Her faith was nurtured by history

By Sam Lucero | The Compass | August 13, 2014

Schaller says strong Catholic heritage in St. Nazianz served as foundation

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]ST. NAZIANZ — Jane Schaller’s deep appreciation for history has played a role in her indomitable faith. Growing up in a community founded by a priest also played a pivotal role.

Your Catholic Neighbor: Jane Schaller (Sam Lucero | The Compass)
Your Catholic Neighbor: Jane Schaller (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

Schaller, organist at St. Gregory Parish since 1975 and choir member since age 14, traces her interest in local history back to fourth grade, when she was attending St. Gregory School. “When I was 9, we had the centennial of this village (1954) and that is when my curiosity was piqued,” she said. “The kids in our class would say, ‘Oh, our grandparents came here with Fr. Oschwald. We’re among the original settlers.’”

She remembers wondering if her family had ties to the 113 settlers who emigrated to St. Nazianz from Germany with Fr. Ambrose Oschwald in 1854.

Schaller finally got her answer last year. “I came to find out that my great-grandfather was baptized by Fr. Oschwald.”

Her great-grandfather, William F. Christel, was the youngest child of Richard Christel, who also left Germany to settle in Wisconsin. “He was not with the 113 that came here originally, but came a few years later,” said Schaller. “My great-grandfather was the only one (of his siblings) born in the U.S.”

A connection to the founding father of St. Nazianz was a pleasant surprise, said Schaller, and it all began during the village’s 1954 centennial. “We were all very much awakened to our history at that time.”

Another important part of Schaller’s life was her relationship with the religious sisters who lived and taught in St. Nazianz during her childhood: the School Sisters of St. Francis and the Society of the Divine Savior.

Schaller’s mother was Lutheran and her father was a non-practicing Catholic. Her sister, Judy, is one year older. “Being in this village, our mother would get us ready for school and for church … and send us off alone,” she recalled. “The sisters took such good care of us because they knew we were alone. With 12 years of that, how can you help but not be involved in a community like this?”

Schaller began taking music and voice lessons from the School Sisters of St. Francis. “I took voice lessons from fourth grade until I graduated from high school,” she said. “I joined the (parish) choir when I was 14 and I’m still there.”

One of the sisters played the organ at Mass, but when the religious community left the parish in 1975, Schaller was asked to take over.

“The first time I played the organ in 1975 was for a friend’s funeral,” she said. “I think I’ve played for every wedding in this parish since 1975. … I’ve played for all but about five funerals.”

Two years after graduating from St. Gregory High School in 1963, Schaller married her husband, Richard, and they raised four children: Jeff, Kim, Heidi and Christopher. Richard died in 1999. Through most of their 36 years of marriage, they sang together in the parish choir. They even sang at three of their children’s weddings.

“After my husband died, I had to get a real job,” said Schaller. “I went to Manitowoc to work for the Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity.” She served as a cook and housekeeper at St. Clare Convent for 11 years.

Schaller, who’s held membership on various parish committees, including pastoral council, liturgy, and finance, also served for 20 years as organist for children’s Masses at St. Gregory School. For the past 30 years, she has played the organ during the annual Fourth of July Mass at the Lax Chapel, located about four miles outside of St. Nazianz.

The chapel, like the village of St. Nazianz, has a fascinating history that Schaller likes to share.

As a charter member and secretary/treasurer of the St. Nazianz Historical Society, Schaller has a lot of stories involving local history.

She said the society was formed in 1986 when the village fire department was going to burn a building on the outskirts of St. Nazianz for fire-fighting practice. The cabin was built in 1854 and had historical value, so citizens formed the historical society and saved the building. A second building with ties to the village’s settlers was saved from destruction this summer.

For the most part, she said, St. Gregory parishioners are mindful of their heritage.

“This community is a very, very dedicated group of people and I believe it comes from their heritage,” she said. “Even the young people that I see in church, the families that are involved in school, some are (descendants) of the founding group that came here with Fr. Oschwald.”

While it’s a close-knit community, she added, “I think we’re a much more welcoming community than in the past.”

In yet another link to her past, Schaller recently became a candidate in the Lay Salvatorian program, part of the Salvatorian religious community that served in St. Nazianz from 1896 to the late 1980s.

“I have been studying with a moderator for the past year and it will take another year before I become a lay Salvatorian,” she said.

As a child, Schaller would visit the Salvatorian sisters’ convent and always felt welcomed by them, just as she was by the School Sisters of St. Francis. “I could just love the sisters to death. I would say that through them and their influence on my life, that has brought me to where I am today — very close to God and close to his worship.”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_message color=”alert-info” style=”rounded”]Your Catholic Neighbor

Name: Jane Schaller

Parish: St. Gregory, St. Nazianz

Age: 69

Favorite saint: Gregory Nazianz

Words to live by: “Singing is twice praying.”[/vc_message][/vc_column][/vc_row]

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