Father Mark Henry Schneider, OSB
Monk of Saint John's Abbey
Born: July 19, 1914
Professed:Juley 11, 1938
Ordained: June 8, 1941
Died: June 4, 2006
Monk, Priest, Teacher and Chaplain
Henry Schneider was the fifth of twelve children born to Henry and Blanche (Taylor) Schneider in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, on July 19, 1914. At the age of five he enrolled at St. Joseph's Parochial School conducted by the Franciscan Sisters. From early on he had two ambitions — to become a priest or an acrobat who did cartwheels.
The allure of being a circus performer faded, but his desire to be a priest grew stronger. He discovered an early love of music, especially singing. His parents arranged for piano lessons, but young Henry disliked the practice and discipline. He was delighted, however, to receive in seventh grade a Japanese fiddle as a Christmas present. After grade school his desire to become a priest remained strong. Discovering that the two minor seminaries close to home were filled, he came instead to Saint John's Preparatory School in September of 1928.
Henry excelled in Latin and pushed himself to play football. His success on the field was mostly the result of finessing his opponent so he could tackle the quarterback. He continued his priestly studies as a freshman and sophomore in college. He enjoyed the three weeks in the infirmary with mumps where he could play cards, listen to the Victrola® and read books. Music lessons and orchestra rehearsals devoured most of his free time. His six years of violin lessons as a youngster contributed to his tenure of playing with the Saint John's Symphony Orchestra for 30 years.
By his sixth year at Saint John's, Henry had developed a great admiration for Benedictine life and entered the novitiate in 1934. Henry received Mark as his religious name. He described in detail one of the trials of being a novice. He recalled the dreaded week-long ordeal of waiting on table for Rt. Rev. Alcuin Deutsch OSB, abbot from 1922 to 1951. "With utmost concentration I handed him the meat platter, careful to have the serving spoon in my left hand so that he could receive it with his right hand. His eyes flashed with indignation, and he tapped his head as if to say, 'Don't you have a brain in your head? Can't you see that I am now busy eating my soup?' Crestfallen, I wondered for weeks if that faux pas would count against my application for first vows."
After making his first vows on July 11, 1935, Father Mark completed a bachelor's degree in philosophy and continued priesthood studies at Saint John's leading to his ordination on June 8, 1941. The precious gift of storytelling he had inherited from his father made Father Mark a much loved and popular community member. Mark often recounted the time that he had the temerity to tell Abbot Alcuin that he didn't think he'd like to teach violin. Abbot Alcuin: "Well, I dare say, you are not so talented that you would be called upon to do that." He then confessed his interest in languages, and the abbot sent him to Notre Dame to obtain a master's degree in Latin during several summer sessions.
In 1939 Mark began teaching Latin in the preparatory school and continued doing so for 25 years. He organized a Latin conversation club for students. Father Mark also taught Religion in the preparatory school from 1941 to 1965, and he was a prefect of students from 1943 to 1945. Many former preps remember him best, however, as the chaplain of Saint John's Preparatory School, a position he held for sixteen years (1946 to 1962).
After a year of teaching religion at St. Benedict's High School and serving as chaplain at Saint Benedict's Monastery, St. Joseph, Minnesota, Father Mark began a second career. For the next 31 years he worked as a chaplain for the sick and elderly. Mark recalls how he once told God in prayer that if He would give him good health, he would help those who didn't have it. "God took me so seriously," he said, "that shortly after that I was assigned to hospital work."
His first chaplaincy was at St. Mary's Medical Center, Duluth, and then for 16 years he was chaplain at St. Mary's Hospital and Nursing Center in Detroit Lakes from 1976 to 1992. In 1992 he became chaplain for Assumption Nursing Home in Cold Spring for five years. His love for the violin continued after his long career with the Saint John's Orchestra ended. He would readily perform lively musical renditions for nursing home residents and church groups.
For eleven summers Father Mark gave retreats to convents and monastic communities regaling them with tales of monastic life. After he returned to the abbey for a well deserved retirement in 1997, he amused and entertained the staff and residents of the Retirement Center with anecdotes about the abbey. In 1993 he recorded 69 of his stories in a journal so that their humor and character-revealing insights might be preserved. They also provide a lasting reminder of Father Mark's gentle humor, deep humility and faithful commitment to the common life of the monastery.
Declining health led to Father Mark's peaceful death at Collegeville on Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2006. He is survived by two sisters, Mrs. Agnes Corrigan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Mrs. Emily Saracino of South Bend, Indiana. He was much loved by his many nieces and nephews.
The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated for Father Mark at 10:30 a.m. on Friday, June 9, 2006, in Saint John's Abbey Church with interment in the monastic cemetery following the service.
We ask each community member to offer two Masses according to the manner of his participation in the priesthood of Christ. We commend our brother, Mark, to your prayers.
Abbot John Klassen OSB and the monks of Saint John's Abbey.