“Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Freedom”

in memory of Charles J. Speel
Sunday, October 15, 2000

Faith Presbyterian Church, Monmouth, Illinois

by Thomas J. Sienkewicz

My text is 2 Corinthinians 3:17. “Now the Lord is Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Freedom.” I chose this text because Charles Speel did when he was asked in 1995 to draft a mission statement for Monmouth College. In this statement Charles used these words of St. Paul to describe what he called the “framework of ageless Christian ideals” upon which the college to which he devoted most of his life was based. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is Freedom” is also the principle upon which Charles himself lived and which gave him hope even in death.  In his life Charles was a witness to the spirit of the Lord. Each of us here shared in that witness in many different ways, as wife, as daughter, as son-in-law, as granddaughter, as brother, as uncle, as faculty colleague, as teacher and mentor, as spiritual advisor, and as friend. We felt that Spirit of the Lord with him in life. We are here this afternoon to celebrate his freedom from the physical infirmities which frustrated him in his final years and his new-found freedom in the Spirit of the Lord in death.

In many ways I am inadequate to speak about Charles in this company. Most of you have known him far longer than I have and knew him in his prime. I met him only sixteen years ago when he was already on bridge retirement, his eye-sight was failing and he was beginning to slow down from his very busy academic life. Despite the great differences in our ages and backgrounds, – he was a New England Presbyterian old enough to be my grandfather and I was a young Catholic from New Jersey – we somehow became good friends here on the Illinois prairie. For years Charles, Bill Urban, Harris Hauge and I swam together every weekday in the Monmouth College Pool. During these swim times we joked together and often talked about college politics and affairs. In these conversations Charles always had a story which helped put the current issues in the broader context of the college’s history and religious traditions. I learned much from him about the college and about good, Christian living and was humbled that he accepted me so graciously into his life. Perhaps it was the “Spirit of the Lord” working through him. Charles and Emma Janis shared many meals, holidays and celebrations with me and my family, especially at Christmastime. One memorable summer my son and I even had the privilege of visiting them in their home on Cape Cod.

When Monmouth College honored Charles’ life and career with the publication of a Festschrift in 1994, I introduced this work with a description of St. Ambrose by his student St. Augustine. I felt then that Augustine’s words applied equally to both Ambrose of Milan and Charles Speel of Monmouth. I continue to think so today. Here is what Augustine wrote:

To Milan I came to Ambrose the Bishop, known to the whole world as among the best of men, Thy devout servant, whose eloquent discourse did then plentifully dispense unto thy people the flour of Thy wheat, the gladness of Thy oil, and the sober inclination of Thy wine. To him was I unknowingly led to Thee. That man of God received me as a Father, and showed me an Episcopal kindness on my coming.

Like Ambrose, Charles Speel was “among the best of men.” He was admired and respected at Monmouth College by faculty, administrators and students alike, who valued his emphasis on excellence and achievement. He was also respected by members of his church, of his alma maters Brown and Harvard Universities, and by members of the religious and academic worlds as far away as Florence (Italy) and India. Like Ambrose Charles lived his life as “God’s devout servant.” The simplicity of his life style and of the home he and Emma Janis shared is a reflection of the liberating “Spirit of the Lord” which brings freedom from material things. While I myself had few opportunities to hear him “preaching to the people”, colleagues and students alike can attest to his famed “eloquent discourse.” When he lectured on the first floor of Monmouth College, his learned voice often echoed out into the hall and, so I’m told by colleagues, often continued long after the end of the class period.  His students sometimes arrived late for their next classes with heads filled with the sober inclination of Charles’ wine, that is, with topics like Christian theology, Church history and biblical archaeology.

Charles’ “Episcopal kindness” spoke out in all he said and did. As advisor to Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity for many years, he treated the brothers kindly and his guiding episcopal hand helped them regularly attain excellence both academically and socially. He had only kind words to say about everyone. When Monmouth College’s relations with the Catholic diocese of Peoria reached a precarious point in the 1950's, Charles used his personal charm and “episcopal kindness” to heal the rift. The result for him was a life-long friendship with the pastor of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Monmouth. The result for Monmouth College was a long-standing arrangement that a Catholic priest would participate in Charles’ course on Roman Catholicism.

St. Augustine was the wheat of Ambrose’s flour. The “flour of the wheat” which Charles dispensed in his lifetime can be seen in the outstanding lives of his daughters, Clara Beth and Janis, and of their daughters, in whom Charles and Emma Janis were so proud. The wheat of Charles’ flour is also evidenced by the ranks of his students at Monmouth College whose lives parallel and celebrate his own.  Many of them were contributors to his Festschrift. His flour includes preachers and ministers like  John Baumann of the class of 1957, Linda Baldwin, Robert Gillogly and Thomas Matthews of the class of 1961 and Richard Anderson, class of 1966. Theologians and philosophers like Charles Courtney (class of 1957), Janet Forsythe Fishburn (class of 1958), and Nelson Potter (class of 1961). Still others entered the halls of academia in other fields, like Gary Willhardt (class of 1959), Charles Rassieur and Robert Gamer (class of 1960), and William Winslade (class of 1963). Charles scattered his wheat even further afield with high school history teacher Paul Carlson (class of 1957), computer consultant Timothy Keefauver (class of 1980), and William Irelan (class of 1962) who made his career in law and international development.

All these and many other students of Charles Speel have experienced the “gladness of the oil” which Charles, like Ambrose, distributed both inside and outside the classroom. Their careers are evidence of the Spirit of the Lord which Charles described in his 1995 draft of a Monmouth College mission statement with phrases like “the cultivation of responsibility,” “service to others . . . more valued than self-serving,” “exercising fair play in dealing with others” and “cultivating clear judgement, sound general knowledge, [and] marked competence in the area of their fields of major concentration.” These are the values by which Charles lived his own life and the values which he taught his students at Monmouth College. His was a life founded upon responsibility, service, fair play, clear judgment, knowledge and competence. His was a life based upon “the teaching of the truth that where is the Spirit of the Lord there is Freedom.” May he rest now for eternity in that freedom of the Spirit of the Lord.