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‘Giving Him more space in which to work’

March 18, 2020


Editor’s note: This is the third installment in what’s planned to be an ongoing series featuring how Catholics of the Diocese of Ogdensburg are living out their faith. To suggest an individual to be featured in this series, please call the North Country Catholic at 315-393-2920 or email dfargo@rcdony.org.

By Suzanne Pietropaoli
Staff Writer

OGDENSBURG – From Illinois to Africa to Wisconsin to Ogdensburg, faith has been Amy Schirmer’s constant companion on an unusual journey. Daughter and granddaughter of Protestant pastors and missionaries, she was received into the Catholic Church in 2006.

“My faith is important to me because it was important to my parents,” Schirmer explains. “My faith is my own and different from theirs, but their Godly example, their heroes, their life decisions, their generosity and hospitality all expressed the importance of faith. As I grew up and altered my course, I have been so grateful for this heritage. I have also found untold riches in the Catholic Church that have provided a glorious context for understanding WHY faith is so important! It leads me to God!”

Not, she is quick to explain, in any predictable way, but “in a wildly beautiful, completely rational, hilariously unexpected, terrifyingly awesome way that includes shady green pastures, storm-tossed seas, parched deserts, flooded plains, dangerous mountains and a still, small voice.”

Schirmer recalls having invited Jesus into her heart as a second grader because she did not want to go to hell.
“No one was trying to scare me…I scared myself,” she said. “And having made that decision, I never looked back. In high school, some students kept talking about ‘being baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ One of them prayed with me, and this was another milestone, drawing me closer to where I belonged. My dad started attending an Episcopal church my last year of high school, and I experienced the glory of liturgical worship for the first time. I was married in that church, and my husband, Rob, attended Episcopal seminary and was ordained to the priesthood.”

This proved to be another milestone in Schirmer’s journey. “I remember telling someone how much I loved the liturgy, but that I could NEVER be a Roman Catholic. Ha!”

The first significant challenge to that mindset came when a friend sent her Kimberly and Scott Hahn’s book, Rome Sweet Home. Then there was the Catholic homeschool group she attended with her children, which introduced her to Catholic friends, Catholic radio and Catholic literature, especially the lives of the saints. Ten years would pass before Schirmer entered the Catholic Church.

During that time, Schirmer’s husband left the Episcopal priesthood to join the Continuing Anglicans—a move that brought her into regular contact with “a Gregorian Mass done in English, with Rob’s excellent homilies, followed by a shared meal with conversation centered on our lives as Christians. When I told this group I that I wanted to become Catholic, they all wondered why I had waited so long! In 2006, I was received into the Church in Wisconsin.”

Before long, the family was “surprised to find ourselves living here in the North Country. Within six months, we were living close enough to the cathedral that it became my parish. In the ensuing 12 years I have daily been nourished by the Eucharist and reminded of the goodness of God in giving us his Church. There, all three of my sons have entered the Church, as my father will soon do. Each addition is like a new birth, bringing so much joyful confirmation to my own conversion.”

The Cathedral, where Schirmer is a secretary, has brought other blessings as well. A long-time participant and facilitator in the Women of Grace group there, she found fellowship, formation, and a place to be of service. Similarly, Schirmer served for some years on the parish’s evangelization committee, where she discovered Father Michael Gaitley’s Thirty-three Days to Morning Glory, which concludes with a personal consecration to the Blessed Mother. Schirmer relates just how powerful this novena and consecration proved to be.

“After I made the consecration the first time, our youngest son Joe, then 18, chose to come into the Church,” she said. “Before long, his oldest brother, Douglas, [now a 4th year seminarian for our diocese] came into the Church. Later, when I renewed my consecration, our son Calvin announced that he was becoming a Catholic. In 2019, after my most recent renewal, my 88-year-old dad decided to come into the Church, which he will do at Easter.”

Nevertheless, Schirmer reveals, “Like everyone’s story, my own includes some valleys. When we were in seminary, we lost a baby boy just hours after his premature birth. Samuel’s death was a crushing experience. But I knew that I could trust the ground beneath me to bring me back to life, because it was the holy ground of a grieving parent…familiar ground to God, that I was being asked to share. Depression has also been a real part of my life for as long as I can remember, sometimes almost too much to bear. However, an experience in October 2018 was pivotal. Rob and I were traveling and went to Mass in Ishpeming, Michigan, where the priest prayed a prayer of deliverance over his parish. While he was praying, I had a vision of Jesus looking at me and smiling. His look was one of absolute acceptance – and in that look I believe a healing took place. I have since struggled, but I have shared the story with those dear to me, and someone is sure to put their arms around and remind me: ‘He smiled at you!’”

The foundation for Schirmer’s faith journey was laid during her childhood in Africa, where her parents were missionaries in what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“My parents never looked down on anyone but helped everyone who came to our door,” she said. “Back in the States it was the same: an open-door policy which allowed many to experience the love of God through their generosity and hospitality. So, I have found it easy to share my faith by offering to pray for people, to hug them, to share a book with them. When I think of what my faith means to me, I am overwhelmed, grateful, and humbled. What better response can there be to such a gift than to share it with others?”

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