What a life well-lived: Fr. Gregory Schaffer goes home to God

by Tom Gallagher

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In 2010, I wrote a story about the heroic priestly service of Fr. Stanley Rother, who spent his life -- literally --on behalf of the Guatemalan people in a mission called Santiago Atitlán. His fellow missionary priest, Fr. Gregory Schaffer, was serving nearby San Lucas Toliman Mission. I interviewed Fr. Schaffer for the story. As the violence escalated in Guatemala, Fr. Schaffer told me that he warned Fr. Stan: "They're on the streets to get you."

In the early hours of July 28, 1981, Rother was attacked in the rectory by three men in ski masks, shot and killed. Rother's knuckles were rubbed raw by the fight.

In 2007, the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City opened the cause for canonization for Fr. Stanley Rother, the first for a person from Oklahoma to be considered for sainthood.

Now we learn that his good friend, Fr. Gregory Schaffer, died on May 24 at the age of 78 after a battle with lymphoma. Perhaps in time, the New Ulm, Minn., diocese will open up a cause for canonization for Fr. Gregory Schaffer, one of the great priests of our time. May he rest in God's peace.

Read NCR's obituary.

The Star Tribune reports:

Gregory Schaffer was born in St. Paul, studied at St. Paul Seminary and was ordained as a Catholic priest for the Diocese of New Ulm. But he found his true calling in Guatemala.

He hadn't anticipated his appointment as a diocesan missionary there in 1963. Yet he stayed for more than four decades, leading project after project to better the lives of the Guatemalan people he loved.

Schaffer, whose caring and charisma drew thousands of Minnesota volunteers to San Lucas Toliman, died May 24 of lymphoma. He was 78.

In 1963, he was assigned to the mission in San Lucas Toliman, founded by a Franciscan order in the late 16th century.

His parents visited in 1965, Wiggins said. "When they came home, Dad said, 'He's never going to come back.'"

Over his decades there, Schaffer oversaw "an establishment which is mind-boggling," according to a St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity newsletter noting Schaffer's distinguished alumni award. "A parish church building, a school, a hospital, a program of agricultural education, a relentless drive for social justice implemented among the rural poor."

Jacob Cunningham met Schaffer as a 20-year-old St. Thomas student in Guatemala for a month.

"I think what he said loud and clear over and over again, was that 'It's important that you're here,'" said Cunningham, who runs a University of St. Thomas program called VISION, which organizes mission trips for students. "'However, approach this with a lot of humility, recognizing the dignity and beauty of the people.' That created the possibility in San Lucas for a kid like me from Minnesota to have a real relationship with the mission and the people."

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