It took Father Robert Schrader, pastor of Rochester’s Peace of Christ Parish, until 1982 to travel outside of North America.
On his sabbatical in 1992, he made it to most of the rest of the continents, except for Antarctica. At his next assignment after returning from sabbatical, St. Mary Parish in Auburn, he told parishioners that Antarctica was next.
Seventeen years later, he made good on that promise. In January, he and Father John Gagnier, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church and parish administrator of Our Lady of Mercy Church, both in Greece, traveled to Antarctica in celebration of their 30th anniversaries of ordination.
“I wanted to do it (travel to Antarctica) before I turned 60, and I’m glad I did, because you had to be in shape to navigate the terrain,” Father Schrader said, describing the continent as rocky, unspoiled and incredibly beautiful.
The priests traveled on a small boat of about 250 people. Father Schrader said though the priests were not there in an official capacity, they had the opportunity on the ship to celebrate Mass using hosts, wine and a missalette they brought.
“People were very appreciative,” he said.
During the day, the tourists on the boat attended lectures to learn more about Antarctica and its history, geology, plants and animals.
“You really came away with a much better understanding and appreciation for Antarctica,” Father Schrader said.
Father Schrader is at least the second diocesan priest to make it to all seven continents. The honor of the first may well belong to Father William Amann, who visited his seventh, Antarctica, on his 77th birthday in 2005.
“It was beautiful and a wonderful experience,” Father Amann said. “It was very wild, and there were thousands and thousands of penguins.”
He said he also enjoyed seeing the continent’s glaciers, mountains and seals, and he described the continent’s wind as ferocious. He said it was interesting that Rochester in the winter was colder than Antarctica in the summer.
“When we left here, it was zero temperature, but there during the summer it doesn’t get below 20 degrees,” Father Amann said.
Fathers Schrader and Gagnier also made their journey during Antarctica’s summertime, and during this time, the sun is up 24 hours a day. That was somewhat disorienting, Father Schrader said, since it was light outside in the middle of the night.
Landings on the continent were made in inflatable boats that held about eight people each. In all, the group made 12 landings.
“On the continent, there are penguins that walk right up to you, and you can see seals, whales and birds,” Father Schrader said.
For the most part, there were no roads, sidewalks or any other evidence of human visitors, although Father Schrader was able to mail a postcard from one location on the continent.
Those who journey onto Antarctica’s shores also are not allowed to bring plastic with them. Guides check the land after all tourists have boarded the boats to make sure no one has left anything behind, Father Schrader said.
The goal is to keep the continent as untouched as possible, he said. The fact that the landscape was still pristine helped make the trip a powerful experience, he noted.
“It was a religious experience because you are in the presence of nature as it was created,” Father Schrader said.
This story was updated on May 1, 2009.