By KATHY SCHMUGGE
LEXINGTON — On Nov. 15, Father Jerome Schwab’s battle with cancer ended and he began his eternal embrace with his loving God. The pastor of Corpus Christi Church since 1994, Father Schwab was ordained a priest of the Diocese of Charleston in 1993 following a 30-year career as a manager with the Allen Organ Company.
The vigil service for Father Schwab was held on Nov. 17 at Corpus Christi. The Mass of Christian burial was celebrated at the church the following day, Nov. 18. He will be buried in Buffalo, N.Y.
This loss ripples throughout the diocese and to the many people touched by this priest of Jesus Christ.
Before he was a priest, he was a brother to three sisters, Terry Margarone, Mary Ann Borgiola, and Elaine Zilliox. His sister Terry describes him as a tender brother who loved to shop for others and was the perfect houseguest. “He loved us and loved our children very much,” said Margarone.
Priest and friend
“Father Schwab knew that he had a terminal illness,” said Father Juya Filemon, who spoke during the wake service. “Many think the word terminal means the end. Not Father Schwab, for him terminal means a station, the end of one journey and the beginning of a new one. You get out of one wagon (train) that drove you all of your earthly life and you take the next one to a new life with your heavenly father.”
During the last days, Father Juya, who ministers to the Hispanic communities and is the pastor of St. John of the Cross in Batesburg-Leesville, volunteered to assist “his good friend and neighbor” Father Schwab with his priestly duties. During his talk he mentioned that he and Father Schwab shared the same ordination date, Dec. 12, the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, but Father Juya was ordained 11 years earlier.
“Is it not a blessed coincidence, we both put our Blessed Mother as the queen and the star in our ministry. That special love and devotion to her gave us freedom to talk without hesitation about her favors and powerful intercession for us,” said Father Juya.
“Father Schwab was the ideal priest. If I wanted to use one descriptive adjective for him, it would be noble. He was a noble priest who exemplified the noble simplicity often used to describe the liturgy,” said Bishop David B. Thompson, who had welcomed Father Schwab into the fraternity of the priesthood. “The diocese has lost a great priest. He was a priceless gift from God.”
One of his closest friends, Father James LeBlanc, gave the eulogy that illustrated a man who at 47 responded to God’s call. “It was then that Jerry experienced a very deep spiritual grace and underwent a dramatic internal conversion and his life changed greatly,” said Father LeBlanc. He told of Father Schwab’s sacrifices, his job, his retirement, his family, even his home to be a priest for the Charleston Diocese.
Speaking of the last days, Father LeBlanc described how Father Schwab “suffered terribly with patience, courage, clarity, lucidity always even the last day he had a smile on his face.”
Bishop Robert J. Baker also commented on that “radiant smile,” a smile that showed an inner peace that can only come from faith.
“In those final days of pain and suffering, he did not push us aside, allowing us to contact him personally by visits and welcomed our calls up to the end,” said Bishop Baker.
He confidently spoke of Father Schwab as part of the heavenly choir.
Because of Father Schwab’s gift of connecting with others, he had many close friends, who describe him as a man of many talents, an excellent sailor, a gourmet cook, and a talented musician with a special gift for entertaining.
Paul and Ruth Donahue, parishioners at Corpus Christi Church, had the longest relationship with the priest, dating back to his life before the priesthood in Pennsylvania. Father Schwab lived in the same condominium complex as the Donahues.
A few years later, he was accepted to Mount Saint Mary Seminary in Emmitsburg, Md., by Bishop David Thompson. Circumstances allowed the Donahues to reunite with Father Schwab in Lexington when he became pastor. They said he often entertained his fellow priests especially on Thanksgiving Day. They recalled how he would say, “I run a home for unwed fathers.”
Louise and Jack Homan were parishioners who were equally as close. In fact, Father Schwab and Jack Homan worked together on the interior church design. Homan did most of the woodwork in the church.
“He was the most priestly priest I know,” said Homan, who admired the priest’s clarity and courage when it came to presenting the Gospel and church teachings.
Nettie Taylor, administrative assistant, called him a “brilliant man” who knew the Catholic faith well. “One of the reasons losing him is so difficult is that he was my hero; most of us have heros. But my hero loved me back, inviting me into his heart, modeling Christ for me,” said Taylor.