Joe Schmidt honored for 50 years at St.Pat’s, named parade grand marshal
by SEAN KEENEHAN
Saint Patrick High School president Dr. Joseph G. Schmidt, A.F.S.C. was honored and awarded for his 50-year career at the school’s “Green and Gold” gala March 4.
Schmidt, who was also named the grand marshal for the 14th annual “Northwest Side Irish Parade” March 12, began his career at Saint Patrick fresh out of college in 1967 as a business teacher, basketball coach and tennis coach. He was later promoted to dean of students in 1974, principal in 1987 and as the school’s second president, and first lay president, in 2013. During his tenure, Schmidt has earned numerous awards, served on various committees and was inducted into the Saint Patrick High School “Hall of Fame” in 1997.
The gala, which was held at Local 399 Banquets, featured screenings of video tributes to Schmidt from Cardinal Blase J. Cupich and ABC 7 Chicago reporter Janet Davies.
“In a good way, it brought a couple of tears to my eyes,” Joseph Schmidt said. “I think there was over 650 in attendance, many of whom I have taught and coached.”
A letter of recognition from the Consulate General of Ireland, a plaque with a photograph and blessing from His Holiness, Pope Francis, and books about golfing in Ireland were presented to Schmidt by Chicago Vice Consul General Ragnar Almqvist.
Former Saint Patrick president Brother Konrad Diebold, F.S.C. presented Schmidt with the school’s “Crystal Shamrock Award,” which is the highest attainable honor at Saint Patrick. Diebold, who currently serves as president emeritus for the Saint Patrick Board of Trustees, established the award in 1995 in recognition of individual achievements and commitments to Lasallian education, the advancement of society and the mission of Saint Patrick High School.
“His character is one of caring,” Brother Konrad Diebold said. “Joe really loves the kids at Saint Patrick and I think that he’s devoted much of his energies to make sure that the culture of Saint Patrick is honored and respected by the students who benefit from that culture. He’s really an advocate of the students, but to the point of preserving and maintaining that wonderful Lasallian culture in our school, he’s very, very good at that.”
As the current president, Schmidt is not permitted to award himself as a “Crystal Shamrock” recipient, so Diebold and the school’s Institutional Advancement Department kept the award a secret.
“I was surprised, but I knew something was going to happen because in the agenda it said ‘Special Ceremony,’ so I knew they were up to no good,” Schmidt said. “It really meant a lot, especially because it came from Brother Konrad. He was the president for 26 years when I was his partner as principal. I love Brother Konrad.”
Schmidt and Saint Patrick High School have participated in the “Northwest Side Irish Parade” since its inception in 2004.
Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster, who founded the parade with her father Daniel Murray in memory of her mother Judy Murray, has a long history with Schmidt and attended coed summer school classes at Saint Patrick with her siblings in the late 1970s. Murray-Belcaster said that it was only a matter of time before Schmidt would be selected to lead the parade as grand marshal.
“The relationship with Joe and my family goes way back,” Elizabeth Murray-Belcaster said. “There hasn’t been a time that we haven’t thought about having him as grand marshal from year-to-year-to-year. I think Joe has kind of found his calling to the role of being teacher to now that huge mentor that he’s become, and it reflects on the Saint Patrick High School community and the overall community of the Christian Brothers. If you are in a room with him, he really does energize people and there’s a goodness to him that’s reflective on so many different levels. He is just a wonderful human being, but he also exemplifies what good energy and positive work does for people.”
Saint Patrick dean of students Russell Lucas graduated from the school in 1981 when Schmidt was dean and said that he has also known Schmidt most of his life.
“Everything that man gets in his life that’s positive, he deserves,” Russell Lucas said. “I saw him everyday of my high school career and the first thing that comes to my mind is how much he cares for these kids. He’s the type of guy who won’t forget you. He always has time to listen, he is going to work with you and he makes you a better person. He is truly my mentor and I really want to emulate him.”
Originally from Skokie and a graduate of the former Christian Brothers-run Saint George High School in Evanston, Schmidt earned a bachelor’s degree in business management from Purdue University in 1967, a master’s degree in school administration from Loyola University Chicago in 1975 and a doctoral degree in school administration from Northern Illinois University in 1989.
“When I was teaching and coaching I was also going to school all the time,” Schmidt said. “My wife Lynn, to her credit, always pushed a couple of things, ‘do what makes you happy,’ and she knew I loved it here, and ‘keep going to school.’ I was a busy guy, but Lynn was cool with that, she was a great young wife.”
Schmidt married Lynn after graduating from Purdue in July 1967. With a job lined up at Inland Steel on the city’s Southside, Schmidt said he never suspected that he would instead be working at Saint Patrick in the fall until the school approached him following a teachers’ strike. Saint Patrick terminated more than a third of its lay teachers as a result of the strike, and with the school looking to rebuild its faculty, Schmidt called the timing “providential.”
“My mom and dad, Catherine and Carl Schmidt, were very loyal to the Christian Brothers and my family is very golf-addicted, as am I,” Schmidt said. “One of the Brothers I golfed with all the time, Brother Cormack, was a former teacher at Saint George and was an assistant principal at Saint Pat’s at the time. He recruited myself and my older brother Charlie to come teach at Saint Pat’s.”
The Christian Brothers, a Roman Catholic educational congregation formed in 1680 by Saint John Baptist de La Salle, founded Saint Patrick High School in 1861. As Schmidt climbed the ranks as an un-ordained lay teacher, coach, dean, principal and president at Saint Patrick, he has maintained a strong relationship with the Christian Brothers. In 1997 the Christian Brothers presented Schmidt with the “Midwest District Lasallian Award” and in 2013 Schmidt received a letter of affiliation into the Brothers of Christian Schools.
