Father Ric Schneider, O.F.M., 2016 History Makers Honoree
Born July 21, 1932 in Louisville, KY
Since Father Ric Schneider arrived in Bloomington to become the pastor of St. Mary’s Parish 23 years ago he has built St. Mary’s into an institution that contributes to the well-being of the entire community, serving the needy regardless of faith.
Born Raymond T. Schneider on July 21, 1932, Fr. Ric is the youngest of 11 children in a devout Catholic family. While growing up, he listened to four of his uncles, all Franciscan Priests, tell stories of their missionary work around the country and world. Father Ric and three of his brothers went on to follow in these uncles’ footsteps, becoming Franciscan Priests themselves.
Fr. Ric was ordained in 1959. He first taught at Roger Bacon High School in Cincinnati, OH, before becoming Dean at St. Francis Seminary, his alma mater. After his time at the seminary, he went on to become Pastor at churches in Louisiana and Indiana before settling in as Pastor at St. Mary’s Parish in Bloomington in 1993. This was not Fr. Ric’s first time at St. Mary’s—he had spent one year there as Assistant Pastor in 1983-84. Because of this, Fr. Ric knew he was coming to a poor parish. But that was appropriate, as was the location of the church. The poorer side of town is “where Franciscans belong,” according to Fr. Ric. Knowing the challenges ahead, he came to the parish determined to get St. Mary’s into a more stable financial situation.
But raising money was not his first task at St. Mary’s, says Father Ric: “My first job was to fall in love with all of them, and have them fall in love with me.”
They learned to love him quickly. He immediately set his sights on stabilizing and growing St. Mary’s Elementary School. When he arrived, the school couldn’t even pay teachers’ salaries and 80% of the school’s expenses were being paid by the parish. Additionally, the parish owed $18,000 in bills and only had $5,000 in their checking account. This dire situation allowed Fr. Ric’s flair for fundraising to become apparent. He immediately instituted the St. Mary’s Calendar Raffle, which became a huge success. In Father Ric’s first year as Pastor at St. Mary’s, the Raffle grossed $72,000. To this day, the Calendar Raffle has netted $1.3 million. Fr. Ric also promoted a variety of other popular fundraising activities, such as the school’s annual chili cook-off and Lenten fish fry.
Despite the success of the raffle, school enrollment declined rapidly. Upon Fr. Ric's arrival, the school had 137 students; however, enrollment dropped to approximately 80 students during his first two years as families began to struggle with rising tuition rates. Many parishioners felt that the declining attendance would ultimately lead to the school's closing; however, Fr. Ric vowed that as long as he was Pastor, St. Mary's Elementary School would remain open. He quickly realized that the only way to attract new families was to make the school technologically competitive, offer a quality education, and provide a safe, appealing option in a competitive market. Despite much doubt and apprehension from the Parish community, Fr. Ric made the decision to invest in substantial renovations and expansion by adding eight new classrooms to the school. He recalls, "I remember parishioners knocking on my door calling me 'crazy'; there were a lot of unhappy people. But, we had to keep up with technology demands and provide for a new music program."
Tuition costs continue to remain a barrier for many students; yet, St. Mary’s now has the ability to help these students without risking the financial well-being of the Parish. In the words of Fr. Ric, “If you want a Catholic education, we’ll provide for you.” Today, the school's enrollment is stable at 134 students. Fr. Ric has overseen more than $4 million in renovations to the school and the church buildings. Many attribute this directly to his abilities as a fundraiser. As he jokingly tells people, “I’m not much of a Pastor but I’m a hell of a beggar!”
Fr. Ric directs his attention beyond the school and Parish, as well. He believes that forming a supportive community is a vital part of his role as “Shepherd on this side of town.” He runs what he calls a “Front Door, Back Door, Side Door Ministry,” welcoming any neighbors who come to the door asking for help paying for rent, medicine and other necessities. Fr. Ric also takes the time to help those in need outline a plan for the future. Additionally, St. Mary’s houses the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, having teamed up with the other five local Catholic churches to keep the soup kitchen open after the closure of Clare House.
Although Franciscans are known for reaching out to the poor, Fr. Ric has earned a reputation for reaching out to all those in need, particularly those who might otherwise be marginalized. For example, concerned about the lack of medical access for underinsured and uninsured pregnant women, Fr. Ric consulted with Ken Natzke of OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. In 2006, the OSF Prenatal Clinic opened at 502 S. Morris Avenue.
Early in his time in Bloomington, Fr. Ric recognized the need to serve the growing Hispanic community. He brought Fr. Gregg Petri, a fellow Franciscan, back from Pittsburgh to his home Parish of St. Mary’s because of his fluency in Spanish. Although there had been Spanish Masses at St. Mary’s since 1983, Fr. Gregg’s presence enabled the church to offer more Spanish Masses as well as weddings, quinceañeras, and other events. These days roughly 350 people attend the Sunday Spanish Masses.
Although Fr. Ric is not interested in recognition of his legacy beyond leaving behind a strong community, his service has drawn attention. In 2009, State Representative Dan Brady presented Fr. Ric with a certificate of recognition for his Golden Jubilee. In 2012, the Department of Elementary Schools of the National Catholic Education Association awarded him the Distinguished Pastor Award. This award is given to Pastors who have delivered outstanding support to Catholic elementary schools.
This is Fr. Ric’s last year working to transform St. Mary’s from “Poor St. Mary’s” to “Action on Jackson.” After a 135 year presence in St. Mary’s, the Franciscan Friars are leaving St. Mary’s in the care of the Peoria Diocese. Fr. Ric will enter “semi-retirement” in Cincinnati, returning to that city after more than 35 years.
While Fr. Ric plans to continue his ministry during retirement, he hopes to also take the time to relax with his favorite hobby, flying remote-controlled planes. “It’s a great hobby because it keeps your eyes heavenward, but when you crash it’s humbling,” says Fr. Ric. “I’ve been involved in that for a long time and I hope to do that where I’m going now.”