The Rev. Edmond J. Speitel, 93, a decorated Army chaplain and a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and Diocese of Camden for 60 years, died Tuesday, April 2, of pneumonia at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Huntingdon Valley.
Father Speitel began his career in 1955 after his ordination at the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul. He served under six popes, and celebrated his diamond jubilee in May 2015 before saying his final public Mass on July 25 at St. Francis Cabrini Church in Ocean City, N.J. He turned 90 the next day.
“I’m just hanging it up,” he told the Atlantic City Press. “It looks easy, but it’s not, especially if you don’t take your homily off the internet.”
Born in Philadelphia to Edmond J. and Lillian Kohlschreiber Speitel, he graduated from La Salle College High School in 1943 and enlisted in the Army.
“Everybody went into the Army in World War II,” he told the Press. “I was 18 years old, just a boy. But I knew I wanted to be a priest.”
Father Speitel served three years in the Asiatic-Pacific theater of operations. He was honorably discharged with the rank of sergeant. He was decorated with the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters, Bronze Star Medal with one V — for valor — Device, and the Meritorious Service Medal.
He returned to Philadelphia and entered St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in 1946. He earned a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and following ordination served as an assistant priest in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia from 1955 to 1957.
His two-year assignment as a chaplain at Holy Martyrs Chapel at Philadelphia General Hospital made him “blissfully happy,” he told the Press. He then taught religion at St. John Neumann High School in 1957 and Cardinal Dougherty High School in 1958.
During this time, he earned a master’s degree in modern European history from St. Charles Borromeo, and then accepted a commission as chaplain of the 103rd Engineer Battalion, 28th Division, Pennsylvania Army National Guard.
In 1964, Father Speitel requested active duty, and was assigned to a series of stateside bases as well as postings in Germany and Vietnam. In Vietnam, he went into combat and set up makeshift altars in the back of Army jeeps with ammunition boxes, or whatever he could find.
Service in Vietnam was the happiest time of his life because it brought together his skills as a priest and Army officer, nephew Thomas Bonner said.
He retired from active duty with the rank of colonel in 1988. He was decorated with the Combat Infantry Badge, Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry With Palm, and Republic of Vietnam Civil Actions Honor Medal First Class.
For the next eight years, he was pastor or assistant pastor at parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, including St. Isaac Jogues in Wayne, St. Michael the Archangel in Levittown, St. Philip Neri in Pennsburg, and Our Lady of Charity in Brookhaven.
In 1996, he retired to Ocean City, where he said Mass when needed at the churches of St. Damien Parish, including St. Frances Cabrini, St. Augustine, and Our Lady of Good Counsel.
“Father Ed” was the patriarch of his family and a father figure to many in his parish, said niece Carol Lunger of Villanova. In 2015, he moved to Villa St. Joseph in Darby Borough, a Catholic health-care facility.
Father Speitel lived “with conviction, gusto, uncommon generosity, and always with God in mind,” his niece said. He loved his family and friends, Ocean City, the 76ers, golf, college basketball, the Phillies, writing, crossword puzzles, bridge, smoking a pipe, and playing poker.
He is survived by three sisters; nieces and nephews; and an extended family, many of whom he baptized.
A viewing from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 9, will be followed by an 11 a.m. Funeral Mass at St. James Roman Catholic Church, 8320 Brookside Rd., Elkins Park. Interment will be in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.