By Jay Nies
“Schonhoff” means “good luck” in German.
“Signum fidei,” motto of the De La Salle Brothers of the Christian Schools, means “sign of faith.”
For the past 50 years, Brother Steven Schonhoff has been both, especially to his students.
“He was born to teach!” said Father Stephen Jones, president of Helias Catholic High School in Jefferson City, where Bro. Steven has been instructing by word and example for 26 years.
“He does a tremendous job of imparting the faith,” said Fr. Jones. “He lives out the charism of the Christian Brothers.”
Bro. Steven traveled to Romeoville, Illinois, this summer to celebrate his 50th anniversary in religious life.
On Sunday, Sept. 10, members of St. Peter parish in Jefferson City, where he has been living in community with diocesan priests since 2008, will honor him during a street celebration on Broadway outside the church.
A Quincy, Illinois, native who was taught by members of the community often referred to as the Christian Brothers, Bro. Steven answered his own call to religious life and teaching in 1967.
After his novitiate in what is now Wildwood near Eureka, he served briefly in Kansas City, then in Tulsa, then in Memphis.
He joined the Helias Catholic High School faculty in 1991.
He brought with him a bachelor’s degree in theology and a master’s degree in English education.
That’ll be the day
In Jefferson City, Bro. Steven became the youngest member of a Christian Brothers community that had been educating students since the 1940s.
He hoped to serve with his friend and mentor, Brother Norbert Roseberry, who had been his novice master. Bro. Steven wound up arriving in Jefferson City the day of Brother Norbert’s Funeral Mass.
The last of the Christian Brothers serving in Jefferson City, Bro. Steven continues to teach and plans to do so until he retires.
When will that be?
“When I die,” he told a reporter for the Jefferson City News Tribune in 2015.
Bro. Steven takes teaching very seriously — almost as seriously as praying.
“Everyone I’ve come into contact with who has had Bro. Steven as a teacher has given him a significant amount of credit for forming them academically, especially regarding his teaching in English and in vocabulary,” said Fr. Jones.
The school’s president has heard from numerous people whom Bro. Steven has helped prepare not only for college but also for life.
“It’s a real testament to his teaching method, his rigor and his ability to convey knowledge,” said Fr. Jones.
Patricia Seifert has been teaching with Bro. Steven for many years at Helias Catholic. She marvels at how he encourages every student to put his or her God-given potential to the best use.
“Brother believes every student is a scholar,” she said.
He also goes to God on their behalf.
“Brother is devoted to his prayer life. I know that he attends Mass almost daily, and when he says he will pray for you — he means it!” she said.
“Without a doubt, I witness that he is a holy man serving God and lives what St. John Baptist de La Salle envisioned when he founded the Christian Brothers,” she added.
Bro. Steven has been known to set a statue of St. Jude Thaddeus on a student’s desk the day of a test.
Invoking the intercession of the popularly known patron saint of hopeless cases is much more than a play for laughs. He wants each student to be successful in this life and in the next, and he’s willing to put in the work and the prayer time it takes.
“He is an incredibly humble man, and he is incredibly devoted to prayer,” said Maureen Quinn, who sees Bro. Steven through the lens of a colleague and former student.
“I loved his sacraments class and am incredibly grateful for all he taught me about the Church, years ago,” said Mrs. Quinn, who is now the school’s campus minister.
She’s come to appreciate how diligent he is about taking people’s needs to prayer with him.
“I make it a priority to give him prayer intentions,” said Mrs. Quinn. “I write them down and know that he will pray for them diligently.”
Rules to live by
Bro. Steven’s teaching philosophy tends toward the traditional.
“He’s very structured and a strict disciplinarian in terms of being in control of the class,” noted Mark Rehagen, a long-time friend whose son, Andrew, had Bro. Steven for class.
“Punctuality, being on-time, ‘the assignment is due when I say, not two days later’ — if people follow his lead, they’ll not only be successful in his class, they’ll have a clear advantage in college and the workplace,” said Mr. Rehagen.
Paul Dooley, who had Bro. Steven for religion and then for English at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, agrees.
“We weren’t afraid of him, but we did respect him,” said Mr. Dooley. “He commands respect in the classroom, and I think his wearing of the religious habit helps a lot with that.”
The habit is an outward sign of Bro. Steven’s commitment to his religious life.
Inspired to become an educator by Bro. Steven’s example and that of several other Christian Brothers, Mr. Dooley taught English for 25 years and now teaches Latin at a Catholic school in Memphis.
He continues to be impressed by Bro. Steven’s knowledge of the material he teaches and his rapport with his students.
“He gets to know them very well and doesn’t give up on them,” said Mr. Dooley. “He is extremely dedicated to them.”
Bro. Steven still begins every class with a prayer, often with students’ help. It always ends with the words prescribed by St. John Baptist de La Salle, founder of the Christian Brothers: “Live Jesus in our hearts, forever.”
Mr. Dooley said the purpose of Catholic education is threefold.
“The main reason is for the honor and glory of God,” he said. “The second is to pass on the faith and enhance the spiritual life of the student. The third to give the students a good, solid, academic, liberal-arts education.”
He sees in Bro. Steven the embodiment of that purpose.
“He believes in it and lives it every day,” said Mr. Dooley. “It’s very edifying to see him continue to do that after all these years and love it as much as he does.”
Call to conversion
After years of teaching English and Theology at Helias, Bro. Steven asked two years ago to cut back on his workload. He still teaches four sections of theology and proctors several student free periods.
“He’s so well versed in everything and has a great theological mind,” Fr. Jones noted. “He is able to blend being an old-school kind of a teacher with one who is really able to meet our students where they are as far as imparting knowledge.”
Bro. Steven’s goal is for every student to leave his classes with deeper knowledge and insight into the belief that unites them with Christ and His Body, the Church.
“I want them to know more about the faith and more about themselves and also to realize that we’re always on a journey toward to the Lord, responding to His summons,” he told The Catholic Missourian in 2015.
That journey doesn’t end with high school or confirmation.
“It ends when you end!” he said.
Bro. Steven prays often for his students — specifically for God to give them “more faith and more commitment to it, given all the challenges of our materialistic, technological world … because it certainly is a challenge.”
He enjoys living with the priests in the St. Peter Rectory, mindful that Christian Brothers first came to Jefferson City to teach at the former St. Peter High School several years before Helias Catholic opened in 1956.
Among those priests and families of the Capital City, he revels in the Christian community that led him to pursue a religious vocation a half-century ago.
“This is my home,” he stated. “I hope to live out the rest of my life here.”