BAY RIDGE — It is very rare for a pastor to serve one parish for over half a century, but Father Paul Schneirla was that rare individual.
A trailblazer who encouraged open dialogue and unity between Greek Orthodox and Catholics, Father Schneirla served as pastor of St. Mary’s Antiochian Orthodox Church on 81st St. and Ridge Boulevard, Bay Ridge, from its inception in 1951 until his retirement in 2002. He remained pastor emeritus of the church until his death on September 20, 2014, at the age of 98.
In recognition of his long life of ministry and his zeal for faithful collaborations, that section of 81st St. was co-named Father Paul Schneirla Way (right) at a dedication ceremony on Sunday, October 24. Among those attending the street naming ceremony were Father Michael Ellias, who gave the invocation, Father Schneirla’s son Peter and his wife Caroline, his daughter Dorothy and her husband Robert, State Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Consul to Lebanon John Abi Habib, and City Councilman Justin Brannan, who served as master of ceremonies.
Father Schneirla was born on April 11, 1916, in Alaska, on the gold-mining property that his family owned. He graduated from the University of Western Ontario in 1937 and did his graduate studies at Columbia University, Union Theological Seminary, and St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Yonkers.
In 1942, he was ordained to the Orthodox priesthood after marrying Shirley Dillon Warriner Page, whose family was from New York City and Far Hills, New Jersey. They had three children, Dorothy Page Downie, Peter Christian Schneirla, and William Sutfin Schneirla, Jr. William died at the age of 6 during Father Schneirla’s first year as pastor of St. Mary’s.
Father Schneirla was a pioneer convert member of the clergy (he was raised Protestant), an author, and renowned theologian with a long list of noteworthy accomplishments.
He served as a priest of the Antiochian archdiocese, an organization of church hierarchs of Eastern Orthodox Churches in the United States, for 71 years.
St. Mary’s current pastor, Father Ellias, called Father Schneirla one of the most influential mentors in his life: “He freely shared his incomparable wit, deep wisdom, and broad world experience with generations of ministry candidates. It is an honor to have been assigned to succeed him both as pastor of St. Mary’s and as the secretary of the archdiocese.”
Father Schneirla’s son, Peter, was delighted that the street has been co-named in his father’s memory: “His arrival in Brooklyn was a case study in the right place, the right time, the right people, and the right man. I can think of no one more worthy than my father to be honored in this way.”
Father Schneirla’s daughter, Dorothy Downie, recalled as prophetic a conversation she had with her father shortly before he died: “He said that he just wanted to be thought of as someone who tried to do the right thing. I can attest that with his first-rate mind, a first-class temperament, and buoyant sense of humor, he cheerfully gave of himself in the cause of always doing what was right.”
“At the end of your life, all you have left is what you’ve given to other people,” Downie continued. “With Father Paul, his influence will extend far beyond his own lifetime through the families and friends he so faithfully served.”
Parishioners saw Father Schneirla as a model pastor who tended to his people, helping to shape and improve the lives of everyone who knew him. Father Schneirla and St. Mary’s Antiochian Church are deemed synonymous, and a street named in his memory makes that official.