Long before he became the embodiment of the Cardinal Way, before he even donned a Cardinals uniform, Albert Fred “Red” Schoendienst learned to live in the Catholic Way in Germantown, Ill., about 40 miles east of downtown St. Louis.
Steeped in small-town family values, the Catholic way of living formed the bedrock upon which his ultimate successes — in baseball and beyond — were built.
As Mr. Schoendienst told the St. Louis Review a few years ago, he was “born Catholic and stayed Catholic.” Further, he enjoyed the company of Catholics, which isn’t surprising considering what he described as a great upbringing in Germantown.
“Growing up in Germantown was the start of his learning about family, loyalty, hard work and fun,” his daughter Colleen said in words of remembrance at the funeral Mass for Mr. Schoendienst June 15 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. “His family did not have much, but Dad always said, ‘We had everything.’ Dad had a deep passion for family and faith. … Fame never changed him.”
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson celebrated the Mass, which was attended by family, friends, Cardinals past and present, and fans of Cardinal Nation. Mr. Schoendienst died June 6. He was 95.
Life for Mr. Schoendienst, born in 1923, revolved around St. Boniface Parish, which takes up two full blocks in the heart of the farming community of about 1,250 souls at the corner of Clinton County Hwy. 7 and Illinois Hwy. 161 — four miles south of Breese.
Formed in 1838, the parish was the first in Clinton County, and the stone church was erected in 1854, with limestone quarried eight miles away. Generations have passed through its doors, walked the aisles and sat in the pews. They also have received the Eucharist at the Communion rail that remains inside the church, though now behind the last pew to greet people upon entry.
The parish’s sacramental registry tells the spiritual story of the Schoendienst clan — Mr. Schoendienst, a sister and five brothers born of Mary and Joseph Schoendienst. Baptism, first Communion and Confirmation are recorded, written by either Father John Van de Riet or by Father R.H. Eppmann.
According to Father Dennis Voss, among 12 St. Boniface parishioners who became priests, Mr. Schoendienst’s younger brothers Elmer and Joseph Jr. — the only surviving sibling — were good baseball players: Elmer, a pitcher and Joe, a shortstop. But neither attained the level of Mr. Schoendienst, who enjoyed a
19-year playing career mostly with the Cardinals and achieved success as their coach and manager.
While with the Milwaukee Braves in the late 1950s, Mr. Schoendienst contracted tuberculosis, prompting Mr. Schoendienst’s mom, Mary, to contact
then-seminarian Voss at Mundelein (Illinois) Seminary.
“His mom sent me a baseball card of Red and asked me to pray for him that he would get better,” said Father Voss, a priest in the Diocese of Belleville.
In addition to his formation in the faith, his mother Mary helped Mr. Schoendienst’s development as a baseball player. According to Colleen, his mom stitched together rags with sawdust on the inside for baseballs, while Mr. Schoendienst and his brothers wrapped twine around hickory limbs for bats. He played for the Germantown team, which Father Voss recalls watching play on “an actual cow pasture” when he was a boy in the early 1940s.
By the late ’40s, the games had graduated to the town’s new ballpark. Now called Schoendienst Park, it’s across the street from St. Boniface cemetery and two blocks from the church. Schoendienst, who debuted with the Cardinals in 1945, provided the star power for games in the late ’40s.
“There were no playoffs like today, so the season was over at the beginning of October,” Father Voss said. “Red brought Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, Chuck Diering, Howie Pollet. They played the Germantown town team. People were five or six deep around that ballpark. Our house was right next to it. I remember it very well.”
Schoendienst never strayed too far from his hometown. He spent 67 years with the Cardinals out of 76 years in baseball, went hunting and finishing in the Germantown area and continued practicing the Catholic faith. A parishioner at St. Anselm in Creve Coeur, he quietly lived the faith, without fanfare in the Catholic Way — never drawing attention to oneself while deflecting credit to others.
“Despite his incredible career and accomplishments, he stayed true to his Midwestern roots,” Cardinals chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. said in his remembrance at Mr. Schoendienst’s funeral Mass. “He was humble, loyal and always looked for positives in people and situations.”
Similar to DeWitt, Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon said Mr. Schoendienst “never forgot where he came from.” Shannon counted Schoendienst as a friend, was a former teammate and played for Mr. Schoendienst as a manager. “He always lived life as an example of the Golden Rule,” Shannon said. “He was true standard-bearer of ethical standards and principle, kindness, honesty, patience and … compassion.
“When something needed to be done, he did it the way you’re supposed to do it, whether in baseball or in life. He was one of the most moral people you will ever know … a fantastic gentleman.”
Likewise, daughter Colleen said “my Dad had a strong moral compass that drove him to do the right things in life.”
Later, Cardinals president John Mozeliak described Mr. Schoendienst as “just an extremely grounded human being. His foundation for strength, whether it was the Catholic Church or his family — from his parents and his siblings to his wife and children, they all became center stage for him. Red was a very, very big figure in the game of baseball, but he never allowed that to be his main focus.
“Red was much more than his career in baseball. He was a dad and a husband, and he took those responsibilities just as serious as he took baseball.”