Father Ric says love fuels the ‘action on Jackson’ at St. Mary, Bloomington

Father Ric Schneider, OFM, speaks with Rosalie Phalen after the 9 a.m. Mass on Jan. 24. "We hate to see them go," she said of the Franciscan friars, who have staffed the parish for 135 years. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

BLOOMINGTON — Soon it will be priests of the Diocese of Peoria who will be responsible for the “action on Jackson,” which is how members refer to St. Mary Parish, based at 527 W. Jackson St.

That action — from the bustle of the school, to the spirited Hispanic presence, to the outreach to the poor, to joy-filled liturgies, many fundraisers and more — will be difficult to leave, acknowledged Father Ric Schneider, OFM.

That was evident when the ever-smiling, hugging 83-year-old Franciscan who has guided St. Mary for 23 years was overcome with emotion anticipating his departure as part of the June transition announced last weekend. (See related story.)

31 St Mary Bloomington

St. Mary Church, Bloomington

“The Lord says if you give home and family and so forth he’ll reward you a hundred fold,” he told The Catholic Post from his office in the parish friary. His voice broke and tears welled as he continued “The Lord can’t count, because he gave me far more than 100.”

GENEROUS AND LOVING

The reason leaving will be difficult is because this parish took him up on the challenge he issued upon arriving in 1993.

“One of the biggest jobs I have in this parish,” he recalled telling them at the time, “is to fall in love with all you people, and you have to fall in love with me.”

“If you love them, they love you back,” he said, returning to the present. “That’s the way you serve them. They’ll do anything for you.”

“Anything” in this case includes sacrificing for the parish school, on strong footing now after being down to 80 students at one point. For his leadership, in 2012 Father Ric was the first priest in the Diocese of Peoria to be recognized with the National Catholic Educational Association’s Distinguished Pastor Award.

Father Neri Greskoviak, OFM, assistant at St. Mary, Father Jeff Scheeler, OFM, provincial minister, and other liturgical ministers pray the Our Father during Mass on Jan. 24. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

Father Neri Greskoviak, OFM, assistant at St. Mary, Father Jeff Scheeler, OFM, provincial minister, and other liturgical ministers pray the Our Father during Mass on Jan. 24. (The Catholic Post/Tom Dermody)

It includes supporting the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen and those who come to the friary daily seeking assistance. “I call it the front door, back door, side door ministry,” said Father Ric. “The people are unbelievably generous.”

Father Ric takes pride knowing that when the parish is returned to diocesan care there will be money in the bank and the facilities will be “in really fine shape.”

There are also many active parishioners mobilized. Father Ric said he requested the announcement be made last weekend because the parish’s volunteer appreciation dinner is approaching on Feb. 9.

“Everybody gets a door prize,” he said, noting that 180 volunteers attend. “We could unload a lot of stuff. All three of us are downsizing and have lots of things to dispose of.”

Father Ric does issue a caution or two to the new leaders, however.

“Whoever comes is going to have a pile of weddings this summer,” he said. And the quinceaneras — celebrating girls’ 15th birthdays in the Spanish-speaking community — “are coming by the dozens.”

There is one more “problem” that any parish would envy.

“After Mass I have to chase them out of church,” the pastor said. “I can’t get them to leave. That’s why we have two hours between Masses, so there are no parking problems.”

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