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February 17, 2014

Redemptorist Father Jack Spicer, who died Jan. 31 at age 94, was one of the great visionaries of the Edmonton Archdiocese. There likely were few who believed more in the transformational power of the Holy Scriptures. Nor were there many as dedicated as Spicer to small Christian communities as the most effective vehicle for helping today’s Catholic laity to live their faith.

For 30 years, Spicer was director of adult religious education for the archdiocese. To say that, however, implies that he held a job in the Church. But for Spicer, that job was a passion, a mission to evangelize the Catholic people.

Spicer used his summers to study the Bible with some of North America’s top Catholic Bible scholars. He brought many of them to Edmonton too, especially the best of them all, Father Raymond Brown, who made multiple trips to lecture at Spicer’s Scripturefest.

He also wrote for the WCR. For 20 years, he engaged readers with his short, easy-to-understand commentaries on the Sunday readings.

As editor, I was pleased to host him numerous times in my office. Often, he would show up unannounced and launch into an impassioned talk on some aspect of the life of the Church, the folly of fundamentalism or the value of small Christian communities.

At first, I wasn’t sure if he was fired up about some mistaken point of view expressed in the WCR. But eventually I decided that he just had something he wanted to say that day and I was chosen to be his audience. Short of applauding his speech, one could hardly begin to match his enthusiasm and fire.

Spicer was always concerned that his scholarly presenters speak in a way understandable to ordinary people. One time, when a well-known Scripture scholar had delivered the first of her three or four talks in a virtually unintelligible manner, he came to me, deeply worried that none of the audience would return the next day. But return they did, and the great scholar at last spoke in a way that could be understood.

Spicer and Sister Madeline Geiger also launched a unique free video lending library out of the adult education office. It provided valuable resources that my wife Nora and I used in programs in our parish and with our kids at home.

There were also many Christian videos suitable for children and youth. Whenever I visited that video library, I was never alone. There were always young moms toting along their small fry to find some home entertainment.

Spicer loved people and almost always had a smile. His crusading zeal was never stronger than his concern for the people he strove to serve. He made a great contribution to the faith lives of people across this archdiocese. I hope that someday those small Christian communities become as widespread as he desired. Not only would it be a fitting memorial to him, but it would go a long way towards strengthening the life of our Church.