Percy, a Shetland sheepdog, sat quietly under the desk of his owner, Monsignor Frank Schneider, almost unnoticeable on a recent Tuesday morning. Msgr. Schneider, on the other hand, is quite unlike his trusted companion.
Greeting everyone with a smile and boisterous hello, the new pastor at St. John the Baptist R.C. Church in Wading River is outgoing and welcoming.
Just over a month into his new placement, he’s already begun forging friendships with parishioners, which he said is one of his biggest goals.
“I want to get to know people,” he said, adding that he hopes to host discussions with parishioners in the fall to better understand the needs of the community. “I want to learn their names, meet the children and listen to how I can be their priest and how I can better help them.”
The monsignor had the opportunity to meet a majority of the community on his second day, when he presided over the funeral of Thomas Lateulere, ex-chief of the Wading River Fire Department.
“That was one of the best days I’ve ever had as a priest in 33 years,” he said. “The funeral was very beautiful with all the firefighters there. It was very prayerful. It was very powerful. And then we walked to Wading River Cemetery. I never did that as a priest … it was an incredible day. I will never forget it.”
After the ceremony, Msgr. Schneider said he had lunch at the firehouse, where he met numerous community members, from firefighters to police officers and local leaders.
He’s also made sure to meet other parishioners during his brief time at St. John’s, both locals and summer visitors. Msgr. Schneider said he’s also spoken with many people from out of town who have stumbled upon the church during long drives and commented on its beauty and strong sense of community, something he said further reinforced his decision to transfer.
Before embarking on his six-year placement in Wading River, Msgr. Schneider spent 10 years at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Melville. Priests are typically hired to fill six-year terms, and can serve only two consecutive terms in one parish before they have to relocate within the Dioceses.
With two years left at St. Elizabeth’s, Msgr. Schneider wasn’t planning to transfer anytime soon. But when Bishop William Murphy sent out the list of parishes with open positions, St. John the Baptist caught his eye.
“There was something, I can’t explain it, I just really wanted to apply for the position,” he said. “I prayed about it and talked to some wise people about it.”
So he wrote a letter asking to be transferred and was pleasantly surprised in February to learn he has been unanimously approved as head priest there, effective June 29.
“This parish has long had the reputation of being a center of collaborative ministry and innovative programs along with many diverse parish ministries,” Msgr. Schenider’s predecessor, Msgr. John Barrett, wrote in a newsletter. “I think that, by viewing [St. Elizabeth’s] website, you would be able to get a good idea of his many gifts and his collaborative approach to parish ministry.”
Before St. Elizabeth’s, Msgr. Schneider spent 11 years as a chancellor at the Dioceses of Rockville Centre and five years as a rector of the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington. He began his career by earning a master’s degree in canon law from Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and a doctorate from Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.
Msgr. Schneider, who turned 60 last month, said he’s known since second grade that he wanted to join the priesthood. The oldest of eight children, he said his parents were “very committed Catholics.” Throughout his career, he’s been able to baptize all 17 of his nieces and nephews.
And now he’ll have the opportunity to perform baptisms, as well as the other religious sacraments, with a new group of people.
“I love it,” he said of the parish. “It’s a beautiful place to live and everyone is very warm and welcoming.”
Photo caption: Monsignor Frank Schneider. (Credit: courtesy photo)