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Stephen Schmidt

By Peter Gilmour


DR. STEPHEN ARTHUR SCHMIDT (1933-2012), a Lutheran, spent the majority of his career teaching in Roman Catholic institutions. He wrote the definitive history of the Religious Education Association in 1983. Stephen's vision of religious education is intimately linked to theological reflection on a wide range of professional and personal interests, among them the community as educator, the vocation of teaching, chronic illness, the wisdom of suffering, and women's issues.


Stephen Arthur Schmidt was born March 28, 1933 in Jefferson City, Missouri to Henry T. and Bertha (Korsmeyer) Schmidt. His father was a truck gardener who farmed 40 acres. As a child Stephen worked alongside his dad in the family business.

Among his early formational memories in religion are the baptism of his younger sister and the death of his paternal grandmother. At his sister's baptism which took place in the family living room, the pastor invited Stephen to hold the water bowl. Afterwards the pastor told him, "Stephen, you did a wonderful job." He felt included, not excluded in an important religious communal ritual. Stephen's second formational religious memory centers on the death of his grandmother who lived next door. After being comatose for three days, she sat up and said to her son, Stephen's father, "Henry I see the angels coming, the angels are coming to take me home." She then laid back down again and died. Stephen's father took pennies and placed them on her closed eyelids. Her wake was in the family living room.

He attended Trinity Lutheran Grammar School and Jefferson City High School. After a year of collegiate studies at the University of Miami, FL he entered Concordia College, River Forest, IL in 1952 and graduated three years later.

In 1955 he began teaching at Zion Lutheran School, Lyons, IL. During his first year of teaching, Stephen met and married Hildegarde (Gick) Rehwaldt. That first year he taught 2nd, 3rd, and 4th grade, and, in subsequent years, 7th and 8th grade. He also directed the church choir, served as substitute organist, ministered as parish youth director, and coached various school team sports. He became principal of Zion Lutheran School after his third year teaching there. While at Zion Lutheran School, Stephen also attended the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary (1957-1961) earning the Master of Arts degree in theology.

In 1962 he received a call to teach at his alma mater, Concordia College. During his decade long service at Concordia he chaired the department of education and briefly the department of theology and education. While at Concordia, Stephen received a three-year leave of absence in the mid-sixties to pursue doctoral studies in the joint degree program of Columbia University and Union Theological seminary, NY where he studied under Philip Phenix, Lawrence Cremin, and Robert Lynn. His doctoral dissertation focused on the work of Paul E. Kretzmann, a paradigmatic Lutheran religious educator. Stephen received his doctorate in 1969.

His final years at Concordia coincided with a controversy in the Missouri Synod culminating in the formation of Seminex (Concordia Seminary in Exile), a group of liberal seminary teachers who did not agree with the Missouri Synod's interpretation of scriptural inerrancy. He, along with many other faculty members in the synod's Concordia, left their positions, often in jeopardy, as a result of their beliefs.

Next began Stephen's nearly thirty-year career teaching in Roman Catholic higher education. In 1976 he was hired at Mundelein College, Chicago, IL, a Catholic women's college operated by the sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM). In addition to their undergraduate school, Mundelein College had a graduate program in religious studies which attracted large numbers of people to its campus every summer. Stephen was appointed director of the Graduate Program in Religious Studies at Mundelein in Spring, 1978. In 1991 Mundelein College was absorbed by Loyola University Chicago, and Stephen then joined the faculty of the prestigious Institute of Pastoral Studies, a program in the graduate school that education adults for ministry, and taught there until his retirement in 1999.

Stephen is proud to count among his former students Ms. Amy Florian, Executive director of Stauros, USA, Chuck Dull, President emeritus of the Hong Kong International School, Dr. Jan Schalk Westrick, Chairperson of the Education Department, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, Dr. Mary Todd, Dean of the Faculty, Ohio Dominican University , and James Kracht, co-author of Decisions Now, An Approach to the Education of Christian Citizens (Concordia Teachers College, River Forest, IL, 1974).

