Please remember in your prayers Monsignor Gregory Schaffer, 78, a St. Paul Seminary alumnus who directed the San Lucas Toliman mission in Guatemala for nearly 40 years. He died Thursday of lymphoma.
Schaffer was born in 1934 in St. Paul and studied at Nazareth Hall Seminary and the St. Paul Seminary. He was ordained a priest for the Diocese of New Ulm in 1960 and was assigned as an associate pastor at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Marshall, where he taught and was a counselor at Central Catholic High School.
In 1963, he accepted the appointment as the Diocese of New Ulm’s missionary to San Lucas Toliman, which was founded by a Franciscan order in the late 16th century.
Schaffer established many projects during four decades at San Lucas Toliman by leading efforts to help the people there live their culture but rise out of poverty. St. Thomas students who participate in the VISION (Volunteers In Service Internationally Or Nationally) program have volunteered during January Term visits to San Lucas Toliman for more than 20 years; St. Thomas magazine profiled the San Lucas Toliman-VISION partnership in a fall 2007 story.
The mission today is a commercial, education and medical center for 15,000 residents of San Lucas and another 20,000 people in 22 surrounding villages, with elementary schools for 600 students, a medical and dental clinic, extensive sustainable housing and a Land Development Project that has allowed more than 3,700 families to obtain three acres of property for farming. Schaffer also was responsible for establishing the Juan Ana Coffee program, which today sells coffee throughout the United States (including departments at St. Thomas).
Among his many honors are the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity Distinguished Alumnus Award for his service in missionary work. He also received the Order of the Quetzal, the highest honor bestowed by the government of Guatemala, and honorary doctorates from Loyola University of Chicago and the University of San Francisco.
Schaffer was an avid proponent of liberation theology, which is an attempt to interpret scripture through the plight of the poor.
“He had a great love for the people of San Lucas and his ‘education’ into their culture,” says an obituary published by Minnesota Valley Nursing Home in New Ulm. “His smile, his personality, and his ability to talk of theology to farming to teaching to family in the same breath will be greatly missed.”
Three Masses of Christian Burial will be held:
Memorial donations are preferred to the San Lucas mission.