Divine Word Father Charles Schneider embraced Ghanaian people, culture

Father Charles Schneider, 1919-2016


Divine Word Father Charles Schneider, 97, who served as a missionary in Ghana, West Africa, for more than half a century, died at Techny on Sunday, Nov. 6.

When Father Schneider arrived in the Gold Coast, the British colony that became Ghana, the Catholic population consisted of only a handful of expatriates. By the time he left Africa in 2003, the Diocese of Accra had become large and vibrant with a prominent cathedral and young clergy who were born and raised in the region.

In 1948, the Gold Coast had only four bishops and no Ghanaian priests; by 2003, those numbers had grown to 18 and 700-plus, respectively. The number of Catholic schools and clinics nationwide burgeoned from a handful to hundreds.

"Charlie was an integral part of that growth," said Father Vincent Burke, a fellow Divine Word Missionary to Ghana who recently received a medal of distinction from that country’s president. "He was a deeply spiritual man and had a very simple lifestyle. He had become so much a part of the Ghanaian community that shortly before he moved back to the United States, his fellow missionaries gave him the unofficial moniker of Ghanaian ambassador of the Society of the Divine Word to the United States."

Early in his priesthood, Father Schneider served as personal secretary to Bishop Adolph Noser SVD. During that time, the priest answered the bishop’s correspondence, including letters from benefactors whose contributions helped to build the diocese.

Although Father Schneider’s administrative skills helped the nascent Catholic community grow and develop, he especially cherished pastoral ministry–being a missionary priest. While serving in a business capacity, he always kept his hand in caring for the people—filling in at parishes, conducting conferences and lectures; administering the sacraments, serving as a spiritual director, and working with church societies, such as the Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Knights of St. John.

Born in Buffalo, N.Y., on Pentecost Sunday in 1919, Charles was the youngest of George and Anna (nee Leisner) Schneider’s five children. The circumstances of his birth later determined his West African name: Kwasi Antubam Mensah. Kwasi indicates that he was born on a Sunday. Mensah refers to his being the third boy in his family, and Antubam means that he never laid eyes on his father, who died shortly after he was conceived.

Raised by his mother, grandparents and extended family, he entered the Divine Word seminary at age 13. He professed vows in 1941, was ordained to the priesthood in 1946 and assigned to the missions in West Africa in 1948.

During his 55 years in Ghana, he was pastor at several parishes including two in the capital city of Accra—Holy Family and Sacred Heart—and administrator for Holy Spirit Cathedral. He provided spiritual formation for students at St. Peter‘s Secondary School in Nkwatia and served as bursar of the Diocese of Accra for 15 years; rector of St. Victor’s Major Seminary in Tamale, Ghana; and as regional superior for the Society of the Divine Word in Ghana for two terms (six years).

In 2003 at age 84, Father Schneider returned to the United States. Even in retirement, he remained active in helping humankind. When asked to participate in Rush University’s Religious Orders Study, he did not hesitate. He was one of 1,150 religious sisters, brothers and priests whose health and lifestyles were tracked in order to better understand brain health and dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s disease.

He also delighted in the occasional board game. "He was an avid and competitive Scrabble player," said Divine Word Father Matheus Ro, associate treasurer and Provincial Council member. "When I came back to the Techny community in 2014, we would play Scrabble once a week. Even in his 90s, his mind and memory were still very active and fresh. He frequently would beat me in Scrabble by making one move of laying down all seven tiles to get 50 points. As I can recall, I only won three times in our Scrabble rivalry."

Father Schneider is survived by nieces and nephews. His viewing and wake will take place today in the chapel of the Divine Word Residence at Techny, followed by his funeral tomorrow. He will be buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery at Techny.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations in the name of Father Schneider can be made for the care of elderly and infirm missionaries and sent to The Rector, Divine Word Residence, 1901 Waukegan Road, P.O. Box 6000, Techny, IL 60082-6000.

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