“I think that was probably one of the more significant honors that he has received in his life,” Diebold said. “It was kind of a natural segue to invite him to be really, in spirit, one of us. And that’s what that affiliation honor does, it’s our highest honor.”
“I’ve always felt part of the family because the Brothers have always been great friends and they’ve always taken respectful care of me, my wife, my family, my brothers, my parents, everybody,” Schmidt said. “In a sense, the Brothers’ made me part of their family and by them doing that, they made it official.”
When Saint Patrick shifted to its current president-principal model in 1987, Diebold, who had been principal since 1983, was named the school’s first president while Schmidt took over as principal. Schmidt’s brother Charlie, who had worked beside him since they were hired together in 1967, became assistant principal in 1987.
Charles J. Schmidt retired in 2009 due to health issues and later succumbed to his illnesses in 2011 at the age of 68.
“I’m still best friends with my two other brothers Paul and Bill, as I was with Charlie, and I totally feel blessed because of that,” Schmidt said. “When I look at parents and you try to grade out how they did as parents, I think one thing that should be in the mix is how well the siblings get along when they get older and how you stick together through good and bad. We try to teach to our kids here that as your high school this is your second family, we cheer for each other and we go for each other, but there’s a lot of tough stuff that happens and we all stick together then too.”
About a year later, Schmidt’s wife Lynn E. Schmidt passed away in 2012 at the age of 66 after a long battle with pancreatitis.
“Those years were very difficult,” Diebold said. “He was always very concerned about what he could do while he was at Saint Patrick and not take away from, and/or diminish what he needed to do for his wife Lynn. But he balanced that beautifully and we shared a lot of those concerns together.”
Considering Lynn’s health in the last few years of her life, Schmidt said that it would have been tough to accept the president’s position if it had been offered to him sooner. But when Diebold announced his retirement in 2013, Schmidt said that he was ready to step in.
“You go into the tank for a while, but I had the school, so a lot of people are fighting with you,” Schmidt said. “I have always looked at it like, ‘I need to do what Saint Pat’s needs the most,’ and one thing about being president is you definitely travel. I was up for the challenge, but I probably would not have been able to do that if Lynn had still been here, because I just couldn’t travel much.”
With the economic challenges facing middle-income families, the increasing costs of tuition and the growing number of Catholic schools closing or consolidating in the area, Schmidt said that one of the biggest challenges ahead is making Saint Patrick’s tuition more affordable.
In order to raise money that will help prospective families save money, Saint Patrick recently launched a fundraising campaign titled the “Campaign for Saint Patrick High School” with goals to increase the school’s endowment funds and enhance its science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) program facilities. As part of the campaign, Saint Patrick is raising funds to help reduce a $3,100-per-student gap between what it costs the school to educate and what the school charges for tuition.
“Saint Pat’s is the oldest all-boys Catholic high school in Chicago and the goal for me, and why I took this job on, is to make sure that we are here one generation from now,” Schmidt said. “These schools that are closing now, they don’t have any endowments, and the only way that you get money if you’re a Catholic school is you go out and raise it.”
Throughout Schmidt’s 50-year tenure, Saint Patrick has steadily updated, improved and adapted its facilities and curriculum to fit the ever-changing needs of its students and faculty.
Touring Saint Patrick High School on a weekday afternoon, Schmidt showcases the school’s 1989 addition of the school’s computer center, its 1992 “Striker Robotics” program, its arts-centered, $6.5 million “Vision 2000” project that constructed the Stahl Cultural Center, the Performing Arts Center and an enclosed glass atrium converted from an outdoor courtyard, its 2004 mandatory drug-testing program, its 2007 “American Mandarin” program, its 2012 launch of the first ever Catholic high school iPad-based curriculum, its 2015 Giovanetti Health and Wellness Center, its “2020 Strategic Plan” and its new “Entrepreneurship” program.
Written on Schmidt’s “Crystal Shamrock Award” is a special mention of his “two great passions,” Saint Patrick and golf.
Schmidt has been a director for the Western Golf Association since 1999 and served on its Board of Governors for five years. While Schmidt is still an active member of the WGA board, he has found a way to spin his love of golf into opportunities for Saint Patrick students as a strong advocate of the Chick Evans Scholarship.
The program offers full 4-year academic scholarships to 20 universities based on such criteria as caddying experience, good academic standing and demonstrated financial need.
“We literally lead the country with 14 current Evans Scholars at universities and this year we have 75 caddies at four private country clubs near Saint Pat’s,” Schmidt said. “We help these kids get the training in the spring and then they start caddying. I push it all the time. Every time I give out an honor roll ribbon I’m shaking their hands and saying, ‘You are caddying.’”
As one of Saint Patrick High School’s most cherished and decorated Shamrocks, through good times and tough times, Schmidt said he has always embraced his career with a “cup half-full” mentality. Despite all of his accolades and achievements in the last half-century, Schmidt remains committed to moving Saint Patrick further forward into the future as he continues to touch the lives of many.
“Max Kurland, my dear friend that I coached with, always said, ‘Keep one foot in heaven and fire up each and every day,’” Schmidt said. “I’ve always been driven to the kids and the families that attend Saint Pat’s and I just feel very blessed that I’ve fallen into a place where it’s a vocation and not a job.
“Saint John Baptist de La Salle talked about touching the hearts of students. If you’re not doing that, what are you doing? We can all teach them physics or singing or acting, but to get a relationship with kids, where it’s meaningful for them, to help them in so many ways, that’s what your school needs to be about. And I’ve taken that literally to heart because I believe in it so much. Here I am 50 years later, and it still energizes me.”