The Rev. Walter J. Schmitz, a professor of theology who helped institute the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, died Thursday of heart failure at St. Martin's Home for the Aged in Catonsville. He was 87.
"This was a man who knew every ritual by heart, who studied [the practices] for years prior to the Council," said the Rev. Melvin C. Blanchette, his colleague at Catholic University in Washington for more than 20 years. Both were members of the Society of St. Sulpice order.
Father Blanchette praised Father Schmitz's dedication to the church, particularly during the controversial changes of the 1960s and 1970s, when Masses began to be celebrated in English instead of Latin, and priests faced the congregation, not the altar.
"He was a courageous, compassionate individual with a deep love for the Roman Catholic Church and for the Catholic tradition," Father Blanchette said.
Born and educated in Madison, Wis., he entered the Sulpician tTC Seminary in Washington in the early 1920s and was ordained in 1934 in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
In 1935, he joined the faculty of the Sulpician Seminary, where he also was treasurer for more than 30 years.
In 1950, he left the seminary job and became an instructor of liturgy at Catholic University, where he was promoted to assistant professor in 1953, associate professor in 1961 and ordinary professor in 1965.
In 1961 he was named dean of sacred theology, a position he held until 1970. He served as an acting dean from 1971 until his retirement in 1973.
After retiring, Father Schmitz was a professor emeritus and senior lecturer until 1986.
Father Schmitz held masters and doctoral degrees in theology from Catholic University.
He moved to St. Charles Villa, the Sulpician retirement community in Catonsville, in 1986.
A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. tomorrow in the chapel of St. Martin's Home for the Aged, 603 Maiden Choice Lane, Catonsville.
Survivors include a brother, Mark Schmitz of Los Angeles; and many nieces and nephews.
Memorial donations may be made to the Sulpician Retirement Fund, c/o the Sulpician Fathers Provincial Office, 5408 Roland Ave., Baltimore, 21210.