Last weekend the congregation of St Verena church in Risch gave Thomas Schneider a formal farewell, his having been priest there for 21 years.
But at 53 years old, is this not early to stand down? The reason is that he suffered a heart attack while waiting for his luggage at Zurich airport after having returned from holiday in August last year. Fortunately, three women who happened to be waiting there at the same time managed to reanimate him with the help of a defibrillator before the emergency services attended. “The doctors were amazed I suffered no long-term negative effects from it,” he said.
However, it was this life-threatening incident which made him stop and think, deciding in the end to give up his job as head of pastoral care for the Lake Zug Southwest area. Not that this decision was easy, far from it. After all, here is some-one who has spent his professional life looking after the needs of others. “I decided it was time to put myself first,” he said with a heavy heart, adding how friends had helped him to realise this was the right decision. And surely a priest, too, has a right and need to talk about his own concerns, hasn’t he?
The priest, who looks back on 31 years’ experience in Switzerland, 21 of which in the canton of Zug, has never found it easy to say no to things, having been involved in the local fair, often serving drinks at the bar until the early hours, organising the inter-denominational summer camps, not to mention the lunches and children’s celebrations in cooperation with the Women’s Contact association, and always with great enthusiasm. However, it seemed it all took a toll on his health, leading to his suffering a number of heart attacks last summer, dismissing, perhaps, the initial symptoms. As mentioned, on one occasion he even drove himself to hospital while having one. “I was not afraid of dying,” he said, “but I did want the pains to stop.”
He is due to undergo surgery shortly and after that he will need to recuperate. As to how long, he is not sure. He is also moving back to Baar, which is where, in 1998, he first began to work in the canton. “I do not think it is good if the predecessor stays on in the same parish,” he said. Of course, much has changed over the time he has been in Risch, not least the doubling the of the population. Then there was much restructuring with regard to the organisation of pastoral care in the areas of Risch, Rotkreuz and Meierskappel, all of which added to his responsibilities. As for people opting to leave the Catholic church, Schneider said that, with lots more people moving to the area, in his parish there were more new members than people leaving. Naturally, over the years he has seen many a young child grow up and he will look back fondly over his time in Risch. While he has got something in the pipeline, he is putting this on hold until he is in better health.
Despite his official farewell last weekend, he is staying on until the end of the month, not least to be able to baptise a child of two parishioners who particularly wanted him to do so.
This article was based on one by Raphael Biermayr.