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May 17, 2003

Out of Travail, Pastor Found A Way Into People's Hearts

From: Washington Post, DC - May 17, 2003

By Bart Barnes Washington Post Staff Writer Sunday, May 18, 2003; Page C11

From the trials, struggles and events of his life and times, the Rev. LeRoy Edward Schauer forged the sinews and discovered the path for his ministries. Since 1985, he'd undergone two heart transplants and a kidney transplant. From those ordeals came the strength, the skills and the calling to counsel and comfort other transplant patients.

When Schauer was growing up, best friend Paul Browning, a neighbor child who was deaf, taught him to communicate in American Sign Language. In their friendship lay the seeds of another ministry for Roy Schauer: He would serve deaf people. He became chaplain at Gallaudet University and for 18 years was pastor of the Washington United Methodist Church of the Deaf.

As a young man, Schauer was a schoolteacher, a job he left to become a clergyman. His grandfather and several uncles had been men of the cloth, and he wanted to follow their examples. But his love of children remained. At his last church, Corkran Memorial United Methodist Church in Temple Hills, he had a special pastoral mission to the children in the daily preschool program. At certain times, the children were allowed to invite a favorite friend or family member to participate in a special preschool event or celebration. Roy Schauer was always there as the friend or relative of the child who had no one to invite. He'd act out Bible stories and teach them songs.

On May 2, Schauer died at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore of complications related to heart and kidney ailments. He was 65.

Schauer had battled health problems since 1982, when he was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a gradual weakening of the heart muscle. "It was a long, hard struggle, and like all of us would, he asked, 'Why?' said a friend, the Rev. Stanley G. Harrell, in a eulogy at Schauer's memorial service. "Even when he did not get answers to his questions, he knew God was there. And he allowed God to use him."

Schauer, who was born in Baltimore, graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art and taught art in Baltimore public schools from 1961 to 1965. He then made an abrupt career change, becoming a lay minister at Christ Methodist Church for the Deaf in Baltimore and Methodist chaplain at Gallaudet. While teaching sign language at the church, he met his future wife, Carole Herlyn, who was one of his students. He received a master's degree in divinity from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington and in 1970 became minister at Brentwood United Methodist Church. That same year, he moved to Hyattsville.

As the spiritual leader of Washington United Methodist Church of the Deaf, Schauer conducted religious services, made medical appointments for deaf people and took them to the doctor, and was a sign language interpreter. He was sensitive to gaps in communications that might not occur with a hearing congregation. He taught sign language at federal agencies and tried to promote an awareness of the special needs of the hearing-impaired. Over several Christmases, he played the role of a "signing" Santa Claus at Mazza Gallery in Washington.

Over Memorial Day weekend in 1982, Schauer thought he was having a heart attack. He wasn't. It was cardiomyopathy, and it got worse and worse. By November 1985, he was at Johns Hopkins Hospital awaiting a heart transplant. The day before Thanksgiving, doctors told Schauer's family that he would probably die within 12 hours. But on Thanksgiving morning, a heart became available and transplant surgery was completed that day. Two weeks later, Schauer walked out of the hospital.

His reprieve was short-lived. By 1991, doctors detected a serious and progressive clogging of Schauer's coronary arteries. His only hope was another heart transplant. On June 21, doctors at Hopkins told him to pick up a beeper on his way home so he could be paged if a heart became available. That night, he was having dinner with his wife and two sons when the beeper went off. Another heart was available. They got in their car, drove to Hopkins and, for the second time, Schauer got a new heart.

That was three years after he had left his pastorate at Washington United Methodist Church of the Deaf. He had served two years at a church in Baltimore County, then in 1990 moved to Corkran Memorial. After his second heart transplant, he began spending at least a day a week at Hopkins, counseling other transplant patients.

"To him, this second ministry is a continuing reminder of how the positives of change brought on by an illness can outweigh the negatives," wrote authors Randi Henderson and Richard Marek in "Here is My Hope," a book of inspirational stories from Johns Hopkins.

"A failing heart is not something he would have chosen, but he thanks God for the way it has enhanced his ministry and brought him in contact with a group of patients whose difficult problems he can truly understand."

In 2000, Schauer retired from the ministry at Corkran. After his second heart transplant, there were periodic setbacks and complications, but he lived as fully as he could. He learned to fly a plane, went bowling, did ceramics, watercolors and macrame, collected coins and stamps. His kidneys failed in 2001, the result of drugs he took for his heart, and he had a kidney transplant. This brought another reprieve, but only temporarily. For the last few months before he died, Schauer was on kidney dialysis.

Paul Browning, his old childhood friend, came down from Pennsylvania to be a pallbearer at his memorial service.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company