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Remembering Fr. David Scheidler, Priest-in-Residence, Farley Hall 2014-2020

| Wednesday, June 10, 2020

I know Fr. David has held many other positions in other places and other hearts; We all hold many identities in our lifetimes; I aim only to speak from those that I knew personally.

A college sophomore and a confessor

In the fall semester of my sophomore year at the University of Notre Dame, I attended a Campus Ministry retreat at a campsite in Elkhart. For the sacrament of Reconciliation, we were to carry a lit candle to the priest whose name it bore, then bring the candle back for the next person, as a way of marking which priests were available for confession at which times. When I had completed my Examination of Conscience, I took the next available candle. It bore the name, “Fr. David Scheidler, C.S.C.”

Fr. David’s location was at the edge of a boardwalk, looking over a marsh, at sunset. I nervously blocked the wind (the Spirit?!) from the candle flame, and he assured me that amidst this beautiful nature all around us, nobody could hear us but God. He leaned in to hear what I wanted to tell God. Fr. David’s genuine smile, warmth, joy, authenticity, and ease he exuded instantly gave me peace. I relayed my sins and awaited his response.

A silence. Then, simply: “Do you know what the 11th Commandment is?”

I, a newly-declared theology major at the time, had chuckled and tutted and said matter-of-factly, “There’s only 10. I’m a theology major.” Thinking I had won the challenge, I was expecting my penance next. Someone must have told him that I studied that.

“They must like keeping us on our toes around here,” I thought. Not so. Fr. David was more creative, conscientious, catechetical, than that. “What?!” he exclaimed. “You’re a theology major and nobody ever told you that there are actually 11 Commandments?!” I shook my head. The flame on the candle was violently flickering in the wind. Everything was slipping away from my grasp, and I had just said all of my sins aloud. I felt very vulnerable. Fr. David continued to dramatically feign that everyone preferred not to mention the last one, because it made them feel uncomfortable, but that I really should know what it was, especially if I were to be a theology major, and I should tell all my friends about it, and… “What is it?!” I finally cut in, impatiently curious. I’d go home and research it, I’d decided, to see if it was hidden in some extracanonical text discovered later, like the Dead Sea Scrolls, or…

“The 11th Commandment is, ’Thou shalt not compare.’” A smile crept upon his face; he watched me squirm. Even in my determined curiosity in those moments on the boardwalk, as I tried to figure out what it was that all other Theology majors knew that I didn’t know, as I tried to keep this candle flame from going out because everybody else had kept their candles lit during their confessions, he had caught me in the act; I was a character in a Flannery O’Connor text, embodying the sin of comparison. I was breaking the 11th Commandment.

I have gone on to share that message with friends, family members, parishioners and students, sometimes adding Theodore Roosevelt’s flare, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” But for young adult Catholic women, “Thou shalt not compare” is a truth to be etched into stone and held up on a mountain as a means to aim our hearts to grow closer to God, certainly. And Fr. David knew it. Fr. David went on to describe God as an artist, and the world as a beautiful mosaic. The thing about mosaics, he explained, was that each piece was necessary, and each piece was different, and each piece was beautiful, and each piece was broken, and each piece could scratch, and each piece could break further. But God, the artist, intended them all, and God intended them to look a certain way and be placed in a certain pattern, to work side by side to create larger shapes and spectrums of beauty. God is Light. God shines through all.

As I walked the boardwalk to leave that confession, the wind blew toward me and the candle flame went out. I was immediately struck with the thought that, perhaps, the light was blown inside me, that it was my turn to be the light.

That semester, I grew to more deeply engage my faith and my Theological studies. I am forever grateful to Fr. David, for walking with me on that journey and sharing his wisdom with me. I will always remember that first moment we met one-on-one, him in persona Christi, with God’s beautiful nature and peace all around us. I am also grateful that there were more moments together to come.

A Rector and a Priest-in-Residence

When I was placed to be Rector of Farley Hall last June, and I discovered that Rev. David Scheidler, C.S.C., was our priest-in-residence, I was overcome with equal parts nervous excitement and trust that the Holy Spirit was at play. What were the odds that one of the priests I personally had considered a campus celebrity in my time as an undergraduate student was now living upstairs from me and joining me in ministry to the women of the hall? Slim, unless you account for the movement of the Holy Spirit. 

