published Saturday, August 27th, 2011

Cooper: Closet space for the monsignor

The Rev. George Schmidt says he's never been one for routinely wearing cassocks, and he's not about to start now.

Still, several of the close-fitting, ankle-length robes are being tailored for him.

For Schmidt, pastor of the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church for the past 25 years, they now come with the territory of being a monsignor.

He and two other priests with Chattanooga ties, the Rev. Bob Hofstetter, former longtime pastor of St. Jude Church, and the Rev. Pat Garrity, onetime priest at Notre Dame High School, were given the titles late last week by Bishop Richard F. Stika of the Diocese of Knoxville with the approval of Pope Benedict XVI.

"If you had asked me last Friday why I was having dinner with the bishop," said Schmidt, "I would have said it was because he asked me."

In fact, he said, if he had to guess, he figured the dinner conversation was going to deal with details about the formal Mass in October celebrating Sts. Peter and Paul being named a basilica.

Instead, before the meal of tilapia, green beans, new potatoes and salad, Schmidt, Hofstetter and Garrity -- Schmidt first -- were given long, brown envelopes to open by the bishop.

Inside, a document was written in Latin, but he could tell what it signified.

"I'm not a Latin scholar," Schmidt said, "but that's when I knew I'd been named a monsignor."

Garrity later said to him, "You should have seen the look on your face."

"I'm still semi-numb," Schmidt said, "but people [in his parish] have been showing their approval."

Garrity was named a chaplain to his holiness, while Schmidt and Hofstetter were tabbed prelates of honor to his holiness. The designations are two of the three grades of monsignor.

Schmidt is dean of the Chattanooga Deanery, chairs the diocesan Priest Benefit Foundation and is chaplain of the Serra Club of Chattanooga.

Garrity is pastor of St. John Neumann Church in Farragut, Tenn., is diocesan vicar for priests, is a former principal of Knoxville Catholic High School and former dean of the Three Rivers Deanery.

"Father Garrity gets all kinds of jobs," Schmidt said, "and he's good at them. The other [assignment] is taking care of priests. I think it's great to have another place to go for assistance or to be listened to."

Hofstetter, ordained as a priest in 1954, is pastor of Good Shepherd Church in Newport, Tenn., and is dean of the Three Rivers Deanery.

"Father Bob is a genuine person," said Schmidt "It's just nice to be in a conversation with him one-on-one or in meetings -- just to get his insight. I'd say I've known and respected him all my priesthood."

The three will be invested as monsignors in a service at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville on Oct. 9 at 6 p.m.

Schmidt, born in Palmer, Tenn., while his father was serving in World War II, was raised at Sts. Peter and Paul. He returned to the parish in 1986 when he requested an assignment in or near Chattanooga to help his mother take care of his sick father. As it turned out, the Sts. Peter and Paul pastor also had asked for a new assignment.

"You could say it was good luck," he said, "but the bishop might say it was God's intervention."

Today, having spent most of his life under the roof of the 1890 church, Schmidt said he still feels humble when he walks into the nave with the priceless Tiffany windows and colorful polychromed stations of the cross.

"I also have the concern I'm responsible for it," he said, laughing.

Meanwhile, the new monsignor said, he's going to have to make some room for the red and black robes being made for him.

"I have to have a place to hang those four or five garments," he said. "It's probably a good time to clean out the closet."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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