Fr. Damian Schmelz, OSB, monk and priest of Saint Meinrad Archabbey, St. Meinrad, IN, died on June 12, 2016, in the monastery infirmary. He was 84 and a jubilarian of both profession and ordination.
Surviving are nieces and nephews.
Born in Georgetown, IN, on May 7, 1932, to Aloysius William and Grace (Miller) Schmelz, Fr. Damian was given the name Vincent Eugene at his baptism. After completing his elementary education at St. Mary School in Lanesville, IN, he entered the Minor Seminary at Saint Meinrad in 1950, and entered the novitiate two years later. He professed his simple vows on July 31, 1953, and was ordained to the priesthood on May 3, 1958.
Fr. Damian earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Saint Meinrad College, and then a baccalaureate in sacred theology from Saint Meinrad School of Theology and The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He began teaching biology at Saint Meinrad High School seminary immediately after his ordination.
During summers, he pursued graduate studies at Purdue University, earning a master’s in plant ecology in 1964 and a doctorate in that field in 1969. He taught biology at Saint Meinrad College until its closing in 1998.
Fr. Damian also served as assistant dean of students for four years, as academic dean for 18, and as provost and vice rector for five years. He also served as the manager of The UnStable, the campus pub, for over 25 years.
He also was well known in the Indiana Academy of Science, of which he was a member since 1966, serving twice as chairman of the Academy’s Plant Taxonomy Section. Fr. Damian also served terms as the Academy’s treasurer and then president, was the Academy’s representative to the Indiana Natural Resources Commission, and was the Academy’s Speaker of the Year in 1979-1980.
Fr. Damian was named a fellow of the Academy in 1973, and received their Outstanding Service Award in 2003. He was known for his research in Indiana old-growth forests, and was chairman of a blue-ribbon committee assigned to study controlled deer hunts in Brown County State Park. He and a colleague specialized in the area of Donaldson’s Woods; in 2000, an addition to the Donaldson’s Woods Nature Preserve was dedicated in his honor.
Fr. Damian served for 33 years on the Indiana Natural Resources Commission and was co-author of Natural Areas of Indiana (1969), which served as a guide for the creation of Indiana’s Natural Preserves.
In 2007, he was awarded a Lifetime Conservation Achievement Award by the Indiana Wildlife Federation. Two years later, he was a member of the inaugural class named to the Indiana Conservation Hall of Fame.
In 2015, Fr. Damian was named a Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor bestowed by the Governor of Indiana.
His membership in other professional organizations included Sigma XI, the Ecological Society of America, and the Indiana Natural Resources Commission.
Most recently, he served as pastor of St. Henry Parish, St. Henry, IN, from 2001 to 2015, when declining health led to his retirement.
The Office of the Dead will be prayed at 7 p.m. on Friday, June 17, in the Archabbey Church. A memorial Mass will be celebrated on Saturday, June 18, at 10:30 a.m. in the Archabbey Church. Fr. Damian arranged for his body to be donated to the Indiana University School of Medicine. Burial will be held at a later date. All times are Central Time.