John Schuerman believes he is responsible for his nephew, Bishop James Schuerman becoming a priest and for his appointment to auxiliary bishop of the Milwaukee Archdiocese.
“I am his godfather after all, and I should really get some mileage out of that; and of course, I brought him through this all by myself,” he said laughing. “He will make a great bishop and do well as he is such a good listener and a very kind guy.
John and his wife, Marlys’ four boys grew up near his brother, Robert and Elizabeth’s three boys, Robert, James and David. All helped on the family farm in Lyons where the children worked before and after school to keep the dairy farm operating.
“There were seven boys floating around here all the time,” said John. “Fortunately, everyone got along well and there were never hard feelings about anything.”
The couple learned of their nephew’s appointment after seeing a ticker flash across the television screen one day. While they were surprised, both agree that he will be well suited for and accepted as a bishop.
“We are very proud of him and will be going to his ordination,” said Marlys. “He was a serious little boy but always a good kid and will do very well.”
Virginia Kalaveshi, Bishop Schuerman’s older sister remembers her younger brother’s extraordinary patience while growing up, especially when it pertained to lengthy car trips in the family sedan.
“There were five of us kids and James always stood on the hump by the back seat; that was always his place—and of course, that was before seatbelts. From the time that we got in the car until we reached our destination, he would stand so he could see and would do it for the 100 miles it would take to get to our mother’s relatives in Illinois,” she said. “We took a 900-mile car trip to Virginia once and he stood nearly the entire time then too, just taking everything in. I think his patience and taking everything in will serve him well as a bishop.”
Just two years younger than he, Bishop Schuerman’s sister, Theresa Leemkuil is his closest sibling, which translated, means that each competed in various ways for their mother’s attention.
“I think I might be the only person who can say they punched a bishop in the stomach,” laughed Leemkuil. “I don’t remember what it was about, but we were always fighting about something.”
Working on the farm
She remembers her brother working on the farm before school, attending school all day and coming home to work again.
“Jim set up a study area in the basement and after he finished milking, he would study there. He was always quiet and very serious, but a great student. He could read before he started school at St. Joseph’s in Lyons,” said Leemkuil. “We called him the little professor because he liked to study so much.”
Devout Catholics, the Schuerman family never missed Mass or holy days, explained Leemkuil. Their mother, Elizabeth, did not drive so their lives revolved around school, the farm and church.
“Jim was an altar boy and I remember him playing Mass. It was something we all did back then. I used to put my poncho on my head so I could be a nun,” said Leemkuil. “He didn’t say anything about wanting to be a priest until he was in high school, but I didn’t know until the summer before he went that he was going to go to St. Francis de Sales Seminary.”
Leemkuil, her sister Virginia, and brothers Robert and David, all learned of their brother’s appointment through a text message the morning the news became public.
“He said that he had gotten a phone call from Rome a week before, but was told not to tell anyone about the appointment until they made it public,” she said. “I am really happy for him. He is a great guy and likes being a parish priest. This will be a big change for him, but he had a lot of experience from his time in Innsbruck, Austria, and at St. Anthony’s and when he was in the Dominican Republic. I know he will do well.”
Former classmate, Linda (Strohm) Skiles attended grade school with Bishop Schuerman and remembers the small class sizes. By sixth grade, the class included just 12 boys and two girls.
“Throughout our years together, we had three lay teachers and two nuns,” she said. “Our first and second grade teacher, Mrs. Warren, whom we loved, left teaching when they adopted their daughter, Maria. We threw a baby shower for her in class. Mrs. Trotta was our third-grade teacher; Sr. Mariella was our fourth-grade and Sr. Patricia, later called Sr. Armella, was our fifth-grade and Mrs. Spear was our sixth-grade teacher.”
Dancing the Virginia Reel
Recess served as physical education class. Students were taught reading, writing, arithmetic, art and music. Skiles remembers dancing the Virginia Reel in music class with her classmates.
“Can you believe we were doing this with the auxiliary bishop?” she said. “Or, making full-size replicas of ourselves out of paper to sit in our desk for open house? Had we known then what we know now, we should have added a mitre and staff at Fr. Jim’s desk.”
About 25 years ago, Skiles was teaching religious education at St. Joseph’s when the then Fr. Jim was serving as pastor of St. Anthony Parish.
“At Christmastime, I was able to coordinate a field trip with Fr. Jim so that our students could not only bring gifts to those less fortunate, but also to go into their homes and see the poverty type conditions they were living in. It was an eye-opening experience for all of the children that went,” she said. “Over the years, when Fr. Jim would return home to Lyons for a visit, we would often chat about our old school days and it was always a pleasant visit. I recently saw Fr. Jim upon the announcement of his new appointment. I gave him a hug, congratulated him and we both had to chuckle. Simultaneously, we both said, ‘Did you ever think you would have gone to school with an auxiliary bishop?’”
St. Joseph Grade School classmate, Bernie Ehlen remembers Bishop Schuerman as one of the brightest students in the class.
