Father Eugene "Gene" Schmitz, 1938-2005


Father Eugene "Gene" Schmitz died of a heart attack on Jan. 8, 2005, in Surabay, Indonesia. He was 66.

Father Schmitz was born in Skokie, Ill., where he grew up in St. Peter’s Parish. He attended St. Norbert Grade School in Northbrook, Ill., entered the Society of the Divine word at Techny, Ill., in 1953. He was ordained to the priesthood at Techny in 1967.

His first mission appointment was to Indonesia in 1968. He served the far-flung mission parishes in the mountainous area of the Island of Lembata for more than ten years. In 1979, he became district superior for the Divine Word Missionaries on Lembata.

With the help of 12 other priests, Father Schmitz served nine parishes, whose sizes ranged from 6,000 to 10,000 parishioners. He also managed the mission repair shops, the Catholic school board and the formation team on the island.

Father Schmitz worked for 36 years as a missionary pastor and seminary dean on the Island of Lembata. Two months before he died, he had begun a new assignment as vicar general of the Diocese of Larantuka. He was the last North American Divine Word Missionary to be allowed by the government of Indonesia to remain there on a permanent assignment.

In the middle of December, Father Schmitz learned he was suffering from a serious heart problem. Doctors recommended days of bed rest. When he suffered the fatal attack, he was about to return to Larantuka. His fellow missionary to Indonesia, Father Nicholas Strawn, was with him when he died and accompanied his body back to Larantuka for the funeral.

Father Joseph Miller, provincial superior of the U.S. Western Province and a classmate of Father Schmitz, described him as "a special friend and a simple, dedicated, enthused SVD priest."

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