Monday, November 19, 2018, might have seemed like a normal day for Jamie Schmidt. Little did she know when she entered Catholic Supply, a religious goods store in suburban St. Louis, Missouri, that this ordinary day would be her last. Nor did her family ever dream her life would come to a heroic end with her being compared to Saint Maria Goretti.1
In many ways, 53-year-old Jamie Schmidt could be considered an average Catholic lady, which only serves to make her final moments more outstanding. She was a mother of three who married her high school sweetheart. She sang in the choir at her parish Church, St. Anthony of Padua in High Ridge, Missouri. Friends described her as a giving person: someone who was always there if you needed help. She was also a devotee of Our Lady who actually made and distributed rosaries.
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We know this because her reason for stopping at Catholic Supply was to purchase material for her rosary-making apostolate. There were only two other people in the store—both female employees—at the time of her arrival at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Moments later, Thomas Bruce entered. He looked around a bit then explained he was going to make a purchase but needed to get a credit card from his car. When he returned, he had a gun, and the three women were faced with their worst nightmare.
“In the Name of God…”
After forcing the ladies into a corner of the store, he proceeded to sexually assault the two employees. He then turned the gun on Jamie with the intention of doing the same to her, but she had other plans.
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What happened next was an act of Christian testimony one would only expect to find among early Church martyrs in the Roman Coliseum, not from a twenty-first-century Catholic lady in a modern American city.
Thomas Bruce turned to Jamie and from what we know of the exchange that followed, ordered her to disrobe. In such a situation, she could have responded in a way that might pacify her assailant. One can only speculate as to what was going through her head at that critical moment.
However, when one considers the perverse acts she was forced to witness, it is likely Jamie understood there would be no reasoning with such a man. The thought also might have occurred to her that God had placed her in that situation because He wanted to test her fidelity to Him. While this is pure conjecture, her categorical response, as recounted by the two employees, is a documented fact.
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“In the name of God,” she said, “I will not take my clothes off!” Using that type of phraseology was the equivalent to taking an oath before her Creator. It was thus an unequivocal, categorical, no, an absolute refusal to a man with a loaded gun who was clearly not going to accept opposition.
A Glorious End
Sadly the outcome was what one would expect under the circumstances. She was shot at point-blank range. As she lay mortally wounded on the floor, for what would turn out to be her last moments on Earth, she was in need of immediate spiritual strength and touchingly turned to God. As life drained from her body, the two employees could hear her murmuring the Our Father, the prayer composed by Our Lord Himself, in a faint voice.
The assailant fled the scene but was later apprehended. Jamie lived long enough to be taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital. However, she did not cease praying and with her dying breath was heard whispering that same prayer as her short life came to a glorious end.
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It would be reasonable for a person who relishes the memory of this brave lady’s heroic sacrifice to ask, why does such a story move us so much? It is because what we see with Jamie’s heroic defense of purity is the overarching luminosity of that which was best in her: honor.2
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This forgotten quality has several defining characteristics. First of all, it is the virtue whereby we esteem that which is excellent. This is not a difficult thing to do in the soul-stirring case of a Catholic wife and mother who looks down the barrel of a loaded gun and unhesitatingly chooses death to dishonor.
Secondly, honor is also the quality that drives a person to live up to that excellence in all things. For example, those who care about their honor will not only maintain their purity, they will also seek to practice all virtues because of the love of principle, whether it is convenient to do so or not.
Finally, there are moments in a person’s life that could be defined as an “H-hour” or the all-or-nothing moment. It is a circumstance that asks a person to go above and beyond what they, or anyone who knows them, think they are capable of achieving. When faithful in those moments, the fullness of honor is seen, and along with it, a series of other qualities and virtues appear in the background, as it were, like an angel.
It is for this reason that Jamie’s heroism is particularly refreshing. The days we live in are not much different from the world defined in the Book of Maccabees as being “devastated and without honor.” Therefore, it is in licentious and self-centered days like our own that honor has more brilliance for the simple fact that it stands in stark contrast to the decadence that surrounds us.
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America should be very grateful to Mrs. Schmidt for her outstanding example of purity, so very needed in our dissolute times. With her last act, she provided a breath of fresh air in an ugly world. Although she might have been just an “average” lady leading up to the tragic events of November 19, in one monumental and decisive moment she was catapulted into the pantheon of greatness. It is for this reason that she has been likened to Saint Maria Goretti, the 12-year-old girl, who also chose death rather than submit to an equally perverse proposition.
Sadly there are those who, upon hearing Jamie’s story will callously ask, “What was it all worth?” She missed the opportunity to enjoy Thanksgiving with her family and the joyous season of Christmas. She will not see her children grow old nor will she ever be able to caress her grandchildren. While these heart-wrenching considerations are legitimate, especially for mothers reading this article, the all-important lesson of Jamie’s life could be lost. Her final words, while succinct, were at the same time a manifesto on the obligation we all have of being faithful to God’s will no matter how painful it may be.
However, there are those who will discard such reflections and look upon Jamie as the defeated one who lost out on life’s pleasures. We can thus contrast this attitude with that found in the poignant letter of French King Francis I to his mother after suffering a crushing defeat during the Battle of Pavia in 1525. He had lost militarily but maintained that which he considered most precious.
What the king reputedly said in that letter can be aptly applied to the unforgettable Jamie Schmidt. From the place in eternity she now occupies, Jamie can justly say to those she left behind, “All is lost, save honor.”
2. The concepts of Honor given here were developed by Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira in a series of meetings on the subject given in 1976. He was able to make voluminous commentaries on this subject because he was, in a very eminent way, a man of honor.