“He studied a lot. We went to CCD together too,” he said. “We grew up on the farm together as I helped out too. There wasn’t a lot of time for socializing as the farm was big and we had a lot to do, but he was always a great kid.”
Joe Vogt became close with Bishop Sherman during many years of riding the bus to and from school together and throughout the years he helped on the family’s farm.
“We were both quiet kids, but we did enjoy a game of basketball during downtimes on the farm. We played pretty competitive basketball, which was more like a football game because it was so hands on,” he said, laughing. “Jim was never mad, well, unless he was playing basketball and then he could get a little irritated.”
Even in high school, four of the St. Joseph Grade School boys, Vogt, Bishop Schuerman, Dan White and Steve Leffelmen remained close.
“We hung around together all the time,” said Vogt. “We didn’t party or anything, but we all worked for Bob and John Schuerman on the farm and got to know Jim really well during that time. We worked hard making hay and of course, playing basketball and we got to know the whole family during that time—they are a great family, all very close to God.”
As his best friend was on the shy side, Vogt never expected him to become a priest, let alone a bishop.
“It was the perfect job for him though as he was always looking out for other people,” he said. “I am very happy that he was named auxiliary bishop and I think he will be a good bishop. After all, he is a great priest and we have gone to Mass quite often at St. Francis de Sales. I think he will be happy to be a bishop, but I do wonder his thoughts on it and whether he ever dreamed of this happening.”
‘Kid Version’ saying mass
When Bishop Jeff Haines was a young boy, he’d dress in handmade vestments that his aunt had altered and handed out old missalettes that he took from Holy Apostles Parish. He’d take flattened pieces of bread, or a bag of oyster crackers and place them in a crystal glass for a ciborium, and force his siblings and parents to sit for “Mass,” while convincing his younger brother, Rick to be his altar server.
“He would frequently get angered when he found that at communion time, I had eaten all of the oyster crackers,” said Rick. “I would typically tell him that if he shortened his homilies, I wouldn’t be so bored that I needed a snack. To this day, I tell him the same thing.”
While most young children would sing, put on plays or dance for their parents, young Jeff preferred to say Mass. According to Rick, he was just a “kid version” of the man everyone sees today.
“He was always smart, always a hard worker, always positive, always more interested in inclusion rather than division, always strong in his faith, always humble and always there,” explained Rick. “These traits were abundantly obvious and in retrospect, translate well to his vocation. When Jeff got to college age, he really began serious consideration to the priesthood. I don’t think any family member was surprised.”
The eldest of the Haines children was John. Jeff arrived 10 months later and Rick 20 months after that. When Anne arrived three years later, their father, Jim, reportedly said to his wife, Maureen, “Mo, you messed up my infield.” Rick and Jeff were the closest of the four siblings, most likely because they shared a bedroom for more than 20 years.
“As I look back, we were as much friends as we were brothers. There were some squabbles, but no more than any other family,” Rick explained. “My father was old school. If any of us boys took issue with another, Dad would take us down into the basement and put the boxing gloves on us. We’d flail around for a while and I really don’t remember any of us getting the better of the other, but I do remember shaking hands when it was over. I remember that the squabbles always disappeared. Maybe my dad was a genius. Maybe boys are just weird. Maybe both.”
One of the more poignant memories for John was the time Jeff woke him to raid the medicine cabinet. The boys, ages 4 and 3, ate everything, including the Ex-Lax, which resembled small chocolate bars to them.
“We were kind enough to only give our little brother Rick, still in his crib, orange flavored baby aspirin,” he said. “We had to have our stomachs pumped. Brothers sharing in their first exorcism of sorts. I was miserable.”
Because the name Jeff was too “longwinded and burdensome” for his brothers to say, they nicknamed him “J.” According to John, “J” was a talented second basemen who outshined most ball players.
“No Little Leaguer, ever before or ever after, could lay down a left-handed drag bunt like Jeff,” he said. “No one could do it better. Our whole family is about love and respect and I admire him for all he is and will be, he admires me for not turning out worse.”
In addition to regularly celebrating Mass in the family living room, Bishop Jeff could memorize bible stories in detail at a young age. He also began becoming prematurely grey in the fifth grade.
A real competitor
“As humble and servant leader-like that he is, my brother is a competitor,” said John. “He will simply do what it takes. When he was in the seminary, he ran the Lakefront marathon. Down the stretch, he and another runner found themselves separated from the packs in front and back. The guy chasing Jeff was a physical specimen, picture Terrell Owens, and he was talking to my bro, ‘I’m coming man. I’m coming.’ Jeff didn’t say anything, didn’t look back or slow down and the guy caught him. Jeff kicked it into gear and broke the spirit of TO by holding him off. Never changed expressions, just finished strong and walked it off past the finish line and TO doubled over. Jeff finished in 3 hours and 13 minutes.”
Anne remembers her brother Jeff looking out for her, making sure she crossed the street safely and kept her from drowning in the lake or the pool.
