Father Stephen L. Schroeppel, MM
Born: October 21, 1931
Ordained: June 14, 1958
Died: June 6, 2008
Father Stephen Schroeppel died suddenly and peacefully at the Maryknoll House in St. Louis, Missouri on June 6, 2008. He was 76 years old and would have celebrated his 50th Jubilee on June 14, 2008.
Stephen Lawrence Schroeppel, son of Charles and Carolyn Helenek Schroeppel, was born October 21, 1931 in Jamaica, New York. Two older brothers, Charles and George, were his childhood heroes. Our Lady of Mercy Elementary School in Port Chester, New York and Blessed Sacrament High School in New Rochelle, New York provided his education before joining Maryknoll on June 25, 1949 at the Junior Seminary Venard, Clark’s Summit, Pennsylvania.
Father Schroeppel’s interest in Maryknoll had developed by browsing through The Field Afar, and then meeting his first Maryknoller, one who made the difference, Father Walter Maxcy. Acquaintances with cousins of Father James Anthony Walsh further fed this interest through conversations and books, especially “When the Sorghum was High,” about the murder of Father Gerry Donovan by bandits in Manchuria.
Father Schroeppel recalls a conversation with his parents sometime during his seminary years that has stuck close to him over the years. They said, “We are happy and proud about what you are doing, and while we encourage you, know that we will be equally supportive if you find out that being a missionary priest is not for you.”
Assigned to Tanzania after ordination on June 14, 1958, Father Schroeppel spent 18 years learning languages and customs, looking for better ways to catechize and more effective ways for Christians to look after themselves and to evangelize others. At times this was frustrating, but nothing like the frustration from the growing realization that the very lives of the people, especially children, were constantly being threatened and destroyed by the water they drank. Yet, such frustration over the missioners’ inability to effect enough change took backstage to those peoples’ faith, hospitality, and acceptance of us. For the Africans, just our living among them was the important gift, not what we accomplished. We had left families, friends, our customs and way of life, to live our lives with them. The thought gradually emerged: the best Gospel I could preach.
That thought followed Father Schroeppel in other settings. On January 1, 1978, he was assigned to the United States Region and the Development Department, working first from the Metairie, Louisiana Regional Office, and then Houston, Texas from July 1, 1979 as Regional Director. In January 1981, the Vocation Task Force was formed, and Father Schroeppel was invited to join, and moved to Philadelphia. From that time until 1984, he faced another special kind of frustration: how to relate to young people. He found that his Africa experience showed him how.
In 1985, Father Schroeppel returned to the DevelopmentDepartment with assignments in Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis. At the time of his death, he was Director of the St. Louis Regional Development House, where he had assisted 13 dioceses for more than seventeen years. Father Schroeppel recently stated: “relearning my faith through African eyes and being revitalized by that has been a gift for me, especially in helping me appreciate the struggles of American youth today.”
Wake services were held at 4:30 p.m. on June 11, 2008 at St. Teresa’s, and at 7:30 p.m. in Queen of Apostles Chapel at Maryknoll Center where Brother John Blazo officiated and Father Carroll Houle read the biography. Mass of Christian Burial was concelebrated in Queen of Apostles Chapel on June 12, 2008 at 11:00 a.m. Father John J. Lange was Principal Celebrant and homilist. Burial followed in Maryknoll Society Cemetery with Father John McAuley conducting the graveside service.