If you have ever attended one of Fr. David’s Masses, you will remember his mirth, his joy and his theatricality, in addition to his urgency for you to truly listen to the word and its meaning for us today, his ability to teach about complicated passages and not shying away from anything that others might deem too uncomfortable or radical or difficult to talk about, his desire for us to return to Jesus’s outspoken self and to constantly challenge ourselves to be better and not to become complacent. Fr. David had a true gift for speaking to, for, and with young adults, and he did it in the way that true catechesis is meant to, in the way that Christ taught, by means of utilizing storytelling and parables and imagery. At his final Mass in Farley Hall, I urged the women to appreciate and understand that he embodies what we learn in masters degree programs for the teaching of the faith; we were truly blessed to have his witness and example in our hall, such as when he shared these two images:

A monkey, reaching into a hole and grabbing a piece of fruit too big to hold if he wanted to get his hand back out. 

Do we cling to things with clenched hands, when we should let go and move on? Are we too greedy to walk away? Will we end up empty-handed?

Prepping for safety on a plane by installing the plane with life jackets, then watching the safety films and being prepared for how to engage it when the plane is plummeting so that we will be able to stay afloat.

The preparedness, the life jacket, is like faith. It should never be an afterthought; it is always there and it will keep you afloat, but only if you prepare and know how to use it.

These are but a few of the countless examples of teachings Fr. David shared over the years in Farley Hall. From these, however, it is evident that he truly loved the Lord, and he wanted us all to love the Lord that deeply, too. Theology graduate school friends of mine who were able to visit physically or virtually this year and heard that I had the opportunity to work with Fr. David in Farley Hall were equally as excited to exclaim that they remembered his excellent preaching and catechetical skills from summer homilies and confessions offered to the Echo graduate service program in the McGrath Institute for Church Life, in addition to his ability to preach and give sacraments in the Spanish language.

A key feature of Fr. David’s catechetical stories were his sisters and nieces, many of whom were Farley alumni themselves. This did not go unnoticed in Farley, an all-women’s residence hall where he lived and served from 2014-2020. Fr. David modeled a unique ability to “Come, share life” with us in Farley, communicating to us that it was amongst women that he regularly found family anyway, so his level of understanding and empowering a gender historically treated as secondary was, rather, second-nature to him. The Church was just as much ours as it was his, for Fr. David; Women were not lesser, but equal. We will all cherish, I am sure, the ways in which, if it were just us in the room at a liturgy, for every place a priest normally says, “brothers and sisters,” he would simply say, “sisters,” or, at times, “sisters and bro- — wait — ahhhh yes, I DO see one! Sisters and brother…” always accounting for the women first, who were at home in the hall where we celebrated the liturgy, and then the male guest(s), should there be any that day.

He was also always sure to offer us his beautiful men’s Folk Choir voice singing the harmony to our 70+ women’s sopranic melody, encouraging all to join in song and to attempt harmonies themselves. A previous Rector himself, Fr. David was always very relaxed in the residence hall community environment, though this particular year, with his failing health, he took to resting at Moreau across the lakes many Friday and Saturday evenings, when the hall was abuzz with late night activities, so that he could be rested and ready to serve the Sacred Heart community early in the morning on Sunday, and our own Farley community late that same night. We gave him our blessing and encouragement to do so.

In the fall, Fr. David and I spoke about the unique challenge of offering a Mass on Thursday evenings at 10 p.m., rivaling the famed Dillon (community in Baumer) Hall “Milkshake Mass.” Nevertheless, we stuck to the schedule, offering Mass in our own home and allowing the women to be the extraordinary ministers in the liturgy. “I have a bit of a following,” he said to me once, sheepishly, humbly. “People do come here, instead of Dillon, for Mass; I think they’ve made it their own tradition.” We also spoke about the importance of making Resident Assistant leaders regular partakers in, and leaders in, the liturgy, as well as raising up the current ministers at Mass to one day become Resident Assistants, in an effort to carry through the particular Catholic ethos of the University in a very visible way. It tells the women of Farley, we agreed, that faith was important, if they see that their peer leaders have been engaging in the liturgy throughout their time at Notre Dame, and not only during their senior year when formally placed in the role.