“He virtually threw my six-year-old birthday party and even ran a little baseball league in the backyard for me because I felt sad that I was not allowed to play hardball in the Little League like the boys,” she said. “He was also very helpful to my parents and would orchestrate house clean-ups when my parents would go out. We would tie towels around our shoulders and become ‘Super Good Deeders’ running around the house cleaning up the house to surprise my parents.”
One of Anne’s favorite memories was looking at saint books with Jeff and learning to pray at his encouragement.
“He always made me feel, no matter what, that I could do great things for God in spite of myself,” she said. “He participated in school Masses at Holy Apostles, our grade school in New Berlin. He also never had a materialistic bone in his body. He gave and still gives everything away.”
Always close knit, the entire family often attends Mass together at the Cathedral and go for breakfast at Mykonos restaurant afterwards.
“My dad and mom always prayed with us and we ended each night with our family prayer, ‘God bless our team, we stick together,’ and we have. This has remained true through the ups and downs of all our lives and we could not be more blessed,” said Anne.
Of course, no family would be complete without a few embarrassing moments and a little teasing and the Haines children were no different. The entire family were Neil Diamond fans, and one day, Jeff and Rick convinced 6-year-old Anne to sing “Brother Loves Traveling Show,” on a radio call-in show.
“They warned me not to listen to the DJ as it would distract me,” she said. “I was singing away and all of a sudden, they burst into the room laughing so hard they were crying. The DJ had found my singing so unpalatable that he had hung up on me and I didn’t even know it. I was singing away to dead airspace. The DJ remarked ‘ambition yes … talent, I don’t know.’ Through the laughter, Jeff assured me I had talent — then he went to confession.”
Living at the Milwaukee Catholic Home, Jim and Maureen are accustomed to their son, Jeff coming by on Sunday nights to check up on them and take care of things around their apartment.
“We had gotten a call that night and he told us to sit down and proceeded to tell us of the call from the Vatican,” said Maureen. “The first thing we said was that we were so proud of him. He always worked hard his whole life.”
Jim and Maureen had an inkling of their son’s future as a priest because of the many “Masses” they endured when he was a boy.
“It kind of died down a little when he got older but he was always a faithful Catholic,” said Jim. “He went to UW-Oshkosh for two years as he was thinking of journalism, but he took a theology class each semester. About mid junior year, he began talking about the priesthood and went to Marquette. He saw a sign that said the Archbishop of Milwaukee wants you and it had a photo of the seminarians. That got him to thinking about going to the seminary and that was it.”
Jim Kneiszel and Bishop Haines met on the first day of their freshman year at New Berlin High School and became fast friends. They shared similar interests in sports and writing for the school paper. They roomed together at UW-Oshkosh for two years.
“I was honored to be present when he was ordained in 1985 and I have been praying regularly for him since Pope Francis announced he would become bishop,” said Kneiszel. “Jeff and his entire family were special to me in those formative high school years. My parents never had to worry about me getting into trouble when I was with Jeff or his parents, Jim and Mo. They exemplified a close-knit family who all got along and showed their love for each other every day. They welcomed me into their home and I was there a lot. To this day, every time I see Mo, she says she’ll have the popcorn ready for me when I come to visit. There was always a lot of good-natured ribbing in the household and the love of sports was always in the forefront.”
According to Kneiszel, at one point, the three Haines boys played baseball for the New Berlin High School team at the same time.
“Jeff played second base and was quick and rangy and showed sound fundamental skills, but he would be the first to tell you he was not the star player, his brothers were,” he said. “While I didn’t have the athletic ability, I covered their games for the local weekly newspaper. A bit of Milwaukee baseball trivia is that Jeff’s sister, Anne, served as Bonnie Brewer for the Milwaukee Brewers, on the field every game at County Stadium, sweeping off the bases for the players. “
‘Old Guy” Haines
Because Bishop Haines became prematurely gray, many thought he was older than he was, leading to the nickname he gave himself, “Old Guy.”
“And his family always called me, ‘Large,’ because I had a big appetite,” said Kneiszel. “Jeff would officiate the eating contests between his brother, Rick and I, where we could see who could eat the most pizza or hot dogs.”
For 45 years, Kneiszel and Bishop Haines have remained close friends, celebrating marriages, baptisms and serving as his son, Wilson’s godfather.
“What an awesome role model he has been for his godson, who gets to see Jeff’s unswerving devotion to serving Jesus Christ and his community,” he said. “Jeff has shared in my difficult times a well, attending the funerals of both my parents and offering hugs to everyone and a positive message of salvation even at those darkest hours.”
Though Kneiszel was surprised to hear the news of his friend’s appointment to bishop, it makes sense because he said Bishop Haines’ priestly mindset correlates well with Pope Francis’ emphasis on the importance of front line pastoral work.
“I think his selection perfectly reflects Pope Francis’ call for humble servants to lead the Church,” said Kneiszel. “I am elated for my friend who clearly had no expectations of an elevation of this kind. He was overjoyed to be doing God’s work at St. John’s Cathedral and helping believers in his church community and the less fortunate who live in downtown Milwaukee. I can tell he has a special concern and care for the homeless, the mentally ill and the poor who frequent the Open Door Café.”