On the shoulders of giants Work by priests recalled at 50th anniversary of their deaths
The first few months of 1963 saw dramatic changes within the pastoral leadership of the Catholic Church in the northern tier of the Diocese of Harrisburg.
Notable was the death of Monsignor Joseph Petrovits on Jan. 3, 1963, followed by the death of the Most Rev. Lawrence F. Schott, two months later on March 11. The loss of these two dedicated pastors was felt by Catholics and individuals of other faiths in the area.
Collectively, these two men served the spiritual needs of two vital parish communities within the Kulpmont-Mount Carmel area for more than 60 years. It is fitting on the year marking the 50th anniversary of their deaths, we remember.
Petrovits was born in 1886 in Graz, Hungary, where he completed his early education and attended college. He came to the United States and began his studies for the priesthood at Saint Charles Seminary, Overbrook, Pa. It was at St. Charles that he received all his minor orders leading to priesthood and was ordained a priest on May 29, 1909.
From the day of his priestly ordination, until late 1914, Petrovits served as an assistant pastor in several parishes within the Diocese of Harrisburg. In the fall of 1914, the bishop assigned Petrovits to doctoral studies at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. For the next six years, this young priest would flourish in the hallowed halls of the academic world of the university. He was a good scholar and an accomplished wordsmith in the language of his new home.
Many senior priests who remember him recall that Petrovits was never more than an arm's reach away from a good English dictionary.
Excelling at the university, he successfully completed two pontifical doctorates - the first in sacred theology (STD) and the second in cannon /church law (JCD).
Responding to the cultural unrest within Saint Mary's Parish, Kulpmont, on Dec. 12, 1919, Bishop Philip McDevittt called Petrovits from the university to become pastor in Kulpmont. Fluent in several languages, he was the perfect candidate to spread a balm of peace and tranquility within the small parish in the anthracite coal region of the diocese.
Dr. Petrovits, as he was commonly referred to then and now, served as pastor of St. Mary's from 1919 to his death in 1963.
His scholarly writings in theology included two published works - the first on church law pertaining to the sacrament of marriage and the second on the theology of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Though geographically separated from the university in which he was very much at home, he invested his energy in building up the Kingdom of God and the area.
At his death in 1963, the Shamokin News-Dispatch wrote: "He displayed a keen interest in civic affairs and was instrumental in securing the first sewer system in the community (in 1921) â¦ Through his efforts, the former Colonial Colliery at Natalie was saved from abandonment, thus preserving approximately 1,000 jobs for almost three years."
By his own admission, the building of the new church on the corner of Scott and Eighth streets was one of his greatest accomplishments and it was dedicated in 1959. The church and rectory are now part of Holy Angels Parish.
Schott was born on July 26, 1907, to Thomas and Emma (Hofer) Schott, of Danville. His primary and secondary education was provided by St. Hubert's and St. Joseph's parish schools of Danville.
He entered Saint Vincent's Seminary, Latrobe, for his priestly formation; during his seminary years (1924-1935), he received a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. Having received all of his minor orders at St. Vincent's Seminary, he returned home to St. Patrick Cathedral in Harrisburg on June 15, 1935, and was ordained a priest by the Most Rev. Philip R. McDevitt, Bishop of Harrisburg.
His first assignments following ordination (1935-1949) were largely as an assistant pastor in Columbia and Carlisle and later as principal of the Catholic High School in Harrisburg (later named for Bishop McDevitt). It was during this first decade of pastoral ministry that Schott became actively involved in serving the spiritual needs of those serving in the armed forces within the Harrisburg area.
His pastoral zeal and care for service members was publicly acknowledged by Bishop Francis J. Spellman, Military Vicar of the Military Ordinariate, on Sept. 22, 1941, with his official appointment as military chaplain in service to the bases within the Harrisburg area.
It is important to note that this pastoral service to U.S. military forces was in addition to his diocesan assignment as principal of the Catholic high school in Harrisburg. It was his pastoral care of the service members that took Schott's notoriety beyond the boundaries of the Diocese of Harrisburg and gave him a larger venue for his ministry.
Schott's service to military personnel flourished with his appointment as chaplain in the military ordinariate.
On the last Sunday of October 1943, he gave a speech called "The Church and the Servicemen" on the popular radio program, the National Catholic Hour. In his address, Schott spelled out the mission of The National Catholic Community Services (NCCS) and its work with U.S. service personnel. The NCCS provided many of the same services offered by the popular USO, but within a Catholic faith environment.
Schott communicated his pastoral concern for those in the armed forces with the following words: "In times of war, because the souls of so many young men go hurriedly and untimely before the eternal judge, it is critically important that no moment be lost in ushering souls into the divine intimacy which is the state of grace."
In 1946, Our Sunday Visitor Press published a collection of inspirational articles written by Schott in the book entitled "Mail-Call." The book sold out and the popularity of the book required a second printing.
In May 1949, Schott was assigned as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish and dean of the Mount Carmel area. On March 1, 1956, during his tenure as pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, he was named auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg by Pope Pius XII. For his remaining years, he served as both pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel and auxiliary bishop of Harrisburg, with his official residence being the parish rectory.
Schott traveled throughout the diocese celebrating the Sacrament of Confirmation within many parishes, yet with all the priestly vocations from the Mount Carmel-Kulpmont area, he was never granted the privilege of ordaining even one of them to the priesthood. Many of the senior priests from the Mount Carmel area speak eloquently of Schott's many acts of kindness and expressions of hospitality when they returned home to the area.
As one senior priest noted, "There was always room at his table for a brother priest." He truly made the Mount Carmel region his home and took pride in the faith of the people of the area.
In a letter to the Apostolic Delegate in Washington D.C., dated May 16, 1959, Bishop Schott wrote, "The faith of our good people is still our proudest boast and our priceless riches. These good people have remained close to the church throughout all the economic hardships that have been visited upon the hard-coal region. Their vibrant Catholic religion has been their one great treasure."
Schott was blessed to attend the first session of the Second Vatican Council.
In November 1962, The Mount Carmel Item celebrated the return home of Schott to Mount Carmel and noted that during his audience with Pope John XXIII, he spoke of the people of the area. The pope was impressed with the name of the town, noting its biblical origins.
Schott died in March 1963 and never saw the final outcome nor the fruits of the Second Vatican Council he was privileged to attend.
While winter gives way to spring and the pages of the 2013 calendar year get turned, let us all remember these two good pastors for their contributions to their individual flocks and to the civic and cultural developments of the area we call home.
(Kemper is a native of Kulpmont, a priest of the Diocese of Harrisburg and a member of the Society of St. Sulpice, currently assigned in Baltimore.)