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Bishop Jude Speyrer. (American Press Archives)

Bishop Jude Speyrer. (American Press Archives)

Founding bishop of Lake Charles Diocese dies at 84

Last Modified: Monday, July 22, 2013 5:45 PM

By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

Bishop Jude Speyrer, the first leader of the Diocese of Lake Charles, passed away Sunday in Opelousas at the age of 84.

A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated by Bishop Glen John Provost at 11 a.m. July 31 in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Priests of the Diocese of Lake Charles will concelebrate.

Public viewing will be 2-8 p.m. July 29, and 8 a.m.-8 p.m. July 30, with a Scripture service at 6:30 p.m. Burial will be in New Bethany Cemetery on the grounds of Saint Charles Center in Moss Bluff.

Speyrer was ordained in 1953 and served the Diocese of Lafayette for nearly thee decades before being chosen to lead the Diocese of Lake Charles, which was founded in 1980. He served the diocese until retiring in 2000.

Monsignor Daniel Torres of St. Henry Catholic Church was confirmed by Bishop Speyrer in 1983. In 1996, Speyrer ordained Torres.

“He had a tremendous impact on my life in his simplicity and simple spirit,” Torres said.

He showed a tremendous love for God and his fellow man. In that simplicity, he conveyed his love for people of Southwest Louisiana. For a newly ordained priest, it was exciting, also kind of intimidating, to get to know him. It was like being a new person in school, when you see the principal you get nervous, but as time progressed and I had the opportunity to meet with him at retreats and social events, it was good to be able to work with him and get to know him. It was joyful. He had a tremendous gift for remembering details and names. Every time I would come into his presence, he would ask how is my mom and dad. He was always mindful of different things.”

Torres said he learned how to reflect on tough choices from Speyrer.

“One of things I learned from him is to be prayerful, be patient and calm, to listen before acting and to really take the time to look at the whole picture, at how the decision is going to affect the church, the body of Christ,” Torres said.

“He was very intelligent, he had a love for the church. He was gifted in administration and able to grasp a lot of creativity and vision on what could take place in the diocese. With that creativity, he was able to do everything he could to get funding for the St. Charles Retreat Center and build the first chapel in a prison setting in the state of Louisiana at DeQuincy.

“He was very concerned about catechesis and instruction for lay people so they could know and love their faith. He was mindful of the poor and wanted to always bring the spirit and life of St. Peter Claver to the diocese. He was very aware of the needs of the poor and was instrumental in establishing Abraham’s Tent. He was instrumental in negotiations in Oakdale when they had the Cuban prisoners hostage situation. He was very much a person with the gifts of bringing peace and finding solutions.”

The Rev. Don Piraro, director emeritus of the St. Charles Retreat Center, said Speyrer always had the best interests of the dioceses and its people at heart

“He was a wonderful bishop and did a wonderful job in establishing the dioceses,” Piraro said.

“Working with him, I found, was very easy. He was very straight-forward. It was his vision to establish the center. He was supportive the entire time until and even after his retirement. He retained an active inquiry into how things were going. From him I learned to look at the broader picture, to look beyond the immediate implications to the greater context of where you were working. He had a vision of pulling all the people together. He was at home wherever he was, whatever church he was at.”

Sandy Gay worked for Speyrer as director of religious education and youth ministry.

“He was wonderful, a very caring boss, very supportive,” she said.

“He was not a touchy-feely kind of person, but at retreats and other informal events he would tell stories about his childhood, he liked to laugh at himself. He obviously cared for us and all the people. He cared for his priests. He dealt with a lot, always in a pastoral kind of way. He dealt with people that were in trouble, always fairly. He would never put anyone down and you would know that he cared about you.”

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