Fr. Paul Schulte, Oblate of Mary Immaculate (©”The Flying Priest Over The Arctic” by Fr. Paul Schulte, Harper & Bros, 1940.)
Meet Fr. Paul Schulte, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate and the sort of priest you’d love to have had for your spiritual father. Paul was in seminary when World War I broke out in 1914, and he was trained as a pilot; the first powered flight of the Wright Brothers had been only ten years earlier. When the war ended, he was ordained and sent to Africa.
While assigned there, his best friend, a missionary priest, died of malaria after crawling for five days to reach help. Had there been a way to transport the sick man out of the bush and into a hospital, he would have lived, but it was too late when he finally reached help.
Fr. Schulte, determined that God’s faithful servants should not meet such a sad end, founded the Missionary International Vehicular Association to provide services to missionaries in the most remote outposts of the Church. At the dawn of air travel, he volunteered to fly dangerous air missions into the wilderness.
His superiors opposed the idea, but Pope Pius XI himself gave approval, so Fr. Schulte took off (so to speak). The Pope asked Fr. Schulte to go to “the poorest and most isolated missionaries in the world.”
At that time, the most primitive and difficult conditions in the world were the missions above the Arctic Circle, where there was no heat, no gardens or grown food, no bread, and where natives and missionaries alike faced the threats of starvation and hypothermia.
Fr. Schulte bringing the Eucharist to the real Frozen Chosen, the Eskimo/Inuit faithful (©”The Flying Priest Over The Arctic” by Fr. Paul Schulte, Harper & Bros, 1940.)
The parishes of the Arctic were hundreds of miles apart, and the sight of the flying priest arriving in his aircraft “The Flying Cross” was an occasion of great joy and wonder to the faithful. (©”The Flying Priest Over The Arctic” by Fr. Paul Schulte, Harper & Bros, 1940.)
The mission church in Arctic Bay (©”The Flying Priest Over The Arctic” by Fr. Paul Schulte, Harper & Bros, 1940.)
Fr. Schulte flew thousands of miles back and forth above the Arctic in a single-engine prop aircraft, loaded to the maximum weight limit with bread, produce, and medical supplies for the missionaries and faithful. Without weather apps and flight assistance, he was on his own in a region where the weather could change rapidly without warning. These flights would be perilous even today with all our modern avionics.
Fr. Schulte almost met death many times on his flights to save others. He felt his vocation deeply and never turned down an appeal for help. If bad weather prevented him from taking off immediately, he would depart the moment the weather changed. Nothing kept him from his flock.
My father was like that. Numerous times in my life, he “rescued” me from dangers, real and perceived. When he couldn’t rescue me, he steadfastly remained present so that I knew that there was nothing I would have to face alone. That’s what fathers do, at their best.
Fathers, biological and spiritual, give that gift of self daily, in small ways like taking a grandson fishing and in large ways like flying a mission in an Arctic storm to reach a dying man. That unselfish heroism is the very best of fatherhood and a participation in the sacrifice of Jesus for us all. It is what men are called to in the Fatherhood of God.
How does Fr. Schulte stack up against a modern priest? Fr. Schulte was “just” an ordinary priest who loved his people. He is not even a candidate for sainthood. Yes, he put his life on the line regularly, but barely anyone has ever even heard of him.
Our modern priests and bishops haven’t needed the raw physical courage of a Fr. Schulte in their vocation of spiritual fatherhood. But moral courage is more and more needed: the kind of courage that risks personal comfort to defend the faith, that suffers persecution to protect the faithful and lets nothing stop him bringing the sacraments to those in need.
I think immediately of my bishop, Joseph Strickland, in Tyler. He’s “just” an ordinary priest, as he would be quick to tell you, but he possesses the courage to put the Church first, ahead of the world. He is sometimes a lonely voice among the American bishops, but he thinks first of his flock as a true father.
The time is near or is indeed here when the world will attempt to crush the Church. Many of her most basic teachings are close to being declared hateful. People who speak the simple truth of the Church are banned from the public square and can even lose their livelihoods. At TOBET, we have had to puzzle out what we will do if this mad, mad world tries to eliminate the message of St. John Paul II and us with it.
The Church can’t escape this confrontation. She was made for it, to prevail against the predations of Hell. But in this storm, we will need strong fathers: in the priesthood, to uphold the moral truth, and in the laity, to protect families and communities. We need fathers with courage.
When you see a priest who defends his flock from the wolves, who brings the sacraments to the people at great personal cost, who risks himself for the Church, like Fr. Schulte, then we need to be like the Arctic natives who rushed over the ice to the plane with whoops of joy, welcoming the priest and treating him like what he is, an alter Christus.
In this month honoring fatherhood, find a priest who’s standing up for the Faith. Every diocese does not have a Bishop Strickland, but in every diocese, faithful priests are trying to be good fathers, and most likely, not getting the support they need. WRITE A LETTER. Pick a priest, write a letter of appreciation, and send a contribution to seal the deal if you’re able. Priests need the laity, now more than ever, to fulfill their role as fathers.
Happy Father’s Day to our priests.
Bishop Strickland carried the Eucharist to a busy street corner in Texas. (2020) (© St. Philip Institute)
An unnamed priest in Bibione, Italy, drove through the city’s streets with a statue of Our Lady, blessing the homes and people of his parish. (2020) (@ibisrosso)
Maronite Fr. Madji Allawi, in the same spirit as Fr. Schulte, took to the skies over Beirut, Lebanon, to bless the country with the Blessed Sacrament. (2020) (© Majdi Allawi)
Sheryl Collmer writes for TOBET from Tyler, Texas. Her father, Jan Collmer, was a pilot whose first contact with aviation as a boy was in a conversation with Fr. Paul Schulte on summer sabbatical in Dallas in the 1940s.