For the first time since Ronald Reagan was president, a new priest will head what is now the Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul in Chattanooga.
Monsignor George E. Schmidt Jr., who has served as pastor since 1986 at the church in which he was raised, is now pastor emeritus. The Rev. David Carter, vice chancellor for canonical affairs for the Catholic Diocese of Knoxville, has become parochial administrator for the 161-year-old church.
"This appointment is just one more recognition of [Schmidt's] personal devotion to the priesthood and tireless devotion to the gospel of Jesus Christ, especially in the parish of Sts. Peter and Paul," an announcement on the congregation's website reads. "The Lord has blessed our basilica with special leadership over our 150 years. We know that [Carter's appointment] continues in that rich tradition of service and will benefit the followers of Jesus Christ in our community."
The announcement was made last week by the Most Rev. Richard F. Stika, bishop of the diocese.
Schmidt, 69, a native of Palmer, Tenn., says the move occurred because of health reasons. What his future role with the basilica will be, he says, will be determined by his health.
"I want to attend things that my health will permit me to and [are] not interfering with anything else going on in the parish or the diocese," he says.
During Schmidt's tenure as pastor, he celebrated with the parish the centennial of its building in 1990, oversaw a physical redecoration in 1997, led the parish through its 150th anniversary in 2002, supervised the restoration of its 1890 organ in 2007 and saw the parish named a basilica in 2011, the first in Tennessee and a move that had to be approved by the Vatican.
He was named a monsignor in 2011.
"Nothing is accomplished by one person," says Schmidt. "With the help of a lot of good people, we have accomplished a lot of good things for the basilica."
He also has been dean of the Chattanooga Deanery of priests, chaired the diocesan Priest Benefit Foundation and served as chaplain of Serra Club of Chattanooga.
Deacon Sean Smith, chancellor of the Diocese of Knoxville, says the pastor emeritus designation is rare and is given to honor a priest who has served faithfully at one place for many years.
"[Monsignor Schmidt] has not only been a wonderful, faithful pastor and shepherd to parishioners," he says, "but over all these years he has been wonderful for the Chattanooga community [through the likes of] hospital visits and anointings. He has shown wonderful dedication and fidelity to the priesthood and all it means to be a priest to the parish."
The longtime pastor moved with his family to Chattanooga when he was young, and he attended Notre Dame School from the second through 12th grade. He graduated from Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and was ordained at Sts. Peter and Paul in 1970.
As a priest in the mid-1980s, Schmidt requested a transfer to a parish in or near Chattanooga so he could help his mother take care of his sick father. It happened that at the same time the priest at Sts. Peter and Paul also had requested a transfer, so the appointment at his home parish was cemented.
"I must admit when" the appointment was made, "I was a little apprehensive," he says, "but I was grateful everyone was willing to work. "So [returning to Sts. Peter and Paul] presented no problems to me."
Carter, who is also associate vocation director and associate master of ceremonies for the diocese, previously served in Chattanooga as assistant pastor at St. Jude Parish from 2005 to 2008.
From 2008 till 2010, he was sent to Rome for graduate studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University, where he received his license in canon law.
Carter, a native of Shreveport, La., who moved to Knoxville with his family when he was young, was parochial vicar at All Saints Parish in Knoxville from 2010 to 2013 and most recently was chaplain at Knoxville Catholic High School.
"He has great energy," Schmidt says. "There are a lot of things he wants to accomplish for the parish."
Contact Clint Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6497. Subscribe to his posts online at Facebook.com/ClintCooperCTFP.