Monsignor William Lester

Monsignor William Lester

Appointed by Bishop John Michael D'Arcy as temporary administrator in 2004.

The following is from Today's Catholic by Vince LaBarbera:

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.