In retirement Stephen continued to teach one course a year at Loyola's Institute of Pastoral Studies until 2005. He has received a grant from Wheat Ridge Ministries to work with Advocate Lutheran Hospital, Park Ridge, IL reexamining their mission and values. He also serves as the editor of Stauros Notebook, a quarterly publication focusing on theological meanings of illness and suffering, sponsored by the Roman Catholic religious order, the Congregation of the Passion.

Throughout his career, Stephen has been an active member of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, IL.

Addendum: Stephen Schmidt passed away on September 3, 2012..

Contributions to Christian Education 

Stephen A. Schmidt focuses on experience, both professional and personal, as occasions for theological reflection and religious education.

His early career as a teacher in a Lutheran parish grammar school provided experiences which led Stephen to focus on teaching faith in communal parish settings, and the importance of worship in religious education. Though concerned with the distinctiveness of religious education, Stephen also promoted a public agenda of religious education. He believes strongly that the arena of God's work is the world, and religious education in part should generate strategies for transforming the world. His thinking on the public dimension of religious education reflects Luther's "two governances," discussions emphasizing both the sacred and the profane realms. Therefore Stephen has strongly advocated throughout his teaching and writing, paidea, i.e., the reality and role of the community as educator.

Stephen also focused on his experience of teaching when the Lutheran Education Association asked him to write a history of the Lutheran Teacher. The result, Powerless Pedagogues, published in 1972, presented the Lutheran Teacher as a second-class professional within its own church body.

Early in his professional career Stephen became an active member of the Religious Education Association (REA) and served on its board of directors for several years. He undertook the writing of this organization's history for its 75th anniversary. Stephen also is a member of the Association of Professors and Researchers in Religious Education (APRRE) and served a term as its President, 1994-1995.

When he was diagnosed with Crohn's disease in 1978, Stephen began to research, write, and teach about suffering and illness. He founded a chronic illness group in his local church that continues to this day. His book, Living with chronic illness documents and reflects on his experience of Crohn's disease.

Later that same year, Stephen's daughter was the victim of rape, causing him to turn his attention to women's issues, gender research, and feminism. Years later, Stephen and his daughter wrote articles in the Christian Century reflecting on the trauma of rape.

In his senior years, two issues occupy Stephen's interest: the place of Christ in world religions and the personal issues of aging and dying. He continues his membership on the Bio Ethics Committee of Lutheran General Hospital, Chicago, seeking relationships between issues of faith and illness.

Reflecting on his own career, Stephen writes, "Is there a concluding insight about religious education? I think so. Religious Education is about a community supportive of individual growth, affirming the diversity of faith perspectives and an appreciation of a new idea, a risky hypothesis, and a stimulating debate. The Church when it is true to the Gospel is that kind of community. Christians gather to share a story, the primal story of the good news, the Gospel. As they reflect on that story in light of their shared experience they engage in mutual support and faithful exchange of ideas and individual realities. The Christian teacher facilitates that kind of exchange, encouraging the risk of theological growth, while always nurturing the faith journey of trust and hope. Parishes where that kind of teaching happens will continue to be places of vitality, healing, excitement and dialectic. They will also be places of peace. Teachers are such peacemakers" (from an unpublished manuscript).



  • Irwin, P. (1990). Harper's encyclopedia of religious education. I.V. Cully and K.B. Cully (Eds.). San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (n.d.). Healing communities: Religion and health in American society. Unpublished manuscript, Loyola University Chicago.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1972). The parish as a healing partnership. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1972). Powerless pedagogues: An interpretive essay on the history of the Lutheran teacher in the Missouri Synod. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1989). Living with chronic illness: The challenge of adjustment. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing Company.
  • Schmidt, S.A. & Kracht, J. (1974). Decisions now, an approach to the education of Christian citizens. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association.

