Christine Schoeler warms souls with her soup ministry and joy-filled spirit
On Wednesdays from September to June, you can find Christine Schoeler in the kitchen at St. Hubert Parish in Langley, stirring up soup for the homeless and others in need of nourishment and community.
The St. Anthony Soup Ministry was started about four years ago, inspired by a passage from the Book of Isaiah: “Come without money, come without price,” Schoeler said, paraphrasing. “It has everything to do with feeding people.”
After the Easter Vigil Mass where she read the passage, Schoeler told her husband Bob: “That’s what I want to do. I want to feed everybody.”
So they tried to figure out how to take food to the homeless living on Whidbey Island. At first, the couple gave out water bottles from their car when saw someone in need. Then winter arrived and they filled paper bags with pop-top soup cans and a variety of useful items and handed those out. “Then we wanted to feed people in the street,” Schoeler said.
But a health inspector explained that they could only distribute food prepared in a certified kitchen, which ruled out their home kitchen. That didn’t stop Schoeler — she got permission from her pastor, Father Rick Spicer, to make and serve soup at the parish.
“She is a woman of strong faith and a generous heart,” Father Spicer said in an email.
The ministry was a joint venture, with Bob serving as “prep cook and delivery guy,” Schoeler said. Bob also delivered Schoeler’s soup to a shelter for homeless youth in Coupeville, about 25 miles away. Then, nearly two years ago, Bob died of a heart attack while the couple was traveling in Oregon. Schoeler carried on the ministry alone until recently, when she found a young woman named Caysie to help out.
“You could imagine the challenges of losing her husband and helping her daughter through college,” said fellow parishioner John Scehovic, who has known Schoeler for 18 years.
But Schoeler has “a really, really strong faith and belief in our Lord, and she’s not afraid to share it,” he said. “You can just tell the Holy Spirit is in her life every day.”
The little yellow house
It hasn’t always been that way. Earlier in her life, Schoeler came and went from the Catholic faith. Her father died when she was 2, leaving her mother alone with five kids to raise in Kenmore. When Schoeler was 12, someone convinced her mother to move to Mexico because it was cheaper to live there.
Schoeler was 13 and living in Mexico with her mother when she joined the church. “It was very social to be a Catholic and go to church with everybody all the time,” she said. “Anything my friends did had everything to do with going to church.”
And Schoeler was encouraged by her boyfriend’s mother, Felippa, who became like a second mother. “She prayed for me every single day. And I always said the rosary with them every day,” Schoeler recalled. Felippa arranged for Schoeler to be baptized, confirmed and receive first Communion on the feast of the Assumption.
By the time Schoeler moved back to the U.S. at age 16, she had learned a second language and culture, and gained lifelong friends who are like brothers and sisters. But her Catholic faith didn’t quite stick. Although she attended St. Brendan Parish in Bothell during her high school years, “I went to college and I never went back to church,” she said.
Schoeler got married outside the church, a marriage that lasted 20 years. Her husband, Michael, “didn’t want children; he didn’t want to go to church,” she said. “I always was missing something … but I didn’t know what it was.”
Then she and Michael bought a little yellow house right across the street from St. Hubert. “I’d look at the church [and think], I’m not going there,” Schoeler said.
But after she and Michael amicably divorced, Schoeler remembers attending a Mardi Gras party and deciding, “I’m going to church tomorrow.”
That was Ash Wednesday 24 years ago. “I haven’t left since then,” she said.
Christine Schoeler arrives early at St. Hubert Parish’s kitchen to make her soups from scratch. When her assistant arrives to help, Schoeler can attend Mass before returning to serve up soup. Photo: Janis Olson
Evangelizing by example
St. Hubert’s isn’t just the place where Schoeler began living her faith again, it’s where she met Bob (who had already had his previous marriage annulled). They got married and had their daughter, Roslyn.
During their 20 years of marriage, “we had been on our journey to holiness,” Schoeler said.
