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An unidentified parishioner touches the casket of Bishop Jude Speyrer Wednesday at the New Bethany Cemetery on the grounds of the St. Charles Center in Lake Charles. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

An unidentified parishioner touches the casket of Bishop Jude Speyrer Wednesday at the New Bethany Cemetery on the grounds of the St. Charles Center in Lake Charles. (Rick Hickman / American Press)

Hundreds attend burial mass for Bishop Speyrer

Last Modified: Thursday, August 01, 2013 1:45 AM

By Warren Arceneaux / American Press

Bishop Jude Speyrer, the first leader of the Diocese of Lake Charles, was laid to rest Wednesday, leaving behind a legacy of service and spirituality. Speyrer, 84, died Sunday, July 21, in Opelousas.

He was ordained in 1953 and served the Diocese of Lafayette for nearly thee decades before being chosen to lead the Diocese of Lake Charles on April 25, 1980. He served until Dec. 12, 2000.

Speyrer’s burial Mass was attended by hundreds, including visiting bishops and priests from throughout the region, along with Bishop Edward Braxton, who succeeded Speyrer before moving on to serve in Belleville, Ill.

Bishop Glen Provost, the current leader of the diocese, was celebrant of the Mass. “When a diocese is created, Christ expands his presence,” he said during the homily.

“The possibility of Christ being made known through his word and sacrament grows. How so? A beautiful place of prayer that we call St. Charles Center. In services to the poor and needy. In dialogue with those who are not in communion with us. In the opening of missions and churches. In efforts to overcome historic prejudices. These were not merely the dreams and works of a man of vision, they were the ever-expanding presence of Jesus Christ.

“On the day of his burial, we should ask ourselves the question ‘How did we share more fully in the paschal mystery thanks to the ministry of Bishop Speyrer?’ I would answer with one word: ‘richly.’ ”

Speyrer was laid to rest at the St. Charles Center, a facility he was determined to have built to serve the people of his diocese.

“I think Bishop Speyrer always saw this as being the heart of the diocese,” said the Rev. Whitney Miller, who serves as director of the St. Charles Center and was ordained by Speyrer.

“Sometimes Bishop Provost refers to it as the crown jewel of the diocese. I think from the very beginning of the establishment of our diocese, Bishop Speyrer had the vision that this would be the spiritual heart of the whole diocese. It is used for retreats, conferences, days of recollection, workshops, seminars. It is used for young people, the elderly, married couples, couples that are about to get married. You name the age group, programs for them exist here at the center.

“I think he himself was such a spiritual man, and spirituality was at the heart of everything that he did, so I think when he was named bishop he knew that we had to have an actual, physical facility that enabled people to come together to find the spiritual heart here at the St. Charles Center.”

Deacon George Stearns, chancellor of the Diocese of Lake Charles, said Speyrer was an ideal choice to serve as its first leader.

“He started off as an associate pastor, he was a pastor, he was appointed to positions in the Diocese of Lafayette, he was the chancellor of the dioceses, so all those gave him great experience to have the understanding of what it means to be a bishop,” Stearns said.

“He was one of the most authentic, down-to-earth persons I have ever known. He was a person who could bring out the best of everybody. One of the things I will always remember about him is his character was such that he was what I like to think of as a renaissance man. He was interested in everything and knowledgeable about so many things — the arts, music, history, philosophy. He spoke five languages. But, at the same time, the other part of him that everyone could see was he was so down to earth. He grew up a country boy in Leonville, big family. He was born in the time of the Great Depression, and that all had an impact on him. He went off to the seminary when he was 13 yeas old. When he retired, he went back to Carencro and became a country boy again, drove his tractor, cut his grass, did his garden and loved every minute of it. He was just a great man.”

Stearns said Speyrer will leave a lasting impact on the diocese and its people.

“I think his legacy will of course be the first bishop who put all the structure in place,” he said.

“His motto was ‘To bring glad tidings,’ and I think he succeeded in that. He was very socially conscious, was involved in establishing Abraham’s Tent and selecting St. Peter Claver as our patron saint. He was very caring and will be remembered by a lot of people.”

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