Chapters in Books

  • Schmidt, S.A. (1978). On Christian nurture: Urban America, Chicago, USA. In M. Harris (Ed.) Parish religious education, the people, the place, the profession (pp. 135-147). New York, Paulist Press.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1979). American education: a Lutheran footnote. In J. Groh and R. Smith (Eds.) The Lutheran church in North American life. (pp. 138-152). St. Louis: Lutheran Academy for Scholarship.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1983). Moral development: A companion to the Gospel. In D. Joy (Ed.) Moral Development Foundations, Judeo-Christian Alternatives to Piaget/Kohlberg (pp. 138-153). Nashville: Abingdon Press.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (2001). Mundelein College: Catholic substance, ecumenical ethos, 1976-1991. In A. M. Harrington and P. Moylan (Eds.) Mundelein voices: The women's college experience, 1930-1991 (pp. 238-253) Chicago: Loyola Press


  • Schmidt, S.A. (n.d.). All about Schmidt: A teacher's memoir. Unpublished article, Loyola University Chicago.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1970). Law-Gospel: Toward a model of moral education. Religious Education, 65, 474-482.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1971, April). Teaching the faith: On the edge of the 70's. Lutheran Educational Association Monograph.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1972). College with a cause revisited. Motif (Literary Journal of Concordia College, River Forest, IL).
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1973-1974). Teacher talk. Editorial column appearing in each issue of Lutheran Education, 1973-1974.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1973). Teaching the faith: Models and methods. Concordia Theological Monthly, 44, 287-297.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1973). Future of Christian education in the Missouri Synod: A matter of self-understanding. Concordia Theological Monthly, 44, 275-286.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1974, April). Crisis in education. Arenas-Lutherans in Profession, St. Louis.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1975, March/April). Learning to learn. Lutheran Education.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1976). American education; National nurture in spiritual crisis. Listening Journal of Religion and Culture, 2, 199-217
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1977). Religious education: Toward a prophetic word. Religious Education, 72, 5-17.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1977, December). The learning society: A place for becoming Christian. The Future of Campus Ministry: A Reflection, Department of Education, U.S. Catholic Conference.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1978). American education: A Lutheran footnote. Academy, 35 no 1-4, p. 168-193.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1978). The nurturing of prophetic possibility. Religious Education, 73, 416-429.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1979). A public pedagogy: An introduction to the history of the Religious Education Association. Religious Education, 74, 61-71.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1980). The uses of history and religious education. Religious Education, 80, 345-372.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1981). Ecumenical issues within Christian education today, a response. Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 18, 589-598.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1983). Paidea parochialized. Religious Education, 78, 515-524.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1984). A personal praxis in Christian education. Religious Education, 79, 10-18.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1985). The uses of history and religious education. Religious Education, 80, 345-372.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1987). Women and men, the new conversation, the men's movement, a critical view. Religious Education, 82, 91-108.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1987). Guest editorial and toward a strategy for public Christian education. Religious Education, 82, 469-485.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1988). Perspectives on chronic illness, what it does, perspectives on chronic illness; theological murmurs, perspectives on chronic illness; modest lessons about ministry. PACE, 1988.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1989). Living with chronic illness, why should I go on? Christian Century, 106, 475-476, 478-479.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1990). The sufferer's experience; a journey through illness. Second Opinion, 13, 91-108.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1989). When illness won't go away. Catholic Digest, 53, 111-114.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1991). Recovering the wild man. Christian Century, 108, 591-593.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1992). In memory: Herman E. Wornom, 1902-1992. Religious Education 87, 497-504.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1992, Novermber). Health and salvation: issues in holistic education. PACE, 22.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1993, November). Health and salvation: The parish as a public place for healing. PACE, 22.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1993). To speak of rape, a father's experience. Christian Century, 110, 17-19.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1993, June). The day I hated being a man. U. S. Catholic 58, 30-31.
  • Schmidt, S.A .& Clendenen, A. (1994). Women and men: The new conversation. Religious Education, 89, 123-137.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1994). Health and salvation: Musings on meanings. Religious Education, 89, 170-184.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1994). Religious education in the ecumenical and interreligious terrains. The Source-Book Project.
  • Schmidt, S. A. (1996, May). Academic freedom in the Catholic university, Center for Faith and Culture.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1997, September). When you come into my hospital room. Journal of American Medical Association.
  • Schmidt, S. A., Blumberg, S.H., & Clendenen A. (1997). Experience as canon. Religious Education, 92, 406-415.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (2001, August). The day I hung up my tow rope. U.S. Catholic, 66, 34-35.
  • Schmidt, S.A., Garber Z, & Miller R. (2002). Constantine's sword: The church and the Jews. Religious Education 97, 184-197.

