On the streets of Toledo or Hebron, Sister Paulette Schroeder focuses on caring for her brothers and sisters

By Nicole Walby, Staff Writer 

nwalby@advertiser-tribune.com

 

Being one of 13 children living on a farm, a local activist learned the importance of discipline, hard work and standing up for those who don’t have a voice.

Sister Paulette Schroeder of the Sisters of St. Francis grew up near Cleveland on a farm in Putnam County.

Schroeder worked hard as a child on the farm in the fields. There, she lived in an enclosed society not really exposed to those of diverse backgrounds.

“As a child, the farthest I ever got was to Columbus to visit my brother in the seminary,” Schroeder said.

“We were not rich, with 13 children,” Schroeder said. “My father would make just enough to keep us going. We were not poor, but we didn’t buy anything we didn’t need.”

Schroeder spent a lot of time out in the fields and garden.

“I learned discipline and my family was strict, but we would get the job done,” she said.

They spent time together going to church and in family prayer. Schroeder remembers making a lot of homemade ice cream with fresh strawberries and playing baseball in the yard.

“We had a strong allegiance to each other,” Schroeder said. “I learned we did not need so much to live. We would get a piece of clothing and a toy and it was fine. It taught us to use our imaginations.”

One of Schroeder’s favorite things to do as a child was run away and hide in the woods to read. At the time, she had dreams of becoming a missionary after reading many books her mother would leave around the house.

“I felt so bad for other children who didn’t have enough food,” she said.

It was then, following the eighth grade, Schroeder decided her path was with God.

“At the time, I was scared. I didn’t know much about it,” she said. “I prayed and thought a lot about it. It was a huge decision and God spoke to me saying, ‘Now, Paulette, you know you want to be for all people.”

High school was much the same for Schroeder; with being part of a strict German family, she learned discipline. Schroeder went to St. Francis College, where she met African-Americans for the first time.

“It was a breakthrough, really,” Schroeder said. “I was able to get to know more and more folks with diverse backgrounds. Now it is within me.

“Every person is my brother and sister,” she said. “I sincerely believe in my faith that everyone is a reflection of Jesus. We are part of a huge diamond, with tons of facets. Everyone has something to share. No one is big enough.”

While in college, Schroeder majored in English and, at the age of 21, began teaching in local schools such as Bryan, Carey, Bucyrus and New Washington.

After years of teaching, Schroeder requested to live with people who are poor on the streets in inner-city Toledo. Schroeder took a non-skilled job as a dishwasher and aide, and when she wasn’t working, would walk the streets with the poor.

“I was unprepared for that, too, but I worked hard and got to meet people who lived in violent neighborhoods,” she said. “This was the first time I had met someone who was a prostitute. I took a lot of risk. I would have made my mom and dad go nuts with what I was risking.”

While living on the streets, she would look in the gutters for food.

“There were places that would provide food, but I didn’t want to live with security,” she said. “Working in a nursing home, I would lock myself in an elevator to have my meal.”

During this time, Schroeder would learn “the beautiful gift of caring for people who are old and sick.”

“With the culture, they showed so much disrespect to those who are old. I learned to never apologize for aging,” she said. “Every day is a blessing. A gift from God. Working with these people, I realized they were once like me and I would be like them, if I’m lucky.”

Following her time on the streets, she went back to teaching at Central Catholic Schools and discovered social justice as her passion.

“I wanted to teach my students there is more bigger than the classroom,” she said. “It is not the end if they didn’t get an ‘A’ .”

Schroeder had the students participate in walks for the poor, work in soup kitchens and travel to Washington, D.C., for the Walk for Life in January.

“This life has always been a part of me, with the missionary books my mother would leave around the house,” Schroeder said. “I made it a point to speak for those who did not have it as good as I, for those who do not have a voice in the world.”

Following a year sabbatical in Berkeley, she again decided to live among the poor, this time in Indianapolis.

“My job description was to be a presence in the neighborhoods,” Schroeder said. “I felt so at home by being a part of these neighborhoods. It is where I felt a niche.”

On the streets, Schroeder would learn about diseases and identifying your own arrogance and how those people came from all types of backgrounds.

“The streets were my university,” she said. “It was a growing up year for me. It would then be only my fault if I did not live my life fully.”

Schroeder has worked with people homeless on the streets, people with mental disabilities, people with physical handicaps and prisoners.

Schroeder decided to come back to the Spirituality Center and be closer to her parents, who were growing older. It was then she had a chance to travel to Palestine, in 2005, to be a part of the social justice efforts there.

Schroeder said she was drawn to Palestine because St. Francis himself had visited there in the Middle Ages to help stop the Crusades.

“I had met a person involved in a Christian Peacemaking Team and they spoke about the work being done there, and it made me very inquisitive,” she said. “I felt at the time I hadn’t risked much in life. I felt too safe, too comfortable, while so many people were suffering all over the world.”

“I didn’t participate in a permanent tour then due to my mother being sick,” she said. “It was in 2008 when I stayed there permanently for three years.”

The visit would tear Schroeder “inside out.”

“I made a promise to myself and the people of Palestine that till the day I die or they are free, I would lift their voice,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder said the first two years were the hardest.

“I was scared,” she said. “The people were violent and I was called every name in the book and was threatened.”

Every three months, Schroeder would go between Palestine and the United States doing advocacy work and also learning Arabic. There, Schroeder also learned about the culture and hospitality of the people.

“It was very enlightening. How much simple living can mean to the farmers there. How much the rain means to them and just having the basic mental needs,” she said.

“It was then it became clear to me where the real problem was. I decided to come back to the United States permanently to start tackling the real source of the problem,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder began writing and educating those who were not exposed to the truth by giving talks.

Project Peace soon came to fruition to help in abolishing war.

“I know it is unrealistic, but none of the bigger movements went from thought to action over night. They took years to accomplish,” she said. “War is not of God and it was my passion to pore myself on behalf of the Palestinians and reduce or change our culture into a culture dedicated to peace-making.”

Schroeder also helped develop a peace club at Tiffin Middle School.

“It starts with children,” she said. “We want children to grow up with a different set of attitudes about war making and violence.”

It is Schroeder’s hope to add to the city of Tiffin’s signs, promoting not only being the education community, but a peace-making community, as well.

Through her travels, Schroeder said, it helped to continue to learn from the people of the county and appreciate the people of Tiffin, people of all diversity and faiths and cultures.

Now, she works on bringing the problems in Palestine closer to Tiffin by providing a greater amount of exposure to information, participating in talks and seminars and health fairs.

“I hope to just keep finding different ways to impact peace making,” she said.

 

For more information on Project Peace contact Sr. Paulette Schroeder at 419.447.0435 ext. 136

Email: pauletteosf@hotmail.com

Follow us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/ProjectPeaceTiffin

Check our website: www.projectpeacetiffin.com

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