Family, friends, and former parishioners all gathered at St. Francis Church in Gallup, NM on October 3rd at a memorial Mass to celebrate the life of Fr. Gilbert Schneider, OFM. Several attendees spoke of their memories of Schneider, who served as pastor at churches around the Diocese of Gallup over several decades.
“It’s a sad day for all of us, but we can rejoice that [Fr.] Gilbert lived a long and fruitful life,” said Kathleen Bowman, a parishioner at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament parish in Ft. Defiance, Arizona. “[Fr.] Gilbert dedicated his life to our people. He served in New Mexico and many of the pueblos. From 2001-2018, we were blessed to have him as our shepherd, as a guide and a kind, loving, caring father. He was always there for us.”
Bowman recounted happy memories of seeing Fr. Schneider at church functions, and of the times he administered sacraments to her family.
“He baptized my older grandson, who is now 12. He blessed my daughter’s marriage,” she said. “We will never forget him. And I thank God that I had the privilege of knowing him and being around him in the parish while he was there.”
Sr. Genevieve Allen, SBS, director of the Desert House of Prayer, spoke of her experiences working with Fr. Schneider in ministry. “He had a gift of not saying a whole lot, but of living a whole lot. He lived the Gospel. In many ways, he lived that…call of St. Francis: ‘Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.’ I don’t think used a lot of words – he simply lived them. And we are grateful for that.”
Fr. Joseph Nelson was a classmate of Fr. Schneider’s, attending school and seminary with him for 13 years, and then serving in the same Franciscan province. Speaking through tears at several points, he recalled Fr. Schneider’s sense of humor and humble nature.
I myself can recall several personal memories of working with Fr. Schneider. In many ways, he reminded me of my own grandfather – both tall, of German heritage, with a dry sense of humor that could catch you by surprise. A few years ago I filmed a mission given at Ft. Defiance by Bishop Wall. Beforehand, we shared a meal with Fr. Schneider and the parish staff. I don’t recall exactly what it was, but there were meatballs, and with a completely straight face and very casually, Fr. Schneider asked if I had ever eaten porcupine before. “We’re trying out porcupine meatballs – what do you think?” He said it so seriously that for a few seconds I was convinced he was telling the truth, until his face suddenly broke into a grin and I realized it was a joke, good-natured and delivered in the same manner that my grandfather used to joke that he would “put bricks on our heads” to keep us from growing as children.
From the words delivered at his memorial, it’s clear that many of his parishioners, family and friends viewed him similarly: as a grandfatherly figure, good-humored, and always concerned with the well-being of the people under his pastoral care.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord.