By John Shaughnessy
INDIANAPOLIS (CNS) — While he continues to pursue his goal of visiting and photographing 100 churches, Max Schroeder always returns to one place when he needs to heal his heart and restore his soul.
He seeks that connection with God and Mary at the end of another night of capturing tragedies across central Indiana as a news photographer for an Indianapolis television station.
With the images of murders, fatal accidents and mourning families fresh in his thoughts, Schroeder, 23, drives to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Indianapolis knowing he will find a sense of peace and comfort there as he visits a shrine honoring Mary in front of the church.
“Sometimes you can’t get the bodies out of your head,” he said. “I started going to Holy Rosary after a double murder. A man and a woman had been shot to death.”
“I feel safe there,” he told The Criterion, archdiocesan newspaper of Indianapolis. “I feel a presence — that God is watching over me, that Our Lady is watching over me. I need a place to regroup. I sit there and contemplate as I look at the statue of Our Lady. I pray for the people whose lives have been taken suddenly, for their family and friends.”
“For me, being a strong Catholic, I need to do something positive because I’m surrounded by the negatives in my job,” he added.
Beyond his visits to Holy Rosary, the need for balance — for something uplifting — has fueled his desire to capture the beauty and artistry of at least 100 churches across Indiana and Ohio.
Schroeder’s spiritual quest began in the place where his love of his Catholic faith was born and nurtured, the Diocese of Toledo, Ohio.
In 2019, as he was pursuing a double major in media production and film production at Bowling Green State University, his eyes focused more intently on the artistic details of the altars, chapels, grottos and steeples of the churches that are central to his life: the church where he received his first Communion, the cathedral where he was confirmed, a church that has been part of his family’s heritage on his mother’s side for five generations.
He marveled at the intricacy of the artistic details and stood in awe of the Creator who had formed people with these abilities and gifts. And he decided to use his own God-given skills and talents in film and photography to capture the beauty of churches.
“I thought, ‘This is my calling,'” he said. “I do it as a way to honor God, to give back to him for the skills he gave me. I’m not doing this for show. I’m doing this for God. I’m showing the world the beauty of what his people have built.”
At the same time, Schroeder sees this effort as his way of building a closer relationship with God. Whenever he visits a new church to photograph it, he strives to line up the visit with a Mass at the church.
“I want to go to Mass to receive the Eucharist as much as I can. When I was in college, I went to Mass almost every day. I come for the Eucharist, and then I take the photos. Not only does that help me spiritually, it helps me artistically.”
Schroeder has visited and photographed 98 churches so far. Fifty-five of them are in the Diocese of Toledo and 23 are in the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, where he moved in July 2020 to start his present job at Fox59/CBS4 in Indianapolis.
His quest also has taken him to churches in Carmel, Fort Wayne and South Bend, Indiana, including the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame.
Asking Schroeder to list a few of his favorite churches is painful for him. Still, he relented, starting with Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral in Toledo because “there’s so much artwork and so much detail in it.”
In the Indianapolis Archdiocese, he turned his focus to four churches in Indianapolis, including the two where he worships: Holy Rosary and St. John the Evangelist.
He names St. John, where he’s part of the young adult group, “because it feels like a sense of home.” And Holy Rosary — where he is an usher, a young adult leader and a member of the Knights of Columbus — makes his list because of its Latin Mass and “its beautiful artwork.”
He also mentioned St. Joan of Arc Church, because it reminds him of churches in Rome, and Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, because its German heritage reminds him of his father.
Schroeder’s church photographs can be viewed by anyone on his Facebook page, under his name.
“I want people beyond my Facebook friends to see it,” he said. “There was one time when I posted a photo of St. Stephen Church in Toledo. It was during a time when churches were locked down because of the pandemic. A parishioner commented on it. She said that looking at that photo ‘makes me cry because I don’t like being away from my church for so long.'”
“That was a big moment to me. That’s why I make them public,” he said.
As important as his film and his photography work are to him, Schroeder aspires to something more in his life.
“I want to work on my relationship with God. I want to get as close to him as I can. I want to get to heaven. I want to be a saint.”
Schroeder paused for a moment, making it clear that sainthood is the true goal of his life. He smiled at the thought of that goal.
“I really want to be a saint. I want to lead people toward the faith and help them be stronger in their faith.”
Editor’s Note: To view a selection of Schroeder’s photographs of churches in the Indianapolis Archdiocese, visit the website cutt.ly/ChurchPhotos.
Shaughnessy is assistant editor of The Criterion, newspaper of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.