Long before presiding over St. Paul's St. Agnes parish for more than three decades, Monsignor Richard Joseph Schuler harbored a devotion to two things: God and song.
The two were as one to him, friends and family members said. Over time, he founded one choir and directed a second. He traveled to Rome to study music. As a young man, he taught himself the fundamentals of music so well that he tested at the baccalaureate level without ever taking a class.
Schuler, 86, died Friday morning in Brooklyn Center's North Memorial Hospice of complications from a series of strokes.
The Rev. Richard Hogan, Schuler's nephew, remembers the monsignor's soft-spoken homilies at St. Agnes, where Schuler served as pastor from 1969 to 2001, as anything but fiery.
"He would make two or three points and conclude; it was very organized, logical development," Hogan said. "It wasn't emotional, or even devotional. It was more ... ideas. You could even call it factual, with occasional, absolute brilliance."
"Very soft-spoken, clear, well-organized - and very well researched," Richard Pates, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, said of the homilies.
Schuler's focus on music was equally meticulous.
"His talent, it was God-given," Hogan said. "While directing, he could pick out a wrong note and tell you who played it or sang it. He had perfect pitch. If he intended to sing in A flat, he sang in A flat, without a pitch pipe or anything."
"I think the best explanation is he just enjoyed beauty, as a reflection of God," Hogan said.
Hogan remembers walking along the Danube River, in Austria, with his uncle right before Schuler took the job at St. Agnes.
"He was very much looking forward to it," Hogan said. "He was a bit tired of teaching. He wanted to preach and be a pastor and take care of people's spiritual needs."
Schuler also liked the baroque-style church's traditional leaning, Hogan added.
"He had very strong convictions about the traditional life of the church," Pates said.
Born in Minneapolis, Schuler attended DeLaSalle High School before going to the then-College of St. Thomas to major in English. As a young man, he played piano and organ for area weddings and funerals.
He attended St. Paul Seminary before being ordained in 1945 at the Cathedral of St. Paul.
He first taught religion - as well as Gregorian chants - at Nazareth Hall seminary in Arden Hills and then taught at the College of St. Thomas from 1955 until 1969.
While teaching, Schuler furthered his musical education on the side. After repeated summers of study, he received a master's degree in music theory from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, N.Y., bypassing bachelor-level study by way of his talent. In 1954, he studied music history at Roman University and the Institute of Church Music in Rome on a Fulbright grant. He received a doctorate in music history from the University of Minnesota in 1963.
One of his greatest joys was founding the 60-member Twin Cities Catholic Chorale in 1956, which practiced at St. Thomas before making regular appearances at St. Agnes. The choir leaned toward classical Viennese composers, such as Mozart, Haydn, Schubert and Beethoven.
"He kept the music alive and well at St. Agnes. It continues to this day," said the Rev. John Ubel, the church's current pastor.
Schuler is survived by his sister, Jeanne Hogan, of Robbinsdale, four nephews and one niece.
Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Monday at St. Agnes, where a funeral Mass will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday. [PioneerPress]