Bishop James L. Schad, leader in Camden Diocese

Posted: March 29, 2002

Bishop James L. Schad, 84, who went from pretending to say Mass on his mother's ironing board to a position of power in the Roman Catholic Church's nearly half-million-strong Camden Diocese, died Wednesday of renal failure at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center in Camden.

Bishop Schad had served since 1966 as the diocese's first and only auxiliary bishop. He retired in 1993 but continued to administer confirmation and perform other duties.

Except for his serving as an Army chaplain for three years, from 1949 to 1952, Bishop Schad spent his entire 59 years as a priest in South Jersey.

"He has spanned not only the geography of the diocese in his assignments, but also every level of responsibility from bottom to top," said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, head of the Camden Diocese, which encompasses Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic and Cape May Counties. It has a population of about 430,000.

Bishop DiMarzio said that he had relied heavily on Bishop Schad for advice. "He'd been like a father to me," DiMarzio said.

Bishop Schad spent several years working with the late Bishop James T. McHugh, former head of the diocese, who died in 2000.

"One of the exceptional things about Bishop Schad is that he is a priest of the diocese. . . . He's been in the diocese his entire life. He's endeared himself to the people," Bishop McHugh said in a 1993 Inquirer interview.

Bishop Schad, who grew up in Vineland, N.J., and graduated from Sacred Heart High School in the town in 1935, "wanted to be a priest forever," said his brother Louis. "We used to have one of those ironing boards in the wall. He would pull it down and practice saying Mass. Everybody knew he wanted to become a priest."

Eight years after he left high school, and fresh from his graduation from St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore, he was ordained into the priesthood April 10, 1943 - realizing his dream and beginning his life's work.

He served as a pastor - what he called "the real reason for my priesthood" - from 1954 until his retirement. From the time he was elevated to bishop in 1966, he also was heavily involved in administrative duties of the diocese.

Churches he served included St. Rose of Lima in Haddon Heights, St. Anne's in Westville, Most Holy Redeemer in Westville Grove, Maris Stella in Avalon, and, from 1985 until 1992, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Camden.

His other activities included service as associate editor of the Catholic Star Herald, moderator of the diocesan Charismatic Renewal prayer group, director of Catholic Charities and the House of Charity, and diocesan administrator.

He wrestled with the conflict between his desire to do pastoral work on the parish level and his duty as a bishop to perform administrative tasks at the diocesan level.

"I always said, 'Am I . . . neglecting the shepherding of my people?' " he recalled in the Star Herald interview. "I struggled with it, trying to divide my time and myself."

That he succeeded in devoting enough time and energy outside the diocesan offices can be seen through Sacred Heart High School, which named its media center after him, and the Cathedral Soup Kitchen in Camden, which he started and where he could be found serving food, cleaning and canvassing for donations.

But he never lost touch with his beloved parishioners, one of whom said of him: "He is a bishop, but he is a people's bishop."

In addition to his brother, Bishop Schad is survived by sisters Helen White and Theresa Brennan; another brother, Francis; 35 nieces and nephews; 74 grandnieces and grandnephews; and four great-grandnieces and great-grandnephews.

A Funeral Mass will be said at 8 p.m. Tuesday at St. Rose of Lima Church, 300 Kings Highway in Haddon Heights. Friends may call at 2 p.m.

A second Funeral Mass will be said at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Sacred Heart Church, 1010 E. Landis Ave. in Vineland. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Vineland.

Contact Rusty Pray at 215-854-2322 or rpray@phillynews.com.

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