WCR FILE PHOTO | RAMON GONZALEZ
Bob Schmidt, regional animator for Development and Peace for 16 years, died in June.
Bob Schmidt was a man of faith who dedicated a great part of his life to carrying out the social justice teaching of the Church.
As Alberta-Mackenzie animator for the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, Schmidt spent almost two decades educating Albertans on the causes of injustice in the developing world as well as helping the poor and the excluded defeat poverty and injustice.
Previously, he had fought against apartheid in South Africa and volunteered with CUSO in places such as Sierra Leone and Nigeria.
But as his colleague Luke Stoking recently said in a written statement, it was in Development and Peace that Schmidt found his vocation. "Bob cherished the Catholic identity of Development and Peace, where he could name what was at the heart of his motivation to be in solidarity with the poor and oppressed – his faith."
Stoking, a member of the D&P's national leadership, said Schmidt's care and attention to his work in the Alberta-Mackenzie region was a clear example of how to build a Christian community in service of the Gospel. "Bob never ceased to remind us all that our work for a better and just world is grounded in a holy calling."
Schmidt died June 19 after a courageous battle with brain cancer. He was 63. A memorial service and celebration of his life was held June 25 at St. Michael-Resurrection Church. Archbishop Richard Smith celebrated a Mass for the repose of Schmidt's soul at St. Michael-Resurrection July 12.
Schmidt's experience with the developing world began in the 1970s when, armed with a bachelor of arts, he moved to Nigeria to volunteer with CUSO. After two years he returned to the University of Alberta to complete his education, earning a bachelor of science and a master in adult education.
He then accepted a second volunteer role with CUSO in Sierra Leone at a teachers' training college. During this assignment, in 1976, he met his wife Jane who was a physiotherapist at the local hospital. They married in England in 1980 and raised two children.
Back in his native Edmonton, Schmidt became the local staff representative for CUSO, recruiting volunteers to serve overseas. After five years, he joined the University of Alberta in an international project to train engineers in natural gas exploration at the University of Bangladesh.
For many years Schmidt had been a volunteer with Development and Peace and liked the fact that the organization's mandate comes from the Gospels. In 1992 he was hired as part of the staff.
As regional animator, Schmidt gave presentations and workshops and travelled extensively throughout Alberta and sometimes across Canada and internationally.
"For him it was a calling – work he felt he had to do," said his wife Jane. "He was a very devout and progressive Catholic who believed that the Church's role was to carry out social justice throughout the world.
"And he felt that within the job of animator he was able to incorporate his faith with the social justice work that was so important to him."
Tim Hartnagel, former chair of the Edmonton Archdiocesan Development and Peace Council and a personal friend of Schmidt, described as "one of these people that kind of lived the talk."
"He was really someone who believed in it and tried to carry out the social justice message," he said.
"He valued the opportunity to work for Development and Peace and to have that kind of a connection between his faith and social justice. That's how I remember him. He was very dedicated and committed to the cause and I think he was driven by his basic Catholic faith."
Development and Peace volunteer Angus Perry, who shared an office with Schmidt at the Catholic Pastoral Centre for years, said his impression of Schmidt is that he worked to support people.
"He would give the information people needed to carry out a project but he would leave a lot of the decisions to the people he was working with," Perry said.
"If he found volunteers eager to undertake responsibilities he would step back and let them take that responsibility. He was very supportive in that way and he always promoted people's initiative. People who worked with Bob always grew; they always became much better people than they were before."
Schmidt was diagnosed with brain cancer Feb. 29, 2008. He was never able to work again.