According to Fr. Zoy Garibay, OFM Cap., the rector of St. Lawrence Seminary High School (SLS), the shutdown of the school in 2020 due to the pandemic brought out the best in many people.
One of those was Virginia (Ginny) Schmitz, who has served as administrative assistant to three rectors at the school for the past 27 years.
With limited staff at the school during the shutdown, Schmitz came in every day to help with whatever was needed.
“She goes above and beyond the call of duty, often putting the needs of others before her own,” Fr. Garibay said. “That is the kind of person Ginny is. She is a person with a big heart and generous spirit. Her strong work ethic, cheery disposition and care for the students and her colleagues shine through her work every single day.”
Schmitz recalls that time and said her role didn’t change too much, but she took more phone calls, passed along more messages and did whatever they asked her to do.
“The workload from Fr. Zoy and Mr. Bartel increased some. On the other hand, there were not the interruptions of the regular school day to handle either,” Schmitz said. “I did miss the sounds of the students in the hallway outside my office. The quiet at times was deafening, and I longed for the students to be able to return.”
Many of the St. Lawrence staff worked from home while keeping their departments functioning and the teachers taught online from home.
“It was not an easy time, but through the hard work of all the SLS staff, I think we made it and did a pretty good job,” she said.
With so many students coming and going in the rector’s office each day, Schmitz gets to know each of the boys well by the end of the year. Fr. Garibay said she is a mother figure to the students.
Schmitz said she holds a special place in her heart for all the young men who have come through the doors of SLS. Some ask her advice for personal issues. She offers suggestions without preaching and tries to point them in the right direction, which sometimes leads them to speak with another staff member.
“When you leave home as a young teenager, a smile, a warm greeting and a little kindness goes a long way to help students adjust to being away from home. Not to play favorites, I tell them all they are special to me, but I do have to say the young men who have worked in my office might be just a notch above some of the others,” she said. “My office workers will probably remember me for baking cookies, just one of their perks for the hours spent as an information office worker.”
Working at an all-boys boarding school is a unique experience, and Schmitz said she has always felt welcome and valued as part of the staff.
“Over the years, I have met so many wonderful parents I admire for allowing their son or sons to attend our school. Parents entrust us with their sons, and anything I can do to help, I am glad to do,” she said. “When you work somewhere as long as I have, you meet so many wonderful people along the way. Not only are they co-workers, but they have become friends. We support each other in so many ways. Staff and students pray for each other’s needs. The Capuchins’ charism makes me want to be a better person and to help where I can.”
One way the staff supported Schmitz was when her husband, Dave, was diagnosed with leukemia. He was sick for a year and a half before he died in August 2017.
“During that time, so many here reached out to me in prayer, concern, helping me with my work when I needed to be away and (offered) support in other ways through some difficult times,” she said. “I cannot say enough about the Capuchins, who were so generous and supportive and made it possible for me to be with Dave as he fought the disease. It was at a time like that I realized how blessed I was to work for the Capuchins, and that God had brought me to this place for a reason.”
Fr. Garibay said he is grateful to Schmitz for her hard work, patience, understanding and support.
“She helped me navigate through the challenges of my job during my first year as rector,” Fr. Garibay said. “She is a major part of my success. Without a doubt, Ginny is one of the unsung heroes of Saint Lawrence Seminary.”