February 23, 2010 // Uncategorized

Msgr. J. William Lester dies at 90

Bishop D’Arcy’s homily from the funeral can be found here.
Bishop Rhoades remarks at the vigil service can be found here.

Diocese mourns the passing of untiring servant

By Vince LaBarbera

FORT WAYNE — Msgr. J. William Lester, P.A., a beloved and very respected senior priest who served the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend for 65 years as a priest, died Saturday morning, Feb. 20, after a brief illness.

Msgr. Lester served in many parishes of the diocese as pastor and administrator. He also served as vicar general and chancellor, and rector of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. He was a former superintendent of Catholic Schools for the diocese and was principal of Central Catholic High School in Fort Wayne and Huntington Catholic High School.

Arrangements are as follows: Wednesday, Feb. 24, reception of the body and rosary at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne, at 4:30 p.m.; visitation from 4:30 to 8 p.m. with Evening Prayer and Vigil Service at 7 p.m. On Thursday, Feb. 25, visitation will take place at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception from 10 to 10:45 a.m., with a funeral Mass at 11 a.m. at the cathedral. Burial will be held at 3 p.m. at Fairview Cemetery in Bluffton where his mother is buried.

Originally from Gary, Msgr. Lester was born Nov. 25, 1919, to James W. Lester and Ida M. Effinger-Lester.

Msgr. Lester attended Holy Angels Elementary School there and studied for two years at Bishop Noll High School in Hammond. His remaining secondary education was at St. Lawrence Seminary, Mt. Calvert, Wis. He attended St. Lawrence College in Mt. Calvary, Wis. and his theological study was at Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., where he earned both bachelors and master’s degrees.

He was ordained to the priesthood on Aug. 24, 1945, by Bishop John F. Noll in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Fort Wayne.
Msgr. Lester has been associated with Catholic education in the local diocese since his first priestly assignment at St. Mary Parish, Huntington, in September 1945. The pastor, Father Thomas E. Dillon, served as the superintendent of schools at that time and the young Father Lester, as the associate pastor, assisted the pastor with much of the school administrative work. Two years later, Father Lester officially was connected to Catholic education when he was appointed principal of Huntington Catholic High School. He continued his support of Catholic education by accepting in 1951 the appointment as principal of Central Catholic High School in Fort Wayne. He retained this position while also accepting the assignment as superintendent of schools in 1957 as well as rendering assistance to the religious sisters and children at St. Vincent Villa where he lived in Fort Wayne.

In 1960, Father Lester was invested as a monsignor, and in 1964 he was appointed to the diocesan building commission. In this capacity, he supported Catholic schools and helped ensure their continued existence through financial accountability. During his tenure, he was instrumental in organizing teaching requirements and licensing for lay teachers who were quickly replacing teaching religious sisters. He also had a hand in the plan and design of both Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger high schools, and Marian High School, Mishawaka.

In 1970, Msgr. Lester was named pastor of St. Jude Parish, Fort Wayne, and two years later appointed diocesan director of lay activities for the Fort Wayne area. In 1978, he was appointed pastor of St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Elkhart. In 1981, he began serving a two-year assignment in the Archdiocese of Miami under the direction of Archbishop Edward McCarthy.

He returned to Fort Wayne in 1983 and was appointed Episcopal vicar for education with residence at Queen of Angels Parish. In 1985 — while carrying out his role of director of continuing education for the clergy — he assumed the position of pastor of St. Aloysius Parish, Yoder, and at the request of Bishop John D’Arcy, newly appointed eighth Bishop of the local diocese, agreed to again serve as superintendent of schools for one year.

In April 1986, Msgr. Lester — along with Msgr. James Wolf — was appointed vicar general and co-chancellor of the diocese, and about three weeks later both priests were named co-rectors of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne.

In July 1995, Msgr. Lester was elevated to Protonotary Apostolic (PA). In 2005, he was awarded a Light of Learning Award by the Catholic Schools Office and the Council of Catholic School Teachers, representing all of the teachers, administrators and students of the diocese.

Also in May of 2005, the diocese announced that Bishop Dwenger and Bishop Luers high schools in Fort Wayne had created a $1,000 scholarship in the name of Msgr. Lester to be awarded annually to two recipients entering the freshman class at both schools.

In more recent times of need, such as the death of a pastor and even the retirement of an auxiliary bishop, Msgr. Lester has agreed to step in to fill a vacancy temporarily. He had been serving as the Vicar of Retired Clergy since April 10, 2000.

Martin Petit
Msgr. J. William Lester stands in the parking lot of what would become a human outline of the new St. Therese Church. In the year 2000, Msgr. Lester was temporary administrator of the St. Therese Parish and involved in the planning process of the new church building which was dedicated in 2003.

A listing of Msgr. J. William Lester’s assignments
• Sept. 13, 1945 — Appointed assistant, St. Mary Church, Huntington
• 1947 — Appointed principal, Huntington Catholic High School, Huntington
• June 26, 1951 — Appointed principal, Central Catholic High School, Fort Wayne
• March 1, 1957 — Appointed superintendent of schools and chaplain at St. Vincent Villa
• June 17, 1959 — Residing at St. Vincent Villa and render assistance to the Sisters and children
• May 31, 1960 — Invested as Papal Chamberlain
• March 24, 1964 — Appointed to Diocesan Building Commission
• July 1, 1970 — Appointed pastor, St. Jude Church, Fort Wayne
• Feb. 2, 1972 — Appointed Diocesan Director of Lay Activities for Fort Wayne area
• July 7, 1978 — Appointed pastor, St. Thomas the Apostle Church, Elkhart
• July 8, 1981 — Assigned for a period of two years to St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in the Archdiocese of Miami, Fla., under the direction of Archbishop Edward McCarthy
• July 11, 1983 — Appointed Director of Continuing Education for the Clergy with residence at
Queen of Angels rectory, Fort Wayne
• July 1983 — Appointed Vicar for Education
• July 1, 1985 — Appointed pastor, St. Aloysius Church, Yoder, while continuing the position of Director of Continuing Education for Priests
• Appointed superintendent of Catholic Schools for one year until June 30, 1986
• April 15, 1986 — Appointed Co-Vicar General and Co-Chancellor of the diocese and co-pastor,
Cathedral of Fort Wayne (with Father James J. Wolf) effective May 5, 1986
• May 29-Sept. 26, 1989 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Michael’s Church, Waterloo. Father Zimmerman died leaving the parish without a pastor. Monsignor continued as
rector of the cathedral, Fort Wayne, and as co-chancellor and co-vicar general
• July 15, 1990 to June 1991 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Matthew Cathedral (when Bishop Crowley retired) until Bishop John Sheets was assigned there.
• June-August 1993 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Jude, South Bend
• September 1993 to January 1994 — Appointed temporary administrator, Queen of Angels, Fort Wayne
• August 1994 to January 1995 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Joseph, Fort Wayne
• July 15, 1995 — Received title of Protonotary Apostolic
• Aug. 12 to Oct. 6, 1998 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Patrick Church, Fort Wayne, while continuing as co-vicar general and co-chancellor
• Nov. 26, 1999 — Retired from chancery as co-vicar general and co-chancellor
• Jan. 3, 2000 — Retired from cathedral, Fort Wayne, as co-rector
• April 10, 2000 — Appointed Vicar of Retired Clergy
• July 10, 2000 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Therese Church, Fort Wayne
• Dec. 28, 2000 — Appointed temporary administrator, Queen of Angels, Fort Wayne
• March 27, 2001 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Joseph Church, Fort Wayne
• August 2002 to May 7, 2003 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Adalbert Church, South Bend
• Oct. 11, 2002 — Appointed to Presbyteral Council
• Nov. 1, 2002 to Sept. 30, 2007 — Appointed judge on the Marriage Tribunal
• June 29, 2003 to Aug. 23, 2003 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Rose of Lima Church, Monroeville
• Oct. 1, 2003 to Aug. 15, 2004 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Mary Church, Fort Wayne
• Aug. 16, 2004 — Appointed temporary administrator, St. Patrick Church, Fort Wayne
• Aug. 31, 2005 to July 2, 2006 — Appointed temporary administrator — Most Precious Blood Church, Fort Wayne
• November 2005 — Appointed (three years) to Presbyteral Council
• Aug. 4, 2006 to July 2, 2007 — Appointed administrator of St. Therese Church, Fort Wayne
• March 21, 2007 — Appointed to College of Consultors
• Aug. 8, 2007 to Dec. 8, 2007 — Appointed administrator, St. Vincent de Paul Church, Elkhart
• March 6, 2009 — Appointed to Personnel Board (three-year term)

Tim Johnson contributed to this article.

Note added 2-25-10: A July 2009 interview on Redeemer Radio with Monsignor J. William Lester features a joyful conversation with this wonderful devout priest. It’s a wide-ranging interview that covered his priestly ministry, his vocation formation, early assignments, and his perspectives on the local diocese and priesthood.

This Special “FaithWorks” program – “Year for Priests” reflection – will be rebroadcast with Redeemer Radio host Dr. Matthew Bunson Friday, Feb. 26, from 5-5:30 p.m. on Redeemer Radio, Catholic Radio AM1450. The program also can be heard at 5 p.m. this Friday on www.RedeemerRadio.com — click listen live.

For those unable to listen to the program at that time, or who may want a copy, some CD’s will be made. Generally, a small donation to cover time and materials is requested. Call Redeemer Radio at 260-436-9598 to order.

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