LAKE CHARLES – A chance good deed for a friend turned into almost three decades of service to the Diocese of Lake Charles for Sandra Jones, who worked for each of the three bishops of this local church.
Mrs. Jones retires at the end of June for a life of “being a cookie-making grandmother” for her grandson Julian.
Earlier this year, on the day of the celebration of the Chrism Mass during Holy Week, Jones received the Order of St. Charles in the Companion Class from Bishop Glen John Provost. This is the highest diocesan honor one can receive. There can be only 12 living recipients in the Companion Class.
Bishop Speyrer created the Order of St. Charles as a personal award for recognition that may be presented to members of the clergy and laity of the diocese, and others, for services to the Church and the Bishop.
In the photo at left, Bishop Provost, center, presents to Jones, right, the Order of St. Charles Award, in the Companion Class, for her long-time service to the local church, including all three of its bishops. Rev. Msgr. Daniel Torres, left, waits to give Jones a large bouquet of roses.
“For about a week I hope to get up and not put makeup on,” she said. “I have a lot to do to my house, things to rearrange, gardening. I want to volunteer more at my parish and possibly at St. Margaret school, where Julian attends. I would like to travel, perhaps arrange for tickets to an audience with the Holy Father, as I have done for years for others.
“There is nothing long range,” she continued. “Just take it easy for a while and hope not to be bored.”
It was early in August 1985 when Jones brought a friend of hers (who had been a Catholic school teacher) to the diocesan offices (then in the Weber Building on Ryan Street) to meet with Sr. Gloria Cain, the then superintendent of schools.
“While we were there, my friend told me that there was a job opening,” Jones said. “I was between jobs, so I asked ‘for what?’ and she said replied, ‘all I know it is working with a nun.
“I immediately thought ‘no thank you,’ I didn’t think that would be good fit for me,” she continued. “My friend talked me into it though. I found out it was for a secretarial position in the Office of Worship with Sister Camille Martinez.”
She talked for a while with Sr. Camille, who asked her to type a letter. “She looked at it and said I had gotten the job and I could start Monday,” Jones said. “Yay! I took the job, went home and told my husband the story (about the good deed for the friend) and, by the way, I’d gotten a job. ‘Great news’, he said. What would you be doing? I explained it to him and then he asked ‘what is your salary?’ It was then that I realized that I had not asked what I would be making.”
She went to work four of the five days for Sr. Camille and would pinch-hit in the Office of Vocations, headed at that time by Father Sam Jacobs (now retired Bishop of Houma-Thibodaux). She was there for 11 months before Sr. Camille decided to go into parish work.
“I thought I might be out of work again but was told by the Vicar for Christian Formation, at the time Deacon George Stearns, that that was not to be case,” Jones said. “ I was moved to the Chancery and went to work as support staff for Fiscal Administration – Deacon Bud Wagner – and pinch-hit for the downstairs receptionist desk. I did that until 1988.
“Then, Msgr. (Harry) Greig, the vicar general and chancellor, received an appointment to Rome and would be moving and Bishop Speyrer’s secretary – Irene McGee – was also leaving to begin a nursery business with her husband.
“I will never forget the day Monsignor Greig came in and said ‘he wanted to talk with me,’” Jones continued. “We visited and then he said that I would be moving be moving again. “He told me that Bishop Speyrer had requested that I become his secretary and the first thing I thought was, once again, no way, I was probably going to be going home. But, he convinced me that it wasn’t a bad idea and that I could do it.”
Msgr. Grieg’s clincher? “That he (Bishop Speyrer) had asked for me.”
Jones and Bishop Speyrer went back a long way, to her high school days at St. Maria Goretti Catholic High School in Lake Arthur.
“He was the pastor at Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church there and also my glee club instructor.”
Jones worked with Bishop Speyrer until his retirement in 2000, one of only three who had served as secretaries for the Bishop and she with the longest tenure.
She continued in her role under the second Bishop of Lake Charles, Bishop Edward K. Braxton.
She recalled Bishop Speyrer telling her of his retirement.
“Bishop Speyrer called me in and let me know that he would be retiring,” she said. “He broke my heart because I knew that I would miss him but he spoke to me and said one thing that made me forget what I was feeling and reminded me where he was coming from, he said he was tired and I realized that he needed his retirement.”
She met her new boss on Dec. 12, 2000, when Bishop Speyrer introduced Bishop Braxton to the Chancery staff and numerous clergy during a press conference.
“My life changed,” she said. “I had worked those many years for a man I knew so well and Bishop Braxton being African-American was different.. His age was different, close to my age and he was a very, very brilliant man. His focus was on education, Catholic education.
“Confirmation was very important to him and most so that the students understood what they were going through,” she said.
“Those nearly five years saw a lot of changes,” Jones said. “Then one Sunday afternoon Father Charles McMillin, (Vicar for Clergy) called me and asked that I stop by the residence on my way to work the next day. It was not an unusual request, something that was done often.
“When I got the house, there was a weird vibe that I could feel and I knew it wouldn’t be a normal morning of taking dictation or getting information before coming into the office. I went into the sitting room and when the Bishop came in, I knew by the look on his face that something was going on. He was not one to mince words and not one to not have anything to say. I remember looking at him and saying ‘what is it, just let me know.’ He said, ‘I don’t know how to say this but just to say it.’ I thought “I’m losing my job. I’m going to be between jobs again.”
“So he said, ‘I’m being moved,’ that he had heard from the Holy Father that he would be moved – this was in March – and would be installed in a new diocese in June.
“That all came to pass and on the day following his installation, the Diocesan College of Consultors named Monsignor Greig as administrator of the diocese to serve until the Holy Father appointed a new Bishop and he was installed here.”
She remained in her position with Msgr. Greig, during that time and Hurricane Rita came to visit. With damages to the Chancery and other diocesan buildings along with many churches in the diocese, some completely destroyed, there was a lot to do.
The Chancery staff worked out of a modular building parked behind the Catholic Deaf Center while the Chancery was repaired.
“We went through nearly two years before a Bishop was appointed for us,” Jones said. “Early in 2007, I answered a phone call from Washington and it was the Apostolic Nuncio himself, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, calling and he asked for Msgr. Greig. I knew that something had happened. Msgr. Greig spoke with him.
About a week later, I am at my desk and Msgr. Greig brings into the office a Monsignor Glen John Provost from Lafayette. He introduced him to me and I later would find out that he would be my bishop, the third bishop of Lake Charles.
He would be her third bishop.
Bishop Provost was installed in April 2007 and that is where she has been until now.
In December 2014, Jones’ husband decided that after over 40 years at his job, he would retire. “I started to think I was not ready for retirement and I would give it a few months,” she said. “I began praying and discerning and shortly after the first of this year I began to think that I could be retired, it might be good.
“My health was good, my grandson was not getting any younger and I wanted to spend a lot of time with him, so after much prayer I decided it was time that I would try to make 30 years, almost did. It was time for me to retire.
“I wrote a letter to the Bishop and we talked,” she continued. “I don’t think he was too surprised, after speaking to me. After he knew that Tony had retired, he knew I wouldn’t be too far behind.”