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Publisher’s Note:
Out of Gear without Schmitz

(Expanded from SOBRANS, March 2001, page 2)

In 1972 I helped to arrange a speech by Congressman John G. Schmitz in my hometown of Chicago for the Illinois Young Americans for Freedom. The 42-year old lame-duck Congressman had annoyed the Republican Party in Orange County, California, home of Richard Nixon, by his staunch, unwavering conservatism, and Nixon himself wanted him out of the Congress. One remark of the anti-Communist Schmitz particularly caused the ire of the chief executive: “I do not object to the president’s trip to China. I only object to the return trip.”

John, who had introduced a Human Life Amendment in June of that year (seven months before the infamous Roe v. Wade decision), had just declared his candidacy for president on the American Independent Party ticket. His presidential campaign platform had three planks: (1) in foreign affairs, America should always treat its friends better than its enemies; (2) never go to war unless you plan on winning; and (3) those who work ought to live better than those who won’t. His speech to our YAF convention was very inspiring, and as a result, I cast my first presidential vote for him. He received more than a million votes in 32 states, one of the largest for a minor party candidate.

John Schmitz died in January at the age of 70. While he had had prostate cancer for eleven years, it had been in remission most of the time and he looked and felt healthy up until the last few weeks of his life when the cancer returned and spread uncontrollably.

Without ever asking him, I knew why he felt Joe Sobran to be a kindred spirit. John was pushed out of the Republican Party and out of even some conservative circles for being too conservative — and for telling the truth.

He subscribed to SOBRANS when the newsletter began and became a Charter Subscriber (our term for benefactor). His sparkling personality lit up our annual events. At our third SOBRANS celebration in 1997, he had the audience in stitches with his witty remarks. He said that when he was in Congress, he was called all sorts of names. “Ultraconservative was the kindest,” he said. “It kind of averaged out to fascist pig.”

Fr. Ronald Tacelli, S.J., of Boston College gave the opening prayer that year. John said to Fr. Tacelli, “I had ten years of Jesuit education, but I returned to the Church. Quite frankly, Father, there is nothing wrong with the Jesuits that a good Inquisition wouldn’t cure.”

He related that when he was running for the U.S. Senate, he called himself a rightist. “There are right tackles, right corners, right ends, and even right wings in hockey. My position on the team, and yours, Joe, is that of ‘right but.’ The way you play this position of right but is to speak the truth and say it like it is. Then all your friends come up to you and whisper in your ear, ‘Joe, you’re right, but ...’”

In fact, John attended our sixth annual SOBRANS anniversary celebration on November 18, 2000, even though his health was starting to decline and he had just gotten out of the hospital. On Christmas he was able to play Santa Claus for many of his 27 grandchildren. Shortly after Christmas, however, he and the family learned that his cancer had spread and that it was just a matter of time. His son Joe told of the somber scene in the hospital room when the doctor gave John the bad news. Joe asked his father if there was some phrase he might like on his tombstone. Without missing a beat, John replied in his legendary fashion: “I got a million votes for president and that was a lot; I used to be alive but now I’m not.” He certainly had a way of finding humor in every situation!

His daughter Teri Manion told me that shortly before he died she had picked up his mail and went to the hospital for a visit. When John found out that his copy of SOBRANS had just arrived, he insisted that she read it to him, cover-to-cover, while he injected comments the entire time.

But politics was not his only passion. He was also deeply religious — a devout Catholic who preferred the pre-Vatican II Mass in Latin. He was fortunate to have as his pastor Fr. Jerry Pokorsky of St. Peter’s Mission Church in Washington, Virginia (and a member of the executive committee of Adoremus). Father Pokorsky conferred the Last Rites of the Catholic Church to John a few weeks before he died and delivered a superb homily at the funeral. Mass.

The songs at the funeral were Dies irae, dies illa (“Day of wrath and doom impending”), Panis angelicus (“The Bread of Angels”), Agnus Dei (“Lamb of God”), and In Paradisum (“May flights of angels lead you on your way”) all sung beautifully in Latin.

The funeral scriptural readings, which John selected, were very inspiring. Revelation 19:11–16 describes “the destruction of the unbelievers” with beautiful imagery of a rider called “The Faithful and True” on a white horse with the armies of heaven on white horses riding behind him. The rider’s eyes are like “flames of fire” and we later learn that he is known by other names: “The Word of God,” “King of Kings,” and “Lord of Lords.”

Psalm 62:2–6 and 8–9 says, in part, “Only in God is my soul at rest.... He only is my rock and my salvation.... How long will you set upon a man and all together beat him down as though he were a sagging fence, a battered wall? Truly from my place on high they plan to dislodge me; they delight in lies. They bless with their mouths but inwardly they curse.... Pour out your hearts before him; God is our refuge.”

II Timothy 2:8–13: “I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the Word of God is not fettered.... You can depend on this: If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we hold out to the end, we shall also reign with him.”

The Gospel reading was from John 6:51–58 where Jesus says: “I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever ... and I will raise him up on the last day.”

Because he was a colonel and an aviator in the Marine reserves, John had a full-fledged military burial at Arlington Cemetery outside of Washington, D.C., complete with a 21-gun salute.

In 1966, John hired a staff member who professed himself to be a deist. By his example and encouragement, John helped to bring about the conversion of the brilliant young staffer to Catholicism (even serving as his godfather) and took him to Washington when he was elected to Congress. The staffer’s name was Warren Carroll, who later founded Christendom College and who has written a number of invaluable books on the Catholic faith and history. Thus John Schmitz was indirectly responsible for the founding of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia.

Dr. Carroll, who gave the eulogy at John’s funeral, said that his former boss was “a great and highly principled man,” whom he was “proud to have served.”

The family has a website, which includes his complete biographical sketch, photographs and other items.

One of my favorite Schmitz lines was his campaign slogan: “When you’re out of Schmitz, you’re out of gear.” SOBRANS and your friends will be permanently out of gear without you, John. Our prayers continue for the repose of your soul and the consolation of your family.

— Fran Griffin

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