Columbia priest spreads message of joy
Sometimes, there is nothing more refreshing than a smiling face.
Every Sunday, parishioners of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Columbia see just that in Father Carl Scherrer.
Bishop Wilton Gregory appointed “Father Carl,” as he is most commonly known, to Columbia in July 2003. However, his life in the Catholic church goes back much further.
Growing up in Shawneetown, Ill., Scherrer attended his first religion classes on Saturday mornings in first grade. He fondly remembers stopping by the drug store on his way home from Mass so he and his siblings could have ice cream.
Religion was always important in his family; his mother proved this when he was in eighth grade. Living more than three hours from St. Louis, Scherrer rarely had the opportunity to see the Cardinals play baseball. He thought his chance had finally come when a group of men were traveling to a game as part of Shawneetown’s 150th anniversary.
Unfortunately for the young man, his mother put her foot down when she realized he would have to miss religion class. Although he was disappointed at that time, Scherrer is now thankful his mother made the decision she did.
“Religion was a priority in our family,” he said with a soft laugh.
It was also his eighth grade year when Father Jack Stallings told him he would be a great priest. Greatly admiring Father Stallings, Scherrer was flattered and joined St. Henry’s Seminary in Belleville.
Life at the seminary was not easy at the beginning. Scherrer was the public-school-educated, country kid studying with students from the city who already had a Catholic school education. This led to a surprising amount of hazing, he said.
Scherrer overcame this challenge with some help from one of his pastimes: basketball.
“I started getting some respect and self-esteem. I have often told people if I didn’t play basketball, I may not have been able to be a priest,” he said.
His face became more serious as he leaned forward and said, “It definitely helped me in that indirect way. God writes straight with crooked lines.”
His education finally complete, Scherrer moved to Waterloo, where he would serve as a deacon at Ss. Peter & Paul Church from January to September 1973. At this time, he was able to pitch for the Valmeyer Lakers under the manager the Lakers still have today, Denny Pieper.
When his term as deacon came to an end, Scherrer became “Father Carl” on Sept. 15, 1973, during a special Mass at his home parish in Shawneetown. He would serve the next 30 years in several parishes — including Paderborn — before arriving in Columbia in 2003.
These past 30 years, and the changes in the church that came with them, taught Scherrer more than any seminary could.
“You learn more in your ministry than you do in school,” he said with a grin.
While discussing these changes, it was quite apparent Scherrer approved of Pope Francis’ new ideas.
“It’s really an exciting time for the Catholic Church,” he said. “I think he really exemplifies the spirit that we feel that the Vatican Council calls for putting the people first, especially those who have the least.”
One thing Scherrer admitted he didn’t learn in the seminary was how to guide a parish as they moved from their 1867 building on Columbia’s Main Street to a new sanctuary that could fill growing needs.
Today, his office is in the basement of their beautiful new church as they plan out an adjacent school building to be built within the next five years.
“The whole purpose of having a new building is to make us a better church,” Scherrer told the Republic-Times.
He explained how parishioners create the church while the building is merely a tool. The parish kept this true purpose in mind as they completed the sanctuary and now prepare to break ground on a new school.
Whenever he’s not officiating Mass or working on building plans, Scherrer loves to play tennis, watch Cardinals baseball and take walks. Each winter, he escapes to a warm weather destination to play tennis with friends. He tries to drive up to Cards games as much as possible. His love of baseball is quite apparent, as he keeps a personalized Louisville Slugger bat inside his office.
No matter what topic he discussed, the smile was never off Scherrer’s face for long.
When discussing Pope Francis, he pointed out one of the Pope’s writings that said, “We should be people of joy.”
Father added to this saying, “If we aren’t a happy people, then who is going to believe our message?”
He continued, “Living a simple life is joy. Joy is not a source of having more; it’s a source of being happy with what we have.”
It’s safe to say parishioners believe Father Carl’s messages of love as he lives with a smile.