Bishop John J. Snyder – A Compassionate Bishop Goes Home to the Lord
Bishop John J. Snyder, who led the Diocese of St. Augustine for more than 20 years, died today, Sept. 27, on the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. He was 93.
He led the 17-county diocese during a period of tremendous growth, when the number of Catholics more than doubled, requiring the addition of eight new parishes, seven elementary schools, and two high schools, St. Francis Catholic Academy in Gainesville and the school on the Westside that bears his name.
He built the Catholic Center, the diocesan offices in Mandarin; renovated and expanded a riverfront estate into the Marywood Retreat and Spirituality Center and converted the old Immaculate Conception school downtown into the Providence Center that provided offices for social service agencies.
Bishop Snyder also built five retirement homes for low-income elderly, a nursing home and a retirement home for priests, where he spent his last years.
But he was best known as a people’s bishop – gregarious, approachable and interested in the lives of ordinary people.
In the spirit of the Second Vatican Council, he empowered laypeople, especially women, to assume leadership roles in their parishes and diocesan ministries.
“I will measure the effectiveness of my leadership by the ability and willingness of this local church to call forth, develop and utilize the gifts and talents not only of its priests and religious but all its people,” he said on Dec. 5, 1979, when he was installed as the eighth bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine.
Bishop Snyder also reached out to groups that did not feel welcomed in the church – the divorced, the disabled, gays and lesbians, inmates, farmworkers, refugees, and immigrants.
He streamlined the annulment process for the divorced. He established ministries for farmworkers, refugees, and immigrants, offering medical services and legal assistance as well as pastoral support.
The disabled were particularly close to his heart. He established the Ministry for Persons with Disabilities that runs summer camps for disabled children and adults, who come from all over the country to attend. It wasn’t unusual for Bishop Snyder to drop in to visit the campers attending Camp I Am Special.
On the state level, he advocated for prison reform and spoke out against the death penalty. He was active in prison ministry and after his retirement in 2000 ministered to inmates on Death Row.
He was one of the founders of the Interfaith Council in Jacksonville and was active in ecumenical discussions and events. In 1987 he was awarded the Brotherhood Award by the National Conference of Christians and Jews [now the National Conference of Community and Justice].
In 1991, he became co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue, an outreach of the Committee on Ecumenism of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
In that role he traveled with Catholic and Episcopal bishops, first to England to meet the Archbishop of Canterbury and then to Rome to meet Pope John Paul II.
At the national level, Bishop Snyder also took a leadership role on women in the church. From 1992 to 1995 he was the chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Women in Society and in the Church.
Bishop Snyder was a New Yorker, born Oct. 25, 1925, into an Irish Catholic family. He grew up in Queens and Flushing.
He was the second of three sons. The eldest, Eugene, died in World War II; the younger, James, worked with inner-city children who died of cancer in 1997. They had an adopted sister, Nancy who passed away in 2017.
Bishop Snyder said he grew up playing baseball, basketball, tennis, and golf, but baseball was a special love. In his wallet, he carried an old photo of his school team, the Andreans.
He was a lifelong fan of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s no mistake that the cardinal is the mascot of Bishop John J. Snyder High School, where he was a regular at football games.
He studied at the Seminary of Immaculate Conception in Huntington, N.Y. and was ordained a priest on June 9, 1951.
He served for six years in his neighborhood parish before he became the personal secretary to Brooklyn Bishop Bryan J. McEntegart. On Feb. 2, 1973, he was ordained a bishop to serve as auxiliary to Bishop Francis J. Mugavero in the Diocese of Brooklyn.
Though he missed parish work, working in the diocesan office gave him the opportunity to be in Rome for the first session of the Second Vatican Council. He said in a 2014 interview that seeing bishops from all over the world made him realize that the church was universal.
The council reforms also revolutionized his faith and his understanding of the church as the People of God.
Bishop Snyder is survived by his niece, Therese Brunetti and her husband, Michael; their children Michael, Matthew, Celine, and preceded in death by their brother Jonathan Patrick Michael Brunetti; Jack and Eileen McAleese and their children Michele and her husband Steve Quinn; Declan, Reagan, and Ellie Justin McAleese; Mark McAleese and his wife Karen and their children Elizabeth and Kathleen McAleese; David McAleese and his wife Margaret and their children Emily, Daivd, and Brian McAleese; Teresa
Thayer Snyder, the widow of bishop’s brother James Snyder and their children: Jonathan Snyder, Amy Hegener and her husband, Steven, Christine Nadratowski and her husband, Marc, and Zachary Snyder and
his wife Melissa. His grandnephews and nieces Olivia Snyder, Noel, and Llewyn Hegener, and James Nadratowski.