Since the interview is in PDF, I posted the whole thing here.
Q & A:
Brother Joseph Schmitzer, Franciscan Friars
of the Immaculate
Serving at the Shrine of
Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Sister Donna: Tell us a little about your background.
Brother Joseph: I am 36 years old and grew up with my eight brothers and sisters in a small town called Logan in Southeastern Ohio. After graduating from high school I spent a number of years working with my father installing and sanding hardwood floors and I did this more or less until the age of 22 when I entered religious life. SD: How did you discover your vocation to be a brother?
BJ: During my time working after high school I read a book called “True Devotion to Mary” by St. Louis de Montfort. It inspired me to consecrate myself to Mary as a way of offering my work to Jesus in the most pleasing way through her hands as His sinless mother.
As I began to live this out I started to notice a conviction growing in my heart that a life of service to God was something that I should look into. The priesthood, however, was not something that I was particularly drawn to as I enjoyed very much working with my hands and had no real desire to go to college. So when I visited some religious communities and discovered that through the brotherhood there was the possibility of committing myself to God in a way that more suited me. I was very happy to follow that path.
SD: What role did your parents and other family members play in your vocation?
BJ: My mom was the spiritual “backbone” of our family and she made sure we all made it to church each Sunday and were involved at our parish. While I have to confess that I didn’t always appreciate her efforts growing up nor did I always hold the Faith as a top priority in my life, her perseverance and good examples planted many seeds which most certainly had their effect in my eventual decision to put Christ at the center of my life and follow Him as a religious.
SD: What drew you to the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, and how long have you been a brother?
BJ: I was drawn, in particular, to the FFI because of their fourth vow of Consecration to Our Lady. By this vow we give ourselves as a community to Mary as her possession and property, asking her to use us in whatever way she wants for the Kingdom of her Son and to transform us into His image. This vow is the base on which our other vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience are observed–all with, in, and through the Immaculate for the greatest possible glory of God. As I was looking into religious life I was already trying to live out this kind of Marian Spirituality from the influence of “True Devotion to Mary” so the ideal of the FFI made me feel right at home. I have been a brother now for 13 years and my final vows were made in 2007. While the life of a brother in our order is in many ways similar to the priests because we all observe the same schedule and community life, most of our work involves the practical needs of the Friary and of the apostolates while theirs is more generally occupied with administering the sacraments, studying, giving spiritual direction, etc.
During my time as a brother I have been a cook (It must not have been too bad as they kept me on for five years), worked maintenance, coordinated Perpetual Eucharistic Adoration, taught Catechism and Apologetic classes, and performed sacristy work as I am now at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I have also been involved in some internet and computer projects.
SD: Tell us about the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate? When it was founded and by whom? What is its spirituality and mission?
BJ: The Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate were founded by an Italian priest named Father Stefano Manelli in 1990 and we strive to live a “Marian-Franciscan” life according to the example and inspiration of St. Maximilian Kolbe. Our mission is to bring the Immaculate Virgin Mary to all souls so that she may bring them in the most profound and lasting way to their Savior, Jesus Christ.
For St. Maximilian the ideal of every Franciscan to be transformed into Christ crucified is realized in the “surest, quickest, and most beautiful way” through the Immaculate because she was appointed by Jesus as the Mother of the Church as she stood at the foot of the cross, being entrusted with the motherly duties of nourishing and assisting its members. In Heaven she continues to carry out this role by interceding for the Church and dispensing God’s graces upon its members. So for St. Maximilian the more explicit we make this role of Mary as our Mother and Mediatrix in our spiritual lives, especially by giving ourselves to her through an act of consecration, the more we will find ourselves in an ocean of God’s graces, the source of our sanctification and the soul of every apostolic work. This is the model and charism of the FFI.
The largest presence of our Friars are in Italy, the Philippines, and the United States, although we also have mission houses in many other parts of the world including Brazil, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Australia, and throughout Europe. Like St. Maximilian we try to use modern means of media to proclaim the Gospel through the Immaculate.
Hence, in many countries we run a number of blogs and websites, there are always video projects being worked on, small radio and television stations have been established, and we publish a number of books and magazines. We try our best, however, to subordinate all of these works to our interior life of prayer and union with Jesus and Mary. In this regard then “what we do” is to try to love God above all things for His glory and the salvation of souls.
SD: You own nothing. You don’t listen to the radio or music, you don’t watch television and movies, and you don’t go out to eat. Yet the FFI – as we experience them in their service at the Shrine – radiate a peaceful joy. How do you explain that, especially to young people?
BJ: St. Augustine has said it best: “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you, O Lord.” The world can only bring us passing moments of pleasure which as soon as they are over leave us still empty and anxiously searching for the next “latest and greatest” to make our lives complete. But in God, who has sent His Son to die for our sins and calls us to enjoy eternal life with Him, we discover a goodness and security that far exceeds anything the world can offer us, the possession of which is truly able to satisfy the longings of our hearts. So while there are some occasions when we do enjoy a movie or accept an invitation to a dinner, the pursuit of our lives before everything else is striving to be close to God, and it is in this that every faithful Christian finds true joy and peace.
SD: What is the question you are asked most frequently about your vocation, and how do you normally answer it?
BJ: Do you have to grow a beard? No, but it’s great for hiding little crumbs of food for eating later.
SD: Tell us about the Knights of the Altar. What it is and what are its goals? What is your involvement, what have you observed as its blessings?
BJ: Our Lady’s Knights of the Altar is an altar boys guild that is organized under the patroness of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
It was started at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in response to His Eminence Cardinal Burke who mentioned that it would be good to have a program available here for altar boys to come and assist with the Liturgy.
Under Our Lady’s patronage we strive to observe God’s commandments in our lives as the most authentic way of offering Christ pleasing service in His sanctuary. The boys progress through a series of stages that lead them up to being knighted with a sword and at each stage they are entrusted with more and greater duties.
Outside of the sacristy we also enjoy fun events like canoeing, paint-balling, sledding, etc. These are great opportunities for us to grow together in camaraderie and in virtue.
One of the greatest blessings I have seen as a fruit of the guild is young men taking pride in being able to serve at Christ’s altar, a wonderful privilege indeed! I have no doubt that He will call some of them into His service in a more formal way as priests, deacons, or religious and I would be extremely grateful if their involvement in Our Lady’s Knights of the Altar would have had an influence in their acceptance of that invitation.
SD: What advice would you give to someone discerning whether he/she has a vocation to the consecrated life?
BJ: Stay close to the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation and be faithful to spending some time in quiet prayer each day. A vocation and the soul’s correspondence to it is above all a work of grace and it is by removing the smudges of sin and worldly attachments from the windows of our soul that we allow that grace to shine in it most profoundly and fill it with the charity and courage we need to respond with Our Lady, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word."