Opinion

New Catholic pastor in Los Banos values prayer, mercy and humor

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Los Banos.
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Los Banos. Diocese of Fresno

The new pastor of the Catholic church in Los Banos is a priest who values collaborative leadership, prayer, the sacraments, mercy and a sense of humor.

The Rev. John Schmoll, whose assignment at St. Joseph’s parish began two months ago, has developed these values from his many years of experience as a priest and pastor. He was ordained as a priest in 1985 and has served in five parishes within the Fresno Diocese before coming Los Banos— in Bakersfield, Fresno, Mendota and Lamont, where he served as pastor for the past 24 years.

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He made it a point to learn Spanish early in his priesthood and has served Spanish-speaking parishioners for more than 30 years. “My Spanish is far from perfect,” he said, “a kind of informal or neighborhood Spanish. I speak it better than I understand it, but I am able to communicate.”

Father John feels he’s been “called” to this assignment at St. Joseph’s, just as he was called to be a priest and then called to serve in other parishes. “I have faith in the Holy Spirit leading me, like many others, in the right direction. In addition, I thought my parish in Lamont could use some new blood. ”

In coming to Los Banos he is returning to his roots in Merced County. He was born in Merced, graduated from Merced High and Merced College, after which he transferred to UC Santa Barbara, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science.

“When I left Merced College,” he said, “I was already thinking of becoming a priest, but I wasn’t very good in philosophy (the major of most seminarians), so I went with a subject I liked more, political science.”

When he was a boy as early as age 5, he thought about becoming a priest. “I thought the vestments priests wore were pretty cool,” he said. But in his teenage years he put that thought on the back burner, until his dad had a stroke when he was taking college classes in Merced. “I helped my mom,” he added, “who was working full-time then, take care of my dad and I had lot of time to think and reflect, and the desire to become a priest came back.”

His first impressions of Los Banos and St. Joseph’s are positive. He likes the town of Los Banos. “It seems like a very pleasant and friendly community,” he said, “and it has everything I might need.

“I like the church itself,” he added. “The building is architecturally aesthetic and uplifting, a good place for people to gather and participate in the liturgy.

“I also appreciate my parishioners who are very knowledgeable about their faith. And they have warmly welcomed me.”

Father John is looking forward to building on that positive spirit as he moves forward in his new assignment. “I like the idea of collaborative leadership,” he said. “I believe 800 brains are better than one.

“I realize the parish belongs to the people,” he added. “St. Joseph’s has been around for more than century. If I were to die tomorrow, another priest would take my place and the parish would go on. I also recognize that each parish has its own history and culture, so I’m not inclined to make many changes, especially for the first year.

“I also understand that there is a lot of talent in St. Joseph’s Parish, and I hope to utilize this, bringing people together as much as possible.”

His approach to being a priest and pastor has a few key elements. “First of all I believe in the importance of each person developing a spiritual life and using the sacraments as a way to deepen it. Regular communion and confession help strengthen persons spiritually and will help them to truly live, not just profess, their faith.

“I also stress the mercy of God,” he said. “I know I’ve experienced that many times because I’m a sinner like everyone else, with a need for frequent confession. I try not to be too judgmental, and I have the same feeling that Pope Francis has when he asks, ‘Who am I to judge?’

John Spevak New Photo
John Spevak, columnist for the Enterprise. Enterprise file

“I like to emphasize the things that we have in common, rather than the things that might divide us,” he added. “When we get to know people who might seem different from us, we realize we’re all human, more alike than different.”

Father John also uses his sense of humor whenever he can. His sermons usually involve some story or thought that causes his congregation to smile and laugh.

On a serious topic, he recognizes that the Catholic church in America and throughout the world is experiencing significant crises. He believes in responding to problems with directness and transparency, which he trusts is where the church will go. “And I’m naive enough to believe the Holy Spirit will lead my church into better times, where we focus on the mercy and love of God.”

John Spevak wrote this for the Los Banos Enterprise. His email is john.spevak@gmail.com.
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