With Love, From the Women of Farley

During that time, the women of Farley Hall sent him letters of support, love and encouragement, from across the USA, from their own places of quarantine. In wishing him a good recovery, their heartfelt encouragement evidences Fr. David’s far-reaching ability to touch the heart through his role of homilist as priest-in-residence, weekly planting seeds and tending to rich soil cared for by many mentors across the university throughout the students’ week. Some poignant excerpts from the students’ letters are offered below, as a testament to how Fr. David touched the women of Farley Hall, as their priest-in-residence:

”Firstly, thank you so much for all you do for Farley. We are blessed to have you as our priest-in-residence and you help guide us on our spiritual journeys, whether personally or just by your presence celebrating Mass. You are one of the best homilists I have ever encountered. To me, you always know the right thing to say and are able to balance it so nicely with genuine knowledge about the Scriptures as their context. As a theology student who deeply cares about her faith, this is something that has always impressed me and brought me happiness.” -Heather Farrell

”You have such an incredible impact on the Farley community. Whether or not you realize it, you made my transition to college so much easier. I never went to Catholic school before Notre Dame, and never really had any Catholic friends growing up. Attending your Masses in Farley helped me feel more comfortable in my faith.” -Amelia Love

”I hope I get to come back and hear another classic Fr. David homily with lots of fun stories next year, but regardless your Masses were one of the highlights of my spiritual journey at Notre Dame.” -Lauren Bartlett

”When you speak God’s Word, you do it with passion, and your enthusiasm about the faith is evident in the way you share your homilies. I know Christ more because of you, and I’m so grateful to you for that! I hope you are aware of the impact you have had on Farley and how much we appreciate your presence.” -Mary Grace Hamlin

”Hello! You probably don’t know me very well (or maybe at all for that matter) because I was a freshman and new to Farley this past year. Regardless, I really appreciated your presence in the dorm and at weekly Masses in Farley this year! Your homilies were always funny and had a really good message to them (especially if it involved your nieces/nephews). You are really awesome and I really hope that you are doing well.” -Liz Jarocki

”You have a gift for keeping people engaged, telling stories that come to life, and impacting listeners in profound ways; I cannot say that about every priest I watch in virtual Masses with my family.” -Erin Cole

”The Masses in Farley, especially ones with you celebrating, have been one of the main reasons it felt like home.” -Mary Clare Donnelly

”A lot of the advice you have given us over my past two years has been really popping into my head and helping me during the chaos of quarantine and online school. You have such a God-given gift of knowing exactly what we need to hear, which I have an even greater appreciation for now. I definitely miss hearing your hilarious stories each week and seeing how many orange items of clothing one person can have. You are such a light in our community and I feel so blessed that Farley Hall is lucky enough to have you.” -Cecelia Berens

”I want you to pretend that this whole letter is printed in orange ink … Hopefully, that will bring a little pop of your favorite color to your day.” -Nicole Wisniewski

”I hope you know how much Farley misses you and your beautiful homilies — and your joyous, bright-eyed smile you bring with you to Mass.” -Megan Gass

Fr. David died on June 6, 2020, the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity. I’d like to think this means that his first Mass concelebrating on heaven’s side is this great Solemnity. And what a celebration that must be. The Gospel reading is a familiar one to many: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, / so that everyone who believes in him might not perish / but might have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). It is a summary of our faith. It is also paraphrased in the motto of the Congregation of Holy Cross, as given by Blessed Basil Moreau: Ave Crux, Spes Unica. Hail the Cross, Our Only Hope. Fr. David’s cross is now behind him; we live in hope. As he led us weekly in the Nicene Creed, “[We] look forward to the resurrection of the dead.” We know this is not the end of his story. And, wow, we cannot wait to hear him tell it when we meet again. Now, it is our turn to be the light.

Rev. David Scheidler, C.S.C., pray for us.

We will continue to pray for your soul as well.

We are grateful for your service and for “Sharing Life” with us in Farley Hall.

May you enjoy Trinitarian Beatitude.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. 

May Fr. David’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Fr. Scheidler’s funeral will be held at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on Friday, June 12, 2020 at 9:30 a.m. EDT. It will be livestreamed at this link.


Sarah Jesse

Rector of Farley Hall 2019-2020

June 7th

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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