ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The Basilica Cathedral was crowded Wednesday with parishioners and others touched by the life of Bishop John J. Snyder.
Snyder, who led the Diocese of St. Augustine for 21 years, died Friday at age 93. He was honored with a funeral Mass in the oldest Catholic parish in America.
"I think he would want to be remembered as someone who cared for others," parishioner Mac Hill said after the service. "Everyone who has spoken here said that he was such a loving man and it exuded in everything that he did."
Snyder was remembered for good works, such as building retirement homes and the high school on Jacksonville's Westside that bears his name. He retired in 2000 -- on his 75th birthday.
Snyder was known as a people’s bishop, gregarious and approachable. He was also remembered for empowering women in the ministry.
"In every aspect that he could find for us to do our role, he had us doing a role," parishioner Lorraine Montoto said. "The church was for everyone."
Others said Snyder helped make the diocese into a better place, especially for those less fortunate, and because he was someone that everyone could look up to and strive to be like.
"With the grace of God, Bishop Snyder magnified the Lord, as they say, and all those similarly disposed were brought to life by his energy," said Tom Egan.
After the Mass, Snyder was laid to rest at the San Lorenzo Cemetery.
Priests ordained by the bishop and people who had gotten to know Snyder over the years began paying respects at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine on Tuesday afternoon when Snyder's body was received.
"The last thing he said to me was, 'Ron, be the man God called you to be.' That's the way he was," said Father Ron Camarda.
Father Jeff McGowan was one of the priests who was ordained by Snyder.
"He ordained me in 1989. And he was a wonderful, wonderful man," McGowan said with a lump in his throat. "I think the world was better while he was here, brighter. Now heaven is brighter and we're a little dimmer."
McGowan, who is now retired, was clearly emotional as he raved about the impact Snyder had on his life.
"He was a great mentor, a genuinely real, down-to-earth, honest man of integrity, a man of great, great faith. He loves people," McGowan said. " His advice to me when I became a pastor was to trust God and trust God's people. And I think that's the way he lived his life."
"It was the way he treated me. It wasn't like I was under someone else as a sister, as a woman," said Sister Maureen Kelley, with Sinsinawa Dominicans Sisters. "I got to do what I'm supposed to do."
Whether they were priests ordained by the bishop or friends from another faith tradition, people consistently spoke about Snyder’s care for others and how his love and encouragement lasted until the very end of his life last week.
"(His legacy is) his care for people, not just the clergy, but for all the people -- people of different expressions within the Christian family of churches," said Lord of Life Lutheran Church Pastor Kerry Hinckley. "He just reached out, shared fellowship and stories and mutual concerns. Just the love of Christ just overflowed out of the man, you know? Just fabulous."
Snyder presided over the 17-county Catholic diocese in Northeast Florida during a period of tremendous growth, when the number of Catholics in the diocese more than doubled, requiring the addition of eight new parishes, seven elementary schools and two high schools -- St. Francis Catholic Academy in Gainesville and Bishop Snyder High School, according to diocese spokeswoman Kathleen Bagg.