Audio Tapes

  • Schmidt, S.A. (1992). The congregation as a healing place for Resource, Continued Education Cassettes for Pastors and Associates in Ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Book Reviews

  • Schmidt, S.A. (1982). [Review of the book A theology of church leadership.] Religious Education, 77, 582-583.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1989). [Review of the book The state and the non-public school 1825-1925.] Religious Education, 84, 464-465.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1991, Spring/Summer). [Review of the book Harpers encyclopedia of religious education.] Living Light.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1991, June). [Review of the book Iron John.] Christian Century.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1992, Spring). [Review of the book Weaving the new creation, stages of faith and the public church.] The Religious Studies Review.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (1998). [Review of The courage to teach: exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life.] Religious Education, 93, 496-499.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (2000). [Review of the book Educating for life: a spiritual vision for every teacher and parent.] Religious Education, 95, 108-115.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (2001). [Review of book Papal sin: structures of deceit.] Religious Education, 96, 156-157.
  • Schmidt, S.A. (2003). [Review of book Forgiveness: Finding freedom through reconciliation.] Religious Education, 98, 125-127.

Reviews of Stephen A. Schmidt's Books

  • Conrad, R. (1972). [Review of Powerless pedagogues: An interpretive essay on the history of the Lutheran teacher in the Missouri Synod.] Concordia Theological Monthly, 43, 776-777.
  • Ratigan, V. (1985). [Review of A history of the Religious Education Association.] Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 22, 381.
  • Fossion, A. [Review of A history of the Religious Education Association.] Lumen Vitae, 41, 358.

Excerpts from Publications

Schmidt, S.A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.

And the grandest success was the 1969 convention. More than 1500 persons attended, the largest number since the twenties. What a paradoxical statistic: The largest successful attendance became the setting for shaking the very foundations of the association. The 1969 convention, though in every aspect successful, served as a public judgmental word to the association. The glaring failures of the R. E. A. were revealed in public, with the association's blessings!
The convention revealed a failure of the association to live by a true vision of a public pedagogy. In a effort to remain neutral the R. E. A. almost lost the prophetic edge of its heritage, that ideal that religion was central to the marketplace of social conflict and resolution. The convention revealed the association inability to interpret the real world and the concomitant loss of opportunity to speak either of justice or mercy.
The convention called the R.E.A. to task for lack of concern about the oppressed, the minorities, the war, and young persons. The young people reminded the adult R.E.A. members that the essence of the religious task was to keep social conscience alive and acute.
The R.E.A. drew back from the radical notion of honestly attempting to change a whole society, actually attempting to transform America. Surely such a vision was difficult if not impossible in the pluralism of the fifties and sixties, but its loss was also tragic. For with its death went the grand motivational vision, the promised miracle of religion, new truth, new creation, new life- not a bad vision for Jews and Protestants and Catholics in light of the Exodus and Easter events.
But if the vision of the past was blurred, and if the failures of the R.E.A. are out in the open, and if the association had indeed even invited the prophet within its midst, then there was something of the old vitality still alive. And surely there was.
Herman Wornom left a solid platform for the future. He left an association with adequate income and sound budget. He left an association that was truly ecumenical (in terms of Western Christianity, few contacts existed with Eastern Christianity or other world religions) in fact rather than just in theory. He retired with the association at its healthiest point in the past forty years. This servant of moderation had done his job well; he had unified the association in a viable professional organization with every hope for a long future life. (p. 186)

Schmidt, S.A. & Kracht, J. (1974). Decisions now, an approach to the education of Christian citizens. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association.

