Noted Missionary Priest Dies at 78

By Ryan, Zoe | National Catholic Reporter, June 22, 2012 | Go to article overview

Noted Missionary Priest Dies at 78


Ryan, Zoe, National Catholic Reporter


Msgr. Gregory T. Schaffer, a priest of the New Ulm, Minn., diocese and pastor of the diocese's mission parish of San Lucas Toliman in Guatemala, died May 24 in St. Paul, Minn., from cancer. He was 78.

Schaffer was known nationwide for his work at San Lucas Toliman, where he was pastor for 48 years.

"He's instilled in me the true meaning of mission," said Kathy Huebert, who worked with Schaffer for more than 30 years as the U.S. coordinator/administrative assistant for the mission. "He was a wonderful man to work with."

Schaffer was born on Jan. 29,1934, in St. Paul. After being ordained a priest in 1960 in New Ulm, he was an associate pastor and taught religion at a high school. He enjoyed teaching and parish work so much that he thought it was his life's work.

But around that time New Ulm Bishop Alphonse J. Schladweiler was looking for volunteers for the diocese's sister parish in Guatemala, and in 1963, Schladweiler appointed Schaffer as diocesan missionary to San Lucas.

Schaffer did not know much Spanish or much about mission work, but the people at San Lucas were patient teachers, he told NCR in a 2011 interview.

In 1984, Pope John Paul II conferred upon him the honorary title of mon-signor.

Everything the San Lucas mission does is based on the expressed felt need of the people. The mission now has establishments such as medical and dental clinics, an elementary school of about 600 students, a women's center, a library, sustainable housing and an apprenticeship program. The mission also helps people buy land to produce food as well as coffee, a cash crop. The Juan Ana Coffee that is sold by the mission is named after Schaffer's parents, John and Ann.

Huebert said Schaffer could talk about anything (except himself--he was pretty humble, she added), from theology to farming to family. …

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