Rev. Stanley Schlarman can recall being inside the St. Peters Cathedral in his hometown, but on Sunday morning, the 82-year-old former bishop began his homily by wondering when it began.
“I do not remember when I was here the first time,” Schlarman said.
He did remember that the lectern where he was standing had been located about two pillars over years ago, when he first spoke from it, prior to the church’s 1968 renovation.
His earliest recollection was as a boy sitting in the choir and gazing at the scene of Christ’s crucifixion that had once graced the wall by the altar. That’s when he knew he wanted to join the priesthood.
“And from there, down to the main altar, I just fell in love with it,” he said. “That’s all I can say. You don’t know why as a 14-year-old why, you’re not sure.”
Family, friends and parishioners gathered at Belleville’s cathedral Sunday morning to celebrate Schlarman’s 57 years of service in the clergy. Schlarman led the Mass, as he had done countless times before, wearing the green and gold-colored trimmed vestments with his miter atop his head, covering most of his white hair.
During his sermon, he intermittently mentioned a few passing memories, such as becoming auxiliary Bishop for Belleville in 1979. He recalled the first thing Belleville Bishop William Cosgrove told him following his ordination.
“He looked at me and said, ‘You’re in now, man.’”
And from there, down to the main altar, I just fell in love with it. That’s all I can say. You don’t know why as a 14-year-old why, you’re not sure.
Rev. Stanley Schlarman, retired former bishop from Belleville, on his journey to priesthood
He said meeting St. Pope John Paul II was also a personal honor.
“When I went to Dodge City as the bishop of the diocese, he had just become pope in the fall of the year and I was one of the first ones that he appointed as an auxiliary bishop, here in the winter and spring of the next year,” he said. “I got to meet him, and eventually, got to meet him three times.”
He also remembers as a boy attending Cathedral Grade School how Rev. Urban Kuhl mentored him in his path to the priesthood.
“He said, ‘We have a seminary up the road. Test it out.’”
Schlarman would go on to that seminary, St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville, and study under The Oblates, which he said was a very happy time for him. He was ordained as a priest in 1958 and celebrated his first Mass in the following year.
He then went to college and became an educator. He spent 15 years at Mater Dei Catholic High School.
“I was Father Stan, the guidance man,” he said. “Then, I was a teacher, and eventually, the principal.”
He then became a pastor for a church in Cairo, where he served for three years. Later, he moved closer to home in St. Rose, where he served for a year, and then moved again to Marydale, serving as a pastor for a church there for another year. He was then called to become the bishop of the diocese in Dodge City, Kan. He said the experience was rewarding, but did not change who he was.
He always remembered where he came from.
“You sent me there for 15 years,” he said during his sermon. “I didn’t come back as a cowboy.”
By this time, Schlarman said he needed a rest from the clergy. But his time off was brief, as he was back to the ministry three months later.
In 2003, he we went to Joliet to become Vicar for Priests and returned to Belleville three years later to take that same position in the Belleville diocese.
Now, Schlarman is retiring, but not completely. Aside from weakening eyesight, he said he will still “help out” when he can and remains in his hometown.
“My eye sight is kind of failing, but not so bad that I can’t drive, but I have to be careful,” he said. “And I am. I’m 82.”
After concluding his latest Mass Sunday morning, Schlarman joined St. Peters Cathedral Pastor John Myler, fellow clergy and servers to make the walk down the long aisle, with his staff in his right hand and waving with the other to the pews of singing parishioners.
“It was a wonderful gift,” he said soon thereafter.
It was a moment he would never forget.