The Christian, therefore, acts with serious consideration and happy abandon. He remembers with Luther this sentence: You do not need any book on instructions to teach you how to love your neighbor. All you have to do is to look into your own heart, and it will tell you how to love your neighbor as yourself.
That sentence summarizes the argument of this chapter. The Christian does not live with a rule book but with a new identity. The hidden discipline is the grace of God which enables the action and gives new formation to the next action. (p. 100)

Schmidt, S.A. (1989). Living with chronic illness: The challenge of adjustment. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing Company.

Finally, my faith life has surely changed as well. Yes, I still doubt – often and long. Yes, I still struggle wit the inequities of life. Of course I regularly fret over lack of meaning in my life. Certainly I still argue with the mystery of God, probably more than ever. But something has changed.
The focus of the argument has shifted. The questions used to be sometimes detached from real life. Now they are absolutely important, as important as eating and drinking. So I am more engaged with my life with God. It is as though most of my waking life is in regular debate, or at least conversation with God. Days when the sun shines and warmth fills my heart, I am grateful. During gray, wintry Chicago days I rage about dullness; and the rage is directed to the one who colors the days. Days when I am feeling well I am more genuinely thankful. Hardly a Eucharist goes by that I am not at some point in tears; my emotions are more on the surface now, and I am less ashamed of them. So tears in church are more regular and they feel just fine. During this Christmas season I regularly have to pause while singing to catch my breath and wipe the moisture off my face. I cry with joy these days. (pp. 122-123)

Schmidt, S.A. (1972). Powerless pedagogues: An interpretive essay on the history of the Lutheran teacher in the Missouri Synod. River Forest, IL: Lutheran Education Association.

The Lutheran teacher will serve with devoted loyalty, obedience, and commitment in the parish of the future. He will became increasingly effective in the life of the church as the problems of his powerlessness are effectively resolved until the matters of franchise, ordination, equalization of roles for men and women, and professional identity are solved, the teacher will continue to work with less effectiveness than possible. As his professional identity becomes clarified and his professional image sustained by organized colleagues, he will develop into a powerful force in the life of the church. (p 127)

Schmidt, S.A. (1983). A history of the Religious Education Association. . Birmingham, AL: Religious Education Press.

Anyone interested in the lives and careers of religious educators, their work and influence, and the larger context in which they lived, moved and had their existence needs to read this book. It is not only the history of the premier professional religious education association, but also a timely tale of the personalities and major trends that influence religious education during the first 75 years of the 20th century.

Schmidt, S.A. (1989). Living with chronic illness: The challenge of adjustment. . Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing Company.

This book is a marvelous reflection on a difficult reality. Faith encounters the human situation realistically and religiously. There is both agony and ecstasy in this book. Ultimately, it is a hope filled book.

Schmidt, S. A., Blumberg, S.H., & Clendenen A. (1997). Experience as canon. Religious Education, 92, 406-415.

This article, in dialogue with two other religious educators' articles (Sherry H. Blumberg and Avis Clendenen) explores traditional and contemporary shifting identities of Lutheranism. Schmidt's identity as Lutheran is well expressed, questioned, and reaffirmed within the interfaith context of this exchange.

Author Information

Peter Gilmour

Peter Gilmour, associate professor of pastoral studies, Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago, is the author of The Wisdom of Memoir: Reading and Writing Life's Sacred Texts (MN: St. Mary's Press, 1997).