SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Father John Schopfer has devoted his life to helping others.
The 80-year-old has worked as a priest at Brady Faith Center in the southwest neighborhood of Syracuse for more than 40 years. He said he’s technically retired. But a life of service doesn’t have a clear endpoint.
“A lot of it’s the desire that’s still there to do what you can. Maybe it isn’t what you once did, or maybe what’s necessary, but you just try,” he said.
One of the ways Schopfer measures the needs of his community is through daily walks.
He said it’s a simple and effective way to fill his mandate as a Catholic priest to do what is necessary and possible to help his community.
His predecessor Father Charles Brady did the same thing. Schopfer said everyone knew Brady. He hopes to match his legacy.
He sees all kinds of things on his walks.
Where’s the best Jamaican food in Syracuse? Schopfer said it’s Jerkhut right next door.
Is there any new community development? Schopfer said he keeps his eyes on empty plots of land and shuttered businesses, some of which have been purchased by the city for redevelopment.
Schopfer said he knows the needs of the southwest are complex. He said he’s had many conversations with residents that sound like this.
“You see the buildings up at SU up there? How far you think they are away? ‘Oh, I don’t know, half-a-mile?’ No. They’re a thousand miles away,” he said.
Less than two miles from Syracuse University, the southwest neighborhood has some of the highest poverty rates in the city, according to the 2020 census.
But both Schopfer and the community are resilient.
When asked how he has managed his frustrations over the years, Schopfer said they’re an inevitable part of life. He has always grounded himself in his pastoral duties, engaging his community, learning about its needs, then doing what he can to meet those needs.
Always modest, Schopfer said he actually has little to do with the work of Brady Faith Center’s 20 community engagement programs.
“I couldn’t take a lot of credit for it. I support it, proud of it, but it’s not something I personally did,” he said. Although over 40 years he has been part of many brainstorming sessions, including one right before meeting with NCC News.
He said that he’s optimistic about the future. He said more residents are gaining a secondary technical education than ever before.
While on our walk, Schopfer was stopped by a resident that’s known him since she was a girl. She said she hadn’t seen him for awhile and wanted to catch up. He said he’s seen generations of her family build their lives in this neighborhood.
The neighborhood association is meeting tonight. He said residents of southwest aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves.
“‘What’s the story on this? And why wasn’t this — the street was supposed to be paved and you didn’t do it all summer.’ Nothing drastic but enough to keep your feet to the fire,” he said with a smile.
In line with the rest of his retirement, Schopfer will be there.