witness of goodness and generosity both challenge and inspire me. He is truly one of the finest human beings I have ever met.” 

Mary Keefer, who taught language arts and religion at St. John while Father Kummer was Pastor, calls him “the quintessential example of a priest: He is kind; he is a gentleman. He represents Christ to our Catholic community.” In addition, she says, he is available. “He always shows up!” 

Keefer adds: “I relish the years that Father Kummer spent at St. John the Baptist. He is a good man.” 

Kathy Szczepkowski, who organized the bulletin for Father Kummer at St. Michael in Plymouth, describes him as devout and well read, with a wonderful sense of humor and a love of cars. 

“He liked to ride around on all the country roads, and that’s when he would compose his homilies,” she recalls. But even more than cars, she notes, “He loves the Lord more than anyone I ever knew,” and “he loves people.” 

Father Kummer’s last assignment, as administrator and then Pastor at St. Joseph – Hessen Cassel, began under challenging circumstances, as he followed two consecutive pastors who had been removed following allegations against them. 

“I learned early on how incredibly trusting Catholic people are,” he says, and that it “broke my heart” when he witnessed the trust of priests betrayed with the outbreak of the clergy sex abuse crisis. “Why would you not treasure that trust that had been given to you?” 

Called into Leadership

From early in priesthood, when he served as an assistant at Sacred Heart Parish in Fort Wayne, Monsignor Bob Schulte found himself being called into leadership roles. This began under Bishop William McManus, who entrusted him with overseeing the permanent diaconate program and made him Diocesan Vocations Director. Previous vocation directors had spent a year or two in the role, but Monsignor Schulte lasted eight, which was “unheard of in those days.” 

While he excelled in this work, when Bishop John M. D’Arcy arrived in 1985, Monsignor Schulte told him that he longed to return to parish ministry. Bishop D’Arcy granted this by first naming him administrator of St. Francis Xavier Parish in Pierceton and then, 18 months later, the first pastor of the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in southwest Fort Wayne. 

“It was a young parish, which was very good,” Monsignor Schulte says of the experience of building a church while ministering to a lot of young families in a bustling community. “It’s like riding a bucking bronco. You just hold on and steer it in the right direction.” 

Because of this assignment, Monsignor Schulte is the only living founding pastor in the diocese. 

Monsignor Schulte enjoyed working with Bishop D’Arcy, and the two became close. Sometime in the ’90s, the bishop asked him to lead the diocese’s ecumenical and interfaith efforts. These would go on to include dialogues to explore improving relations between Catholic and Jewish people, dialogues with local United Methodist clergy, and a regular First Sunday of Advent prayer service at different Catholic and Lutheran churches. 

As he went on a sabbatical in 1999 that took him to Israel and Greece, Monsignor Schulte began to hear rumors that the bishop planned to move him into the chancery. When he returned to the United States, Bishop D’Arcy called him to his house and named him Vicar General and Chancellor of the diocese, as well as Rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. He found desk work to be a challenge, but he was happy the cathedral allowed him to do parish ministry as well. 

Joe Ryan, Chief Financial Officer of the diocese, recalls how some people were intimidated at first by Monsignor Schulte’s quiet demeanor and tall stature, but that they quickly found him to be “very intelligent” with “a sense of humor once you got to know him. And when you were in his presence, he always made you feel special.” Ryan also credits Monsignor Schulte with the smooth and well-coordinated consolidation of six diocesan office locations into the Archbishop Noll Catholic Center in downtown Fort Wayne in 2005. 

Monsignor Schulte’s time as Vicar General and Chancellor also coincided with the sexual abuse crisis. Glowaski recalls Monsignor Schulte as “a man of great integrity and faithfulness” as the diocese developed the structures for an ongoing, long-term response. 

“I was privileged to witness the many demanding ways he shepherded our diocese through one of the most painful times in our Church,” she says. “His steady, reliable, compassionate presence and leadership was so important for all of us. I personally counted on him and his counsel in innumerable ways, and I will always be grateful.” 

One of seven priests of the diocese made a monsignor by Pope Benedict XVI shortly before Bishop D’Arcy’s retirement in late 2009, Monsignor Schulte had only planned to stay in the chancery through Bishop D’Arcy’s tenure, but he ended up serving an additional eight years under Bishop Rhoades. In 2018, he once again asked to return to parish ministry and was named Pastor of St. Jude in Fort Wayne, a parish he found to be flourishing with active laypeople thanks to the groundwork laid by previous pastors. 

Mary Pohlman, who spent 32 years as the Pastoral Associate at St. Jude – the last four with Monsignor Schulte – says the parish staff benefitted from his guidance but also from his prayerfulness. 

“He could make the Eucharistic Prayer come alive, and his homilies certainly shared that pastoral wisdom,” she says. “If we ever brought an idea or a problem to him, you always knew that he’d listen, and his calm and patient demeanor always let you know that things were going to work out OK.” 

Jessica Heis, St. Jude’s new Pastoral Associate, says Monsignor Schulte has been a great mentor in showing her what parish ministry means. 

“His humility and leadership have been amazing,” she says. “His whole person really shows what the Catholic Church is all about.” 

Looking Back, Looking Forward

As Father Kummer and Monsignor Schulte retire, their paths converge once more as each of them prepares to move into his own apartment in Fort Wayne. Father Kummer admits to some “separation anxiety” as he prepares to live without a parish for the first time in half a century, but he says he is looking forward to becoming his own housekeeper. 

“It will be difficult for him, because he loves being a parish priest,” says Kathy Girres.

Monsignor Schulte sees retirement after 49 years of priesthood as emblematic of the scriptural notion of jubilee – that after seven periods of seven years, the 50th year was the jubilee year. 

“There’s the life of faith, and there’s the life of vision,” he cites from St. Augustine, noting that the life of faith is one’s time of active service, while the life of vision is the period of reflection on all that has happened. 

In that regard, Father Kummer says he is at peace, describing his situation in a spirit of simple service that has animated both men’s priesthoods: 

“I love Jesus. I love His Church. At this point in my life, there’s nothing else that I think I should have done,” he says. “You just try to love the Lord and do your job.” 

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