Each day, the couple said their favorite prayers together, including the Divine Mercy chaplet and the prayers of St. Bridget. During the recent jubilee Year of Mercy, they made pilgrimages to at least six churches in Washington and California. And they were active members of the St. Hubert community.
Bob’s passing, of course, left a void in Schoeler’s life. “We used to read religious stories and religious books to each other and we’d take turns reading out loud,” she said. “I miss that friendship that we had.”
When the couple started the soup ministry, they named it in honor of St. Anthony, one of their favorite saints because “he finds everything for us,” Schoeler said, laughing. “He also was famous for giving bread to the poor.”
Each week, the ministry draws a couple dozen people to enjoy Schoeler’s soups, gluten-free and with vegan and protein options. “They’re very delicious,” Scehovic said. “She really is quite a cook.”
The diners are a mixed group: maybe three homeless men who come occasionally, a couple of working young men without much money, a few others from the community and parishioners who stop in for lunch after the 10:30 a.m. Mass. Those who are able leave a donation.
To Schoeler, the soup ministry is about community and sharing her faith in Jesus.
“My way of evangelizing isn’t by pounding on the person’s head, it’s [by] example,” she said. “And I believe that people should have examples of what Christianity is and what giving is.” She aims to get more people from the community to stop in for soup — “maybe somebody’s going to want to go through RCIA,” she added.
Christine Schoeler visits with guests at her St. Anthony Soup Ministry, which serves up homemade soup to anyone stopping by St. Hubert Parish on Wednesdays from September to June. Photo: Janis Olson
Since Bob’s death, Schoeler said, her faith has only continued growing. As a member of St. Hubert’s evangelization committee, Schoeler volunteered at the committee’s prayer stations at two local farmers markets last summer. More than 150 people stopped to pick up information and talk to Schoeler and the other St. Hubert parishioners. “Many of them prayed with us and prayed for us,” Scehovic said.
Schoeler freely talks about her faith, and “it’s kind of contagious,” Scehovic said. “It really helps our group stay focused.”
But Schoeler was uncertain about continuing the soup ministry. She was thinking of relocating to Mexico because of the affordable cost of living. Last fall, she made a pilgrimage to a mission in Mexico and spent time every day in eucharistic adoration at different churches. She thought God might be sending her to Mexico to do missionary work.
Then, one day during adoration, Schoeler had an encounter with Jesus. “He went into the depths of my soul,” she said, and she received an answer: “Charity begins at home. … I was told I was on the right track but I had to go back home to do my work.” And she could help the Mexico mission by doing fundraisers on Whidbey Island.
“That’s what I was looking for, was God’s will,” Schoeler said.
When she returned to St. Hubert in November, people noticed a difference.
“She came back really aglow; her whole face was shining,” Scehovic said, adding that Schoeler was “very content and at peace.”
Since Mexico, Schoeler said, “I have this deep, deep joy that Jesus gave me,” a joy that’s there even when she’s sad. “I don’t know how to explain it, like sweet and sour,” Schoeler said. “I feel so blessed.”
Soup for Lent
Christine Schoeler’s pastor, Father Rick Spicer, recently gave her the book Twelve Months of Monastery Soups, by Benedictine Brother Victor-Antoine d’Avila-Latourrette. Schoeler suggests this recipe for a Lenten meal:
St. Joseph Chickpea Soup
2 cups chickpeas
10 cups water
2 cups canned tomatoes
1 large onion, chopped
1 stalk celery, minced
2 carrots, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 red pepper, diced
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bouillon cube
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
Soak chickpeas overnight. Boil them in plenty of water, add all the remaining ingredients, and cook slowly over medium heat for about an hour, until peas and all vegetables are tender. Add salt and pepper. Simmer the soup, covered, for about 15 minutes. Remove the bay leaf before serving. Serve hot.
© Liguori Publications. All rights reserved. Used with permission. www.liguori.org
Northwest Catholic - March 2019