Rev. Msgr. Cleo S. Schmenk
Born: March 20, 1927
Born into Eternal Life: June 16, 2017
Ordained into Priesthood: May 30, 1953
Born and raised in Glandorf, Ohio, Msgr. Cleo Schmenk was the eighth of 10 children. He decided to follow in the footsteps of his oldest brother Msgr. Gilbert, who was a priest and teacher. “When I was a little boy, I talked about having a family. I also talked about being like my big brother. I liked what he was doing and what he stood for,” Msgr. Schmenk once explained.
Msgr. Schmenk attended high school, college and seminary, all at Pontifical College Josephinum, Worthington, Ohio, where his brother taught math and science classes. Msgr. Schmenk described his brother, who was 17 years his senior, as “definitely a father image.” Their father died when Msgr. Schmenk was only 4 years of age.
Like his brother, Msgr. Schmenk spent much of his time teaching. “I’m as much an educator as a pastor,” he would say. Although several of his early assignments were at high schools, he also worked for over twenty years to help prepare adults who were interested in service to the Church.
For 40 years, Msgr. Schmenk effectively held two jobs, as pastor or assistant pastor of a parish plus an assignment with the Diocese of Toledo. Among the first ministry positions was in Fostoria, OH and Lima, OH, where he ran youth programs. Approximately 1,400 boys from grades 3-10 were involved in the baseball program at St. Charles in Lima, OH. He once organized a day-trip for 800 of the boys to attend a Cincinnati Reds game.
Msgr. Schmenk served at St. Wendelin Parish, Fostoria, Ohio; St. Anthony Parish, Columbus Grove, OH; St. Charles Parish, Lima, OH; St. Francis de Sales Parish, Toledo, OH; Cardinal Stritch High School, Oregon, OH; St. Patrick Parish, Providence, OH; St. Michael Parish, Toledo, OH; Regina Coeli Parish, Toledo, OH; St. Joseph Parish, Paulding, OH; and St. Joseph Parish, Palm Bay, FL. He also served as Vocation Director for the Diocese of Toledo; was Director of the Diocesan Lay Ministry and Diaconate Formation Program; and Chaplain to the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, OH.
In 1972, Msgr. Schmenk was appointed director of the Permanent Diaconate, now known as the Ministry Formation Foundation program, for the Diocese of Toledo. He designed formation programs for people studying to be deacons, lay ministers and religious educators. Msgr. Schmenk explained that he had to take parishioners from different backgrounds and different walks of life “and give them formation enough to do some special work for the Church.” When Msgr. left the program in 1988, 200 men had graduated from the program and were ordained.
“I surely like parish work, but the most exciting and satisfying experience was the foundation program,” Msgr. Schmenk once said. He added that it was quite a joy to see so many ordained as a result.
His work in the parish was also gratifying, particularly the implementation of the sacramental program for children and parents.
If Msgr. Schmenk had not become a priest, he might have chosen a career in music. He can play several musical instruments. He taught music classes at Josephinum Seminary in Worthington, OH for a time and has directed several choirs. He started a children’s choir at St. Joseph Church in Paulding, OH.
Travel was another serious hobby for Msgr. Schmenk. In addition to visiting all 50 states, he toured Europe, Central America, South America, the Orient, Africa and the Holy Land, Scandinavia, Russia and Poland, Italy and Eastern Europe, China, Australia Cuba and New Zealand. “You learn more traveling than you can in school,” believed Msgr. Schmenk.
Msgr. Schmenk earned a Masters of Divinity degree in 1972 and a Doctor of Ministry degree in 1983. He attended several graduate study programs, including one at the American College in Rome in 1987. He met Pope John Paul, II and presented him an album of the deacons from the formation program. Msgr. Schmenk also led the music for a Mass while at the Vatican.
In 2010, Fr. Schmenk was named a monsignor of the Roman Catholic Church. Msgr. Schmenk remarked that he was surprised to learn he was named a monsignor because it has become such a rarity in the church today.
“I think it’s a legitimate way to affirm people,” he said, adding that it felt a little awkward getting used to the new title. “His call was more important to me than the title,” Msgr. Schmenk said about the phone conversation he had with Bishop Leonard P. Blair, then Bishop of the Diocese of Toledo, about the honor.
The call got Msgr. Schmenk thinking back on his ministry and brought back many memories. “It’s been a great life and a very satisfactory one,” he said.
When Msgr. celebrated 40 years of ordination as a priest in 1993, he was presented with a plaque which described the meaning of the priesthood – but it can be said that Msgr. Schmenk seemed to have already unraveled the mystery.
Msgr. Schmenk was preceded in death by his parents, Henry and Christina (Schroeder) Schmenk; brothers, Msgr. Gilbert Schmenk, Everett, Daniel, Carl and Henry Schmenk; sisters Verena Maas, Muriel Kriegbaum, Jeanette Schweickert and Geraldine Klemm.
Msgr. Schmenk leaves behind his sister-in-law, Irene (Henry) Schmenk, and his brother-in-law Allen Klemm (Jane), many beloved nieces, nephews, grandnieces, grandnephews and cousins, as well as a host of friends from his various places of ministry; the Sisters of St. Francis of Sylvania, OH and the parishioners of St. Joseph Church in Palm Bay, FL where Msgr. ministered and served right up until the day he went to his heavenly reward.