The Faithful Mourn the Loss of Bishop Snyder

October 7, 2019

By Jean Gonzalez

During the solemn vespers Oct. 1, Bishop John J. Snyder was remembered for his many gifts, traits, smile, passions and compassion. Bishop Felipe J. Estévez said his predecessor’s episcopal motto – Peace in Christ – embodied Bishop Snyder’s spirit, charism and vocation.

“Bishop John J. Snyder was a true instrument of peace in seeking greater justice and reconciliation in church and society,” the bishop said during his introductory comments at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. Bishop Snyder was set in front of the altar to lie in state after passing away Sept. 27. Mourners packed the cathedral to pray for the beloved bishop, who served the St. Augustine Diocese as its eighth shepherd from 1979 to 2000, and continued to live and offer his pastoral presence in retirement.

Bishop Felipe Estévez at Bishop Emeritus’ vespers ceremony. (photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Scott Smith)

Bishop Estévez said Bishop Snyder’s coat of arms would be placed in the cathedral “as a reminder of his work for the unity in the entire Body of Christ.” And to Bishop Snyder the Body of Christ included people on the margins. Bishop Estévez remarked how Bishop Snyder was passionate about pastoral care of migrants and refugees, people with special needs, youth suffering from addiction, prisoners, especially those on death row, the unborn and vulnerable seniors.

“On the memorial of St. Vincent de Paul, Bishop Snyder passed away,” Bishop Estévez said. “There was a certain symbolism to his passing on that feast day because, in a way, Bishop Snyder’s ministry had much in common with the amazing practical charity of St. Vincent de Paul. His was a heartfelt servant on behalf of the poor, the needy, the disadvantaged and the afflicted.”

Father Thomas Willis, rector of the cathedral, offered a homily during vespers that asked the faithful to focus on the biblical and spiritual image of the harvest in thinking about Bishop Snyder’s ministry.

“There are many themes of farming, shepherding and harvesting throughout the Sacred Scriptures of the Old and New Testament,” Father Willis said, quoting from Matthew 9:37-39, “The harvest is rich, but laborers are scarce; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into his harvest.” Father Willis said that was the type of work Bishop Snyder “so wonderfully, so powerfully and so completely embraced.”

Father Tom Willis gives a moving homily at Bishop Snyder’s vespers ceremony.
(photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Scott Smith)

“He did so in order to ensure that when it was time for the last and greatest harvest of God at the end of time, as many people as possible would know that grace-filled embrace of the Lord. For his ministry of service in the name of the Lord, our Good Shepherd, we give thanks to God.”

Much could be said about Bishop Snyder who was a priest for 68 years, a bishop for more than 46 (he had also served as an auxiliary bishop in Brooklyn), and the shepherd of St. Augustine for 21, Father Willis said, recalling the joyous installation from 1979. He said Bishop Snyder’s homily drew “thunderous” applause several times. At one point, Bishop Snyder set the tone for his ministry in the diocese, as he said, “We will unapologetically and without compromised promise proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. And we will bring the Gospel of Christ to everyone, accepting each person, not where we want them to be, but where they are at.”

From there, Father Willis spoke about Bishop Snyder’s love for his flock and the dedication creating ministries that served the flock. He created a greater budget for Catholic Charities soon after his arrival, and made sure women of the church assumed leadership roles. He reached out to black Catholics and people of all cultures — Koreans, Hispanics, Vietnamese, among others — recognizing the inequality and bias all those groups might face.

Bishop Snyder’s family attended his vespers ceremony and funeral.
(photo by St. Augustine Catholic/Scott Smith)

His love also translated one-on-one. Father Willis said the bishop had an “uncanny ability to remember people’s names.” At confirmations, he would ask candidates their names, and after being told he would remark, “Didn’t I confirm your brother/sister a few years ago?” In that way and many others, Bishop Snyder embodied the very characteristics of love that St. Paul described in 1 Cor 13:4: “Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not envious, boastful or arrogant or rude.”

“Everyone has a story about how he touched their lives. If he met you, he remembered you,” Father Willis said, adding Bishop Snyder offered unconditional love and something even more. “In his ministry, Bishop Snyder provided another aspect to this love. He gave unconditional hope. In ways seen and many times unseen, Bishop Snyder provided hope to those who might be seen as outsiders. … He did this so as to give hope – helping people know there is a God who knows their trials and that God, in every circumstance of life, cares of you.”

In this way, Bishop Snyder’s legacy was a rich harvest.


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