His name was David Schroeder, but those who knew him affectionately and respectfully referred to him as “Doc.”
Schroeder, who worked as professor of New Testament and philosophy at Canadian Mennonite Bible College (CMBC), one of the predecessor institutions of Canadian Mennonite University (CMU), died peacefully at his home in his 92nd year.
A theologian and churchman with a doctor of theology degree from the University of Hamburg, Germany, Schroeder taught at CMBC from 1959 until 1994.
Harry Huebner, professor emeritus of philosophy and theology, remembers Schroeder as a beloved teacher and inspiring mentor to many students. His gifts extended to his colleagues and to the shaping of CMBC.
“He refused to give simple answers to difficult problems because he believed in the capacity of people to hear the voice of the Spirit,” Huebner says. “His charisma was infectious and his influence cannot easily be overstated.”
That influence stretches far beyond CMU.
“Churches across the Mennonite world sought not only his biblical knowledge, but his wisdom in bringing issues of the times into interaction with the biblical narrative in ways that often resulted in that ‘a-ha’ moment,” Huebner says.
Schroeder was born in Altona, Man. As a young man, he was a conscientious objector. He felt so strongly about the matter that, rather than allowing his bishop to speak for him before the judge, Schroeder went to Winnipeg to face the judge himself.
Schroeder earned a bachelor of theology degree at Mennonite Brethren Bible College and became an ordained minister. Polio struck, derailing his career as a minister, but led to the opportunity for Schroeder to further his studies.
He earned a bachelor of arts degree from Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., in 1951, and a master of divinity degree from Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Ind., in 1956, before completing his doctorate in 1959.
Reflecting during a recent CMU event on his time spent studying under Schroeder in the 1970s, alumnus Larry Plenert remarked on how Schroeder inspired him to become a lawyer. “He was someone who all of us students at CMBC looked up to and thought highly of,” Plenert says.
A student once asked Schroeder if it was appropriate for Mennonites to be lawyers.
“Doc felt that the legal profession would benefit by lawyers that had integrity and had good, strong values, and although we came from this tradition of ‘Stillen im Lande’ [the quiet in the land], it was okay for a Mennonite student to become a lawyer,” says Plenert, who practised law in Abbotsford, B.C., for 27 years. “That was tremendous encouragement for me.”
CMU president Cheryl Pauls notes that Schroeder leaves a legacy as a beloved teacher to many students. “He was known for his gentle nature, student mentoring, and visionary, creative capacity to take complex questions forward in the classroom and the church,” Pauls says.
Gerald Gerbrandt, president emeritus and professor emeritus of Bible at CMU, says that Schroeder was a gentle yet passionate teacher with a fertile imagination and an ability to connect with anyone. “Dave had a special capacity to relate with integrity to a broad range of people, whether renowned biblical scholar or devout layperson, whether non-Christian or conservative Mennonite,” Gerbrandt says. “In each case, he could develop a genuine relationship built on respect and trust.”
Upon Schroeder’s retirement from full-time teaching in 1989, CMBC held an academic symposium in his honour.
Speaking at the event, Rodney Sawatsky, a former student of Schroeder’s and then-president of Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo, Ont., remarked that churches sought Schroeder out not because of what he said, but because of who he was as a person. “He is heard because he does not so much negate or scold or imply his intellectual or spiritual superiority, but rather he adds to, builds bridges, surprises, encourages, and assures,” Sawatsky said. “He breathes new life, new faith, new hope and new love.”
“His master teacher is Jesus the Christ, the Word made flesh,” Sawatsky added. “We honour Dave best when we, too, as teachers of the church, look to Jesus as our master teacher, when our words, too, become flesh in and through us. Then and only then will we have been true students of Dave Schroeder. Then and only then will we be servants of the church as Dave has modelled so powerfully for us!”
Schroeder’s passion for peace and justice, the global church and the Mennonite church were equalled by his passion for his family. He lived in a four-generational house for more than 50 years.
He is survived by the love of his life, Mildred (Bartel), to whom he was married for 66 years; three children: Dorothy (Don) Sugimoto, Lynette (Ernie) Wiebe and Alan (Ruth) Schroeder; eight grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.
See a personal tribute here.