Remembering Bishop Matthias Schmidt • 1931-1992

Bill Schmidt, later Matthias, Matt, or Oscar, saw the light of day in Nortonville, Kan., April 21, 1931.  He was the youngest of two brothers and a sister.  His father died in 1932.  His mother, Anna, moved to Atchison where the Atchison Daily Globe employed her for many years.  Oscar attended the local Catholic schools, graduated from Maur Hill in 1949, became a Hilltopper that same year and received the Benedictine habit March 12, 1951.  His was the last class of Hilltoppers to have what is called “the devotional reception” of the habit.  He and his class entered the novitiate June 28, 1951, made simple profession July 1, 1952, solemn vows July 11, 1955.  A class of five took ordination May 30, 1957.  He finished theological studies the following year, groomed for the study of biology he went to Wood’s Hole, Mass., for summer school.  He returned to be prefect of theHilltoppers and teacher of biology.  He also taught religion at the Mount Academy and once gave a retreat for Lay Brothers at Holy Cross Abbey.

Father Matt along with Father Stephen Burns, and Father Otho Sullivan volunteered in 1961 to be in the first contingent from here to start a foundation in Brazil.  The Abbey’s effort was in response to the desires of Pope John XXIII.  After some investigation, a parish in Mineiros, Goias, Brazil, was accepted from Bishop Benedito Coscia, OFM, Bishop of Jatai, and Brazil.

After ten years of effort there Matthias was consecrated Auxiliary Bishop of Jatai.  He was later named Ordinary of the Diocese of Ruy Barbosa, Bahia, Brazil.  After a few months there, urged on by his priests, he was blessed with a conversion from thinking in the expected and well-worn categories to a habit of looking at the Church and its people from the perspective of the poor.  He tried to live the preferential option teaching of the CELAM at Medellin.  He became very unpopular with the wealthy and those who had power.  Father Kieran McInerney ably assisted Bishop Matthias in the effort for 10 years.  Father Kieran left for Mineiros when he was elected Prior of the Mosteiro São Jose in Mineiros, Goìas. 

Bishop Matthias was a fearless preacher, popular retreat master, a participant in public efforts to show solidarity with the poor, such as a 10 day fast in Panama City, Panama, meetings with Bishop Oscar Ruiz of Chiapas, Mexico, home of the Zapatistas. 

Leading a retreat, he died suddenly and instantly of a heart attack while saying the rosary in a small plaza in the town of Utinga, Bahia, Brazil.  He had noticed some heart pain the Saturday night before and was going to the doctor, Monday.  His funeral was the next day.  People, priests and prelates gathered from all around to say goodbye.  He is interred in the floor of a special chapel, at São Francisco, Ruy Barbosa, Brazil.

Bishop Matthias Schmidt was a truly great man, open to radical change.  Some have spoken of his being canonized some day.  That happening is not beyond the realm of possibility.