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 published: 2006-02-17

Lay sanctity

Gilbert Schimmel (1906 – 1959), USA

Gilbert Schimmel con el Padre José Kentenich

Gilbert Schimmel with Father Joseph Kentenich

Gilbert Schimmel mit Pater Josef Kentenich


Gilbert Schimmel was born on a farm near Helenville, Wisconsin (between Milwaukee and Madison) on June 10, 1906, he was the youngest of nine children.  After high school and a semester of college Gilbert joined the working world, becoming   a machinist in a big factory in Milwaukee and founder of trade union based on Christian principles; he was a devout husband and loving father of his children, and an apostle to the core, always willing to offer all his time and strength for young people, and a variety of missionary activities. It was in the Covenant of Love and with the formation of Father Kentenich that he found a way to live lay sanctity, with his dedication to his family, his work, and his apostolate, growing into a fruitful balance

In the Marian Year 1954, Gilbert and his wife were involved in an apostolate sending rosaries, scapulars and other items to missionaries all over the world. The idea was to help the missionaries promote greater devotion to Our Lord and His Mother. One encounter changed their life forever. Joanna Schimmel shares: "We were very apostolically enganged, but always felt that there was something missing. Without being able to state exactly what we were looking for, we recongnized our longing when the answer to the longing came to us. My husband received a request from a Pallottine Father for Sacred Heart pamphlets which could be distributed at County Hospital. Since Holy Cross parish, where the Pallottine Fathers lived, was on our way home, we decided to drop the pamphlets off personally and thus save the postage." They did so, and before leaving, the Pallottine Father invited them to meet a person "who may someday be a canonized saint": Father Kentenich. "We were introduced to Father Kentenich. He asked us a few questions pertaining to our family, our work, etc. Because we were so enthusiastic about our apostolic work during the Marian Year, we told him all about it. As we talked, I was struck with the thought: ‘He is really listening to us’. Neither my husband nor I said too much as we drove home. When we came to a red light and the car was idling, spontaneously we looked at each other and said: That is it. Both of us sensed that the end of our search had come."

The Schimmels were soon visiting Father Kentenich every week and discovering the world of Schoenstatt.   By 1955 they formed the first Schoenstatt group in Milwaukee, the Pioneer Couples.  Gilbert was especially touched by Schoenstatt. His covenant of love was made with the group on February 2, 1956. Within a year of his covenant of love he privately offered his life to Mary as a "second Joseph Engling for the United States." Joanna Schimmel: "My husband became a child of Father."

In 1958 Gilbert was diagnosed with cancer in the most advanced stages.  Father Kentenich broke the news to him; Gilbert accepted it calmly and with only a tear in his eye. Even in the last months of his life Gilbert was concerned about the needs of those around him.  Through the request of the factory superintendent, Gilbert came to work even though there was little he could do. The superintendent felt it was worth it just because of how Gilbert boosted the workers' morale. When Gilbert could no longer go to the factory, the workers came to see him, where it was the dying man who comforted the healthy and gave them courage. On Sunday morning, February 15, 1959 and surrounded by his family, Gilbert gave his soul back to the Heavenly Father. His last words here on earth were, "Now I am going home."

Summary from the biography written by Fr. John Niehaus; quote from Joanna Schimmel as cited in: The Exile Legacy Book, edited by the same author.

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