COME THOU LONG, EXPECTED REPORT ON U.S. RELIGIOUS

December 17th, 2014

Within days of opening the year of Consecrated Religious Life by Pope Francis and near the anniversary of the key document on religious life of the Second Vatican Council, Perfectae Caritatis, the Holy See yesterday published the concluding report of the “Investigation and Visitation of U.S. Women Religious”.

When the news broke that yet a second investigation of women religious, this time involving visitations of many of the religious orders, was to be begun, I remember writing in this space that our sisters should not worry about the eventual outcome. Like the first study, chaired and overseen by Archbishops John Quinn and Thomas Kelly and Bishop Raymond Lessard, no conclusion other than religious have been and continue to be a gift to the Church was possible.

What prompted me then to predict this week’s outcome? In our Church when there is a concern raised often enough and loud enough by certain people, the institutional response is almost always, “well, let’s have an investigation and visitation to fix what is either wrong or we do not like.” Twice in twenty years we bishops without asking for help have had to endure two long, expensive pontifical studies and investigations of our priestly formation programs (i.e., seminaries) and the result has always been the same. Not too much wrong, not too much that needs fixing, and nothing happens.

I think that my article at the time understood the angst of the women religious. They seemed to be singled out for no apparent reason, the decision was understood as coming from an all-male Roman Congregation leadership with little reason given for the action, there was no ground-swell of US bishops indicating even privately that “it’s about time” (the USCCB was never asked); therefore it did not seem to the women to be matter of high moment to most of the Church in the U.S. and probably a host of other reasons too long to spell out here. And, quite frankly, it did not help when Archbishop Joseph Tobin, C.SS.R. now of Indianapolis but then Secretary of the Congregation (appointed after the visitation and investigation was announced) who both understood and appreciated women religious was transferred from Rome to Indiana.

On Tuesday, the Congregation, now under a gentler, kinder administrative hand, introduced their final report which can and should be read in its eleven page entirety by clicking here. It is a sensitive and sympathetic assessment of religious life in the United States today. It rightly praises the work of religious women in US yesterday and today. It does not tilt at all in favor of what some call the more traditional religious communities over those who took Perfectae Caritatis seriously in the years following the Council and chose the path to renewal. Also it laments, as every Catholic should and as the religious themselves do, the declining numbers of women religious. So what happened to effect this kinder, gentler result?

I think much praise should be directed to the woman who was placed in charge of the project, Mother M. Clare Millea. At both the beginning and end she and her co-workers faced a monumental and thankless task. Suspicion in the early days ran so high that a few religious orders refused to cooperate, but most did. The visitations were largely affirming in their results (ahem, just like the two seminary visitations) and they listened, at least in part, to the “push-back” of many US Catholics who love the sisters. If there was indeed even-handedness about the project, I believe Mother Mary Clare Millea deserves the thanks of many.

 

Then, a new Pope did not hurt either. He must have known the skepticism and even distrust which was held throughout most of the world toward those previously charged with overseeing consecrated life. He appointed a new, savvy and sympathetic Prefect and Secretary. That did not hurt either as both quietly worked to turn the distrust into openness. How I hope that when their work is finished, these two men will be replaced by at least one, if not two, religious women. That would have helped a long time ago when this brouhaha began.

 

Finally, I wish that we lived in a Church when what happened on Tuesday is greeted with joy and not simply relief. Pope Francis is moving us steadily in that direction. And tons of people are ready to follow his example of mercy and forgiveness, especially U.S. sisters who have had to live it existentially in the Church for some time. While I do not personally know the sister who heads the Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious in the U.S., I personally know and deeply admire Sister Sharon Holland, IHM who is the current President of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. She is more of a woman of the Church than I can be accused of being a man of the Church. Serving for years on the same Vatican Congregation as an intelligent and sensitive staff person, she lives, breathes and sleeps the Church and her religious vocation. LCWR’s membership is in awesome hands as the women prod the rest of us to live the Gospel ever more fully. I’ll say it again, the Holy Spirit is alive and active in the Church we love.

+RNL

PRIESTS FOR THE FLORIDA FUTURE

December 12th, 2014

On Sunday evening, the bishops of Florida joined St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary for a major moment, the dedication of two new residence buildings and the major remodeling of fifty year old existing buildings.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

The other FL bishops and myself ready to cut the ribbon in front of the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

Catholics in the St. Petersburg diocese know that we have been raising monies in the FORWARD IN FAITH campaign to pay our diocesan share of the construction and furnishing costs of these new and remodeled buildings.

Two years ago, the Board of Trustees, consisting of the state’s bishops and other lay and ordained representatives from the seven dioceses made a major commitment of twenty-eight million dollars for construction and and endowment to guarantee St. Vincent’s as our choice for priestly formation for the next fifty years, at least.

The seminary was built and opened by the Vincentian Fathers in the early sixties and when it was no longer possible for them to run it, the Archdiocese of Miami purchased it for about two million dollars, if I remember right. It became an Archdiocesan seminary opened to students from Florida and elsewhere and the faculty were largely, though not entirely, Miami priests.

In 1981, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, the second Archbishop of Miami, and Bishops Larkin, Snyder, and Gracida agreed to change its status from an archdiocesan seminary to a provincial seminary, thereby incurring the financial and staffing responsibilities. The Orlando diocese, then shepherded by Bishop Thomas Grady, declined participation in the regional seminary concept, but around 1999, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, then of Orlando, agreed to “buy into” the agreement and the two dioceses of Palm Beach and Venice, established in 1984, were also a part from their establishment. So, St. Vincent’s is a truly provincial seminary for all the dioceses of Florida and it’s open to any other diocese that wishes to send their candidates there.

In the history of the seminary since its regionalization, our St. Petersburg diocese has provided priest personnel in the persons of Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups (the current Rector-President), and Father Robert Young ,who is an extern professor of Church History. All of this is to say that financially and with precious priest personnel, we have done our share and I am proud of that.

Currently the seminary enrollment stands at about 90 students and is reasonably projected to touch the magic 100 mark soon. The original design and buildings were horrible. The Albany based architect chosen by the Vincentians never came to Florida and designed the seminary residence buildings like they were motels along highway A1A. Students had to go outside to use the bathrooms and the showers in the residence area. Air-conditioning was challenging to say the least and the number of classrooms was and remained severely limited. But, there is a beautiful seminary chapel which came a little later and a large library/media center which was opened in the nineties.

Now, when the seminarians return to school in January following the Christmas recess, they will find larger rooms opening off an interior hallway with private bath and shower in every room. The design and space is comfortable, but far from extravagant.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

View of inside the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

And those old buildings with the central showers and bathrooms are and will be remodeled in such a way as the double the size of the rooms and include a private bath and shower where one previously did not exist. All things made new! The seminary will soon be capable, if necessary, of accommodating something like 125 seminarians. They will be comfortable, but not spoiled. See more photos of the new residence hall here.

At the conclusion of the Dedication and Mass, the eight bishops gathered together for a meal and to begin our quarterly meetings of the Florida Catholic Conference. I proposed a toast to my brother bishops for two years ago taking a deep breath and making a sizeable commitment to the future of priestly formation in our state and elsewhere throughout the Southeast and Caribbean. They had the same courage as those who began the seminary originally and our forebears as bishops who spread the responsibility among all seven dioceses. I was proud of them and proud to be one of them.

To our own Monsignor David Toups, the President Rector, who now has in three years given birth to a new school building at Christ the King in Tampa and 12 million dollars of new building in Boynton Beach, I offer congratulations as “father” of the project and to the architects and Herman Construction Services who built it. I said when I came, soon to be nineteen years ago, that Vocations and Priestly Formation would be one of my highest priorities and the ordination of five men in May of 2015 and six in May of 2016 should be proof positive that we in St. Petersburg, ordained, religious and lay, are doing all in our power to provide priests for the future. Nine men are in the application process for the seminary next year to replace the five being ordained and then some. God is good.

+RNL

FERGUSON, STATEN ISLAND, TORTURE AND ME

December 11th, 2014

I am happy to once again be back online and also pleased to say that in the two weeks since my rotator cuff surgery, your prayers have helped me enormously.

My right arm is in a sling until January 5th when physical therapy begins – at which time more prayers for my patience will be greatly appreciated.

During my convalescence, the country has lived through Ferguson and Staten Island and yesterday the report of the actual torture inflicted upon detainees following 9-11. I have been thinking about all of this and offer these reflections, which are more my opinion than doctrinal reflections, although I suspect that I will also venture into that territory as well.

African Americans deeply believe that racism is alive and well in these United States and so do I. It is such a widely held belief and perception that it needs to be addressed for the common good of who we are as a people.

In the two cases to which I have alluded above, there is also the widely held perception by African Americans that there is a double standard of suspicion and reaction by law enforcement when our peacekeepers face similar situations in the white and black communities. Again, it is their perception and widely held perceptions need to be dealt with as they are rooted in some truth and reality.

On the matter of racism, which I said above that I believe to be still present, one of the arguments that advanced in the last two weeks is the fear and apprehension that one alone or a couple of black males experience often in certain peaceful situations when whites are present.

Let me ask you to ask yourself this question: do you almost automatically become anxious, nervous, afraid and threatened when you find yourself alone in a sidewalk, street or parking lot where there may be one or more black males present? Sometimes I am and I know better and should not be.

Sensing and experiencing this leads the African American community to believe that they are guilty until proven innocent in the minds of many. The Trayvon Martin case here in Florida is perhaps an example. And when confronted, questioned, harassed, the person who feels the heel of prejudice reacts in a hostile manner, often exacerbating the moment

We are all made in the image and likeness of God. We are all God’s children. Jesus clearly rejected the stereotyping of his time. Whether faced with a representative of Imperial Roman domination, or the sometimes dangerous and hostile Samaritans, he stood his ground on the principle of love for others.

There is no quick fix to the perceptions which gave rise to the reactions to Ferguson or Staten Island (Cleveland and Phoenix as well) but there has to be a national resolve to recognize the seeds of distrust and unrest within us all. Only then will the nation move on in addressing the issues of poverty, injustice, and racism.

As I hinted above, at the core of injustice, disrespect for human life can be found. I found the report of the imprisonment, torture and treatment of the detainees by the CIA to be almost a sin which cries out for vengeance. It sickened me worse than a repaired rotator cuff and, argue with me if you think I am wrong, but all the more likely more barbarian and inhumane treatment by ISIS to those held captive.

While we beheaded no one or murdered none, the world is going to think we stopped just short. They are the worst of very bad people to be sure, but when Senator McCain says that our treatment of these people rivaled that of the North Vietnamese to him long ago, we should stop and say no. I am grateful that President Obama ended the practice when he took office and hope that it never happens again.

+RNL

O.R. AGAIN

November 24th, 2014

This site has been unusually silent in recent days and I want to explain why. About seven weeks ago I took a spill (wet feet on a tile bathroom floor) and landed on my right side (my business side, of course). While there was nothing broken, thank God, I did manage to tear three of the four tendons in my right rotator cuff and partially limited my ability to do things I should and must do (give Eucharist on the tongue to those taller people who approach me, for example). The event gave birth to residual pain in the arm as well, far from excruciating, mind you, but enough to let me know it was there. Additionally, I had long ago made plans which could not be changed to be out of the country for the last two weeks, missing both the Fall USCCB General Assembly and the installation of Archbishop Blasé Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago. So tomorrow I pay the piper and rotator cuff surgery is scheduled for 800am EST. It will not require hospitalization but as most of you know, the recovery and rehab is quite lengthy, extensive and painful. Tonight I say farewell to my bed and hello to some motorized lounge chair which will become my home and throne for several weeks. I have an excellent surgeon in whom I have the greatest confidence and  he assured me that I need to brace myself (should have done that weeks ago in the bathroom). Anyway, prayers are welcome and if Siri can understand my English better, I may have some things to say in the next few weeks. Among the topics are: the St. Jude the Apostle Awards [until then see our website], the President’s Executive Order on Immigration [I strongly support it and wished mightily that it would have been a little more generous. It is not my intention to engage in the question of how it was done but something was long overdue], School Choice and the elections of 2014 [Hope some people in the Education world can read the tea leaves on public sentiment for choice]. Only God knows how with a combination of little to do for maybe two weeks and pain-lesseners, what else may plant itself in this fertile but inert mind. So it is off the see the wizard of orthopedics. Thanks for your prayers and the many good wishes already received from so many of you. +RNL

FATHER JOHN O’DONOVAN

November 2nd, 2014
Reverend John O'Donovan

Reverend John O’Donovan

On All Souls Day, the Lord came for the soul of another of our priests who will be well known to many, especially in St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo, where he served for many years, and at St. Brendan parish on Island Estates and other parishes in the Clearwater area where he assisted after his retirement from active ministry. Father John O’Donovan battled cancer while living here and ultimately he returned to his native Ireland to finish his treatment and his life among family and friends. At 150pm GMT (Ireland time), the Lord came for him and said “enough, come now to the place prepared by my Father and enter into eternal rest.

A tall man with big heart, he came to our diocese to serve much of his priesthood with Father Michael Finnegan, pastor at the time of St. Catherine. They were both heavy smokers and both confessed to me at one time or another that they fully understood the risks they were taking. Father John had that innate Irish wit which so many of our priests had and a dry sense of humor. He was loved and appreciated by all who heard him preach or to whom he came in the times of their own distress.

I spoke with Father last week as he was leaving a hospital for a last time to enter hospice. He was comfortable knowing that death might be imminent but he never gave up hope for a miracle. Kind, consoling, compassionate, Father John O’Donovan helped us enormously here in the diocese.

If you read this and know or remember him, please keep he and his family in your prayers on Tuesday afternoon when there will be a wake service and on Wednesday morning when his funeral Mass will be celebrated. I had hoped that I might be able to fly to Ireland to celebrate his life and death but it is not possible for me. Perhaps it is just as well because his friend of many years, Bishop William Walsh, Bishop Emeritus of Killaloo will be present. I will offer Mass, however, for the peaceful repose of Father John’s soul.

+RNL

THE VIEW FROM OUTSIDE OF THE STADIUM

October 28th, 2014

I often like to quote the late Cardinal Richard James Cushing of Boston who once publicly pronounced, “The Church may be difficult but it is never boring!” My two recent blogs on the recently concluded Extraordinary Synod have drawn a good number of comments and just a few that contain the very condemnatory language which makes people want to leave the Church. They have consistently come from people outside of the diocese who do not know what we do to reconcile people to the faith here.

I will admit that in using the image of an athletic contest, especially a football game, I took some literary license in order to help the average reader understand what I think took place during those amazing two weeks. It was a stretch, to be sure but it certainly wasn’t boring to a lot of people who read it, though some found it difficult. So, to place some of what I said in another context and to make good use of the wisdom of a man I deeply respect, let me share with you some words of wisdom from a Synod participant himself, Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminister (that’s Catholic London) who in a pastoral letter said more clearly and perhaps more precisely what I meant in my analysis when dealing with two areas which my commentators found at a minimum neuralgic and at a maximum outrageous.

Speaking of co-habitating couples and the divorced and remarried, Cardinal Nichols noted that in these people there is often “real goodness” to be found. He noted that the Synod called on all of us “to walk alongside people in difficult or exceptional situations [and] to see clearly and with humility all the good aspects of their lives.” “This is especially true with regard to individuals who, for example, have decided to live together without marriage, or for Catholics in second marriages. . . .These realities are part of their journey in life and while not in keeping with the pattern the Lord asks of us, their lives are often marked by real goodness. . . .This is the basis for our care of them, for our approach to them, our invitation to them, to come closer to the church and deepen their faith and attend carefully to its call.” One would think that in this fourteenth year of this millennium no one would argue with such language or pastoral plan.

Speaking then of another neuralgic issue for many people, the Cardinal addressed those with same-sex attraction. He asked his Church to accept them “with compassion and sensitivity.” As I attempted to do in my two blogs but perhaps with greater brevity and clarity, Cardinal Nichols noted that in the Synod, there was “no suggestion that the teaching of the church might somehow give approval to the notion of ‘same-sex marriage” or that its teaching on sexual morality is to change.” He is also quoted as saying, I think what is important is that we keep the focus on the person and we keep recognizing and respecting and valuing and welcoming the goodness of every person whatever their sexuality, whether they are co-habitating or in a second marriage. Their lives continue to carry the hallmark of the Holy Spirit.”

This is precisely what I see as the challenge to myself as a bishop, to my priests, deacons, religious and laity which emanates from Pope Francis. Go seek the lost. Tell them they are loved by their God. Invite them to listen to Christ as did the woman caught in adultery and the woman at Jacob’s well, The same love and warmth of invitation needs to be offered to those women who have had abortions, prisoners on death row, God’s people who are hurting, feeling lonely and abandoned.

Many would love to enter the stadium but can’t get through the protesters outside blocking entrances and hurling epithets. Cardinal Nichols offers his ministry as an usher willing to deliver some one from the outside to a place of some type inside the stadium of God’s love. That is what I hope I can do as well.

+RNL

ps. I now have the benefit, thanks to the mother of all ecclesial blogs, of reading the entire pastoral letter of Cardinal Nichols and I think it is worth your time so you can access it by clicking here. My blog was written based on parts reported by Catholic News Service to which I am also grateful. I think with this third in a series, it is time for me to move on to other topics, for the moment.

 

 

VIEW FROM THE LOCKER ROOM

October 21st, 2014

A week ago in this space, I blogged about my reaction to the interim report of the Extraordinary Synod which had been working for a week in Rome. That blog, in case, you have not read it is available and entitled “The View from the Sidelines.” As you can tell, I enthusiastically welcomed the discussions which were taking place, the style and substance of the meeting format, and the marked changes in tone which were captured in that interim report. Now that the exercise is finished, at least for the moment, I want to take you inside the locker room and share with you what I consider the post-game highlights. Fortunately you and I can read the coach’s assessment (in this case, Pope Francis) and then continue to ponder the amazing two weeks. I remain as enthusiastic about the conclusion of the exercise as I was at half-time.

There clearly were two teams on the field for this encounter which I would characterize as Team A and Team B. Team A was enthralled by and anxious to play for and with Pope Francis primarily in helping the Church of the future seek out and return the “lost sheep.” Their game plan was aggressive, embracing and encompassing the lived experiences of the people from whom they came, and desirous of opening up a possible new  game