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Fr. Nicholas Ayo, C.S.C., debuts today as a contributor to the Spes Unica blog with his submission for our Holy Cross Heroes series. He starts by introducing us to a wise, compassionate Holy Cross priest who, he claims, may have been “the most-skilled mountain climber in Holy Cross.” Thanks to Fr. Nick, meet Fr. Jim Schultz, C.S.C.
The most-skilled mountain climber in Holy Cross may well have been Fr. Jim Schultz, C.S.C. He stood atop many of the difficult high climbs in this country and some in Europe. When I was assigned to teach at the University of Portland, he led a group of us to the top of Mt. Hood for sunrise. Climbing at night one does not sink in the frozen crust of snow, something I would not have known.
Jim served for many years at the novitiate, both in Bennington, Vermont and in Cascade, Colorado. He is remembered for his deep contemplative spirituality and a wry sense of humor. Long in the face, he could be labeled lugubrious. But, he made us cry and he made us laugh. He dazzled us with his grasp of the love of God and delighted us with the slide collection of awesome photographs taken where no one else had the skill to stand. When I was looking sadly at a screen door recently painted quite poorly by a young novice both at religious life and at painting, Jim came by and quipped: “I could have done better with a broom.” Laughter solves so many issues.
Jim was a mathematics major in college and then a Ph.D. in philosophy, but he was not successful at the University of Portland nor happy at parish work. Teaching spirituality and prayer life were his God-given gifts. If you wanted advice, here was a compassionate wise man. He took care of the financial accounts at the novitiate, and we would smile when he opened his office — a chair and a table at the head of the stairs on the second floor. The adding-machine tape fell all the way to the first floor where it curled up as he cranked out a quarterly report.
One Christmas when we were feeling sorry for ourselves far from home, Jim suggested we bring the homeless to Cascade. He had noticed homeless folks at the bus station nearby, and there he went and brought them to us. We forgot that beer and wine at supper might be a problem, so at the last minute we did without.
Jim had heart, and my favorite mental snapshot of him was his return from a long walk. No one could keep up with Jim (except Fr. Clementich, a dedicated climber as well) so he often walked alone. Our little dog wanted to follow Jim, this one day he let her, and he came home much later carrying the dog in his arms. Exhausted, the dog had laid down on the trail and would not rise. The lost lamb parable was never so clear to me.
He knew something of the “dark night of the soul,” and he found relief in the conviction that God’s love was unconditional. Even if we might be ugly in the eyes of our conscience (Jim was moved by the novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”) God’s love and mercy were a light never overcome in darkness. Jim liked to climb Pike’s Peak in the clear moonlight, and he would be back at our table at breakfast. One day he did not return. No one had any idea what direction he had taken, and it was many anxious days before his body was found. He had died instantly in a fall from a far distant mountain. If we all must die, I know Jim would have wanted to die with his boots on, and he would have said one was close to God on the mountain top.