Dcn. Scheller (1936-2018): Faithful West Valley deacon with eye for Catholic education, football

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Dcn. Al Scheller was a day shy of turning 82 when he was called home to the Lord.

Dcn. Al Scheller

Born: Feb. 11, 1936 in Wisconsin

Married: July 2, 1960 to Carol Scheller

Ordained: Nov. 4, 2000

Service in the Diocese of Phoenix

  • Williams Parish, Cashion, Nov. 2000 to March 2006
  • Thomas Aquinas, Avondale, March 2006 to Feb. 2018

Died: Feb. 10, 2018

The West Valley deacon found his holy calling later in life. He was ordained Nov. 4, 2000 and served at St. William Parish in Cashion until March 2006. Dcn. Scheller spent the remainder of his service to the Church at St. Thomas Aquinas in Avondale.

Prior to that, he attended the College of St. Thomas (now the University of St. Thomas) in St. Paul, Minnesota followed by residency as an ophthalmologist at St. Louis University. Dcn. Scheller spent more than 50 years as an ophthalmologist, amassing more than a quarter million patient charts and seeing patients as late as last fall.

“He loved being a doctor and helping people. He never worked a day in his life because it was pure love for him. He would have done it for free and many times, he did,” his middle child and youngest son, Matthew, said at his father’s vigil.

The Wisconsin native was also an officer in the U.S. Navy stationed at Camp Pendleton 1966-68.

Dcn. Scheller’s love of the Green Bay Packers followed wherever he went, even if that meant taking out a newspaper ad requesting a local viewer to record the game and mail them to him when he was outside of Packers Country. One woman responded allowing the deacon to watch the games in the ‘70s and ‘80s in Betamax format.

“He would wait in joyful anticipation for the mid-week delivery of the game tape and then would proceed to watch the game until the tape would wear out,” Matthew recalled.

His “most important and most cherished title,” however, was that of “Roman Catholic,” Matthew said.

He recalled his dad’s own Catholic education followed by his “sacrificed blood, sweat and tears” to provide the same for his five children. That support climbed from the elementary level through the college level. Some of his 18 grandchildren also attended local Catholic schools.

“He always reminded me of a classic Jesuit education,” said Fr. Kieran Kleczewski, who served with the deacon when he was pastor at St. Thomas Aquinas. He put the deacon among the “Catholic generation of professionals who went to Jesuit schools and were really molded as a Catholic person.”

The deacon took on the challenge of serving St. William in Cashion, whose four weekend liturgies are exclusively in Spanish. He later supported an exponentially growing St. Thomas Aquinas community with a particular fondness for leading Stations of the Cross, assisting at baptisms and assisting at Mass.

“His homilies were well-crafted, well thought out. He was a great storyteller,” Fr. Kleczewski said.

Matthew often talked about Scripture with his dad alongside suggestions for his homilies, “but he always seemed to have a ‘lock’ on what he wanted to say, and he was a master of delivery in his booming voice. He brought his unique perspective from growing up in Wisconsin and living on a farm as a child,” Matthew explained.

It wasn’t uncommon for the faithful to tell him which homily was their favorite. They easily referenced the homily with only a few key words.

His diaconate was not a surprise, according to Fr. Kleczewski. It was simply an extension of his intellectual and spiritual formation. The fact that he embraced leadership likely also played a role, but even more so was his embrace of Vince Lombardi’s wisdom about what matters in a locker room: “his God, his family and the Green Bay Packers. In that order!”