March 3, 2010 // Uncategorized

Msgr. Lester remembered as a shepherd after the heart of Jesus

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades incenses the casket of Msgr. J. William Lester at the Mass of Christian Burial at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Thursday, Feb. 25.

By Tim Johnson and Kay Cozad

FORT WAYNE — “I will give you shepherds after my own heart,” said Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades as he spoke of Msgr. J. William Lester at the Evening Prayer from the Office of the Dead for the Burial of a Priest celebrated Feb. 24 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne. Msgr. Lester died on Feb. 20 at the age of 90.

The words from Jeremiah, Bishop Rhoades said, were used as he reflected upon the priestly life and ministry of Msgr. Lester. “He was truly a shepherd after the heart of Jesus, the Good Shepherd,” Bishop Rhoades said. “Though I only knew Msgr. Lester for a very short time, I recognized in him his kind and generous spirit, humility and his joy — a shepherd after the heart of Christ.”

Retired Bishop John M D’Arcy, many priests and others shared with Bishop Rhoades about Monsignor’s exemplary priestly life and ministry through the years.

One of the priests told Bishop Rhoades, “that Msgr. Lester was a true giant in our diocese.”

In this Year for Priests, Bishop Rhoades related, “He was a great priest, a beloved priest, a faithful and devoted priest.”
Bishop Rhoades, in his homily, said, “In this time of sorrow, the Lord is in our midst. And at this Evening Prayer the Lord consoles us with His Word. He gives us strength and lifts us from grief. We gather here in hope, for we know that those who die in union with the Lord, are indeed blessed. We gather here in hope because we know the many good deeds of Monsignor go with him. And we gather in hope because of our faith in the resurrection of the dead.”
Bishop Rhoades spoke of 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, the Scripture reading from the Evening Prayer. He said, “… We believe that God has given us the victory over death through our Lord, Jesus Christ. This was Monsignor’s belief as well.”

Monsignor lived his life with joy and hope because he firmly believed in Christ’s victory, Bishop Rhoades said. 
The bishop added it should be the goal of each of us to live in God’s grace, so that we will die in His grace, and thus participate in His death and share His Resurrection. 

Msgr. Lester, Bishop Rhoades said, “poured out his life in service of others, in the service of the Church. … We thank God for the gift of Monsignor’s life, for his example and for his service. And we pray for him.”

On Feb. 25, following a brief visitation, the Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, which was filled to capacity with mourners from all walks of life, there to honor the good Monsignor. The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Rhoades, Bishop D’Arcy and Bishop Felipe Estevez, the auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Miami, who was one of the Cuban boys that Msgr. Lester mentored and was a “father and mother” to in the 1960s at St. Vincent Villa. Concelebrating the funeral rite were about 70 priests, clad in gold and cream vestments, from across the diocese.

In his homily Bishop D’Arcy spoke of his dear friend. It was a pleasure, said Bishop D’Arcy, to work with “the good Monsignor, seeing his goodness … his high intelligence and his zest for life.”

“To see his joyfulness and energy he brought to his ministry … I grew to trust him and love him.”  He went on to say that it was appropriate to bring Msgr. Lester back to the cathedral where he was ordained and had had such a hand in restoring.

“He was a priest for all seasons,” said the bishop. “He understood what he was doing always.” He likened the beautiful historic stain glass windows of the cathedral to a priest, saying, “A priest is a sign of the presence of Jesus Christ. A priest is asked to be a kind of stained glass window in which we see the Good Shepherd. We look through this priest (Msgr. Lester) and see Jesus Christ.” 

Bishop D’Arcy spoke highly of his friend and recalled his joyfulness, total caring and visibility. He said, “We need to grasp again the beauty of the priesthood that was made visible to us in the unique way of Bill Lester.”

Bishop D’Arcy considered Msgr. Lester “a rock … filled with compassion and understanding … devoid of smallness or meanness,” with advice that benefited all. His heartfelt homily went on to cite the personal side of the good Monsignor as he spoke of the Monsignor’s love of the White Sox and all diocesan high school sports. He related how Msgr. Lester was frequently seen attending football games — both at Bishop Dwenger and Bishop Luers. It was another part of him making present Christ to others, said the bishop. 

He went on to recall how the Monsignor was always open to his calling. “He thought his vocation was extraordinary — he always said ‘yes!’ … Christ sent us his best,” he said.

“Msgr. Lester was my hero,” Bishop D’Arcy continued. “All these priests are my heroes and yours too I think. Pray today that there will be more like him (Msgr. Lester) to live this wonderful life.” And in a genuine show of friendship Bishop D’Arcy concluded, “I loved him with my whole heart. … Safe home Bill.””   
To read Bishop D’Arcy’s eulogy homily, see page 12 of this issue.

In his concluding remarks at the end of the Mass of Christian Burial Bishop Rhoades offered his personal condolences to Msgr. Lester’s family and friends. He expressed his gratitude for Bishop D’Arcy’s heartfelt homily and Bishop Estevez’s presence at the Mass as well as the great show of support by the presbyters. “God’s love and grace has touched so many lives through Msgr. Lester’s ministry,” said Bishop Rhoades.

Msgr. Lester was buried at Fairview Cemetery in Bluffton. Family members told Today’s Catholic, it is the cemetery that was laid out by Monsignor’s maternal grandfather. 

En route to the cemetery down State Road 1, school children and staff from St. Aloysius, Yoder, a parish where Msgr. Lester was pastor from 1985-1986, gathered near the road in silent prayer as the funeral procession traveled past the church and school. 

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