NEW ULM - Friends and family of Msgr. Greg Schaffer gathered at the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm Wednesday to remember the missionary priest for his love and service to his people in San Lucas Toliman, Guatemala.
"Father Greg," born in St. Paul, ordained for the New Ulm Diocese by the diocese's original bishop, and assigned in 1963 to the diocese's mission in Guatemala, was remembered as a priest and pastor who ministered to his people's spiritual needs and worked to better their economic status as well.
He was remembered as a major player in Guatemalan-U.S. policy, who earned medals, honors and accolades for his accomplishment, but accepted it all with humility and thanks for God's help. He was remembered as someone who was a beggar for his people, and as someone who brought thousands of volunteers and workers over the years to the people of Guatemala.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
Bishop John LeVoir and Archbishop John C. Nienstedt lead the funeral service for Msgr. Gregory Schaffer Wednesday in the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity in New Ulm. Schaffer’s coffin is draped in a cloth woven in the distinctive pattern of San Lucas, Toliman, Guatemala, where Schaffer served. The cross atop the coffin is crafted in a style typical for Central and South America.
Shaffer died at the age of 78 on May 24 after a long bout with cancer.
His funeral mass in New Ulm was the first of three that will be held. There will be another today at St. John Neumann Church in Eagan. Shaffer's body will be flown to San Lucas Toliman for a final mass and burial.
Bishop John LeVoir led a large contingent of priests of the diocese in the mass, who were joined by Archbishop John M. Nienstedt of the St. Paul/Minneapolis Archdiocese.
The Rev. John Brandes, an old friend of Schaffer, gave the sermon explaining the readings from the mass and how they applied to Schaffer's life. The first reading, from Exodus, in which God called Moses to lead his people out of Egypt, showed how Schaffer said yes to God's call, to the priesthood, and to the mission at Guatemala. Like Moses, he said, "Who, me?" but he accepted the call, as long as God was with him, said Brandes.
In the second reading, from First Peter, Peter exhorts the elders and presbyters in the church to serve the people and shepherd the flock, not for gain, but humbly.
"Fr. Greg was a beggar for the poor," said Brandes. He said Schaffer felt the need to better his people and work for economic justice, not just be a preacher of the Gospel. His work in developing programs for housing, health care, education and returning land to the people helped lift them economically.
Schaffer honored his people by letting them thank him, and accepted the honors that came as a result of his work, including the "Order of the Quetzal," the Guatemalan government's highest honor, on behalf of his people.
The gospel reading from John recounted Jesus washing the feet of his apostles, over the protests of Peter. Jesus gave this as the model of service, and Schaffer followed the model, using his feet to travel to San Lucas Toliman and around the country to raise awareness and call others to the mission. He used his hands to bless and sanctify his people and to give freely to the needy. He used his head to dream and create programs to help his people and his heart to give them love.
"Jesus loved his own, and he loved them to the end," said Brandes, citing, the reading from John.
"Is that not Greg Schaffer?"