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 presidents 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 wont.
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
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
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 wouldnt 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,
youre right, but ...
In fact, John attended our sixth annual
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 Im not. He certainly had a way of finding humor in
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. Peters 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.
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 19:1116 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 riders 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 62:26 and 89 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 2:813: 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 6:5158
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 staffers 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,
Dr. Carroll, who gave the eulogy at Johns 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
youre out of Schmitz, youre 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.