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Wednesday, 01 July 2015 10:12

Bishop Firmin Schmidt, OFM Cap.

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The late Most Rev. Firmin Schmidt, OFM Cap., served as the First Bishop of the Diocese of Mendi.

Born Martin Schmidt on 12 October 1918, in Catherine, Kansas the son of Raymond J. and Sophia (Karlin) Schmidt, the bishop was preceded in death by seven brothers, Jerome, Constantine, Felix, Francis, Aloysius, Joseph and Severin, and one sister, Mary.

 After graduation from St. Joseph Military Academy, in Hays, Kansas, Martin entered the Capuchin-Franciscan Order in 1940 and received the name Firmin. He made his profession as a Capuchin friar in 1941 and was ordained to the priesthood on 2 June 1946, at St. Fidelis Church, Victoria, Kans. After finishing his doctoral studies he taught theology at Capuchin College in Washington, D.C., until his mission appointment in 1959.

Blessed Pope John XXIII appointed Schmidt in 1959 prefect apostolic of the Capuchin mission in the Southern Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

Bishop Firmin attended the second and third sessions of Vatican II as a prefect apostolic, and the fourth and final session as bishop-elect.

Ordained a bishop a week after the close of the Council by Bishop (later Cardinal) John Wright of Pittsburgh, Bishop Firmin served the newly-established diocese of Mendi until his retirement in 1995.

During his ministry there the Catholic population in the Southern Highlands grew from one person baptized in danger of death to over 72,000, and was growing by about 2,500 a year. Bishop Firmin brought in hundreds of priests, brothers and sisters and lay missionaries from more than a dozen countries and established 14 parishes, 17 pastoral centers, and more than 300 outstations. He set up a catechist training center, a regional high school, a diocesan pastoral center, and numerous elementary schools and health centers and clinics. He developed the area's first pastoral plan and its first diocesan pastoral council. As president of the national bishops conference, he also started the conference's first national headquarters at Port Moresby.

"It was my privilege," the Bishop wrote after his retirement, "to see a group of people change from the dark age of paganism to the bright light of the Catholic religion. The light of the Catholic religion came suddenly but steadily and surely. One pagan custom after another was replaced by the Catholic religion. They began to realize that speaking to God was possible by prayer. They learned that the All-Good and Holy God placed them here in this world for a purpose, namely to prepare for a better life in the world to come. They were happy to know that God is calling every one to better things."

Bishop Firmin passed peacefully to God on 4 August 2005 in Hays, Kansas.

(Thanks to Fr Blaine Burkey, OFM Cap., of the Capuchin Province of Saint Conrad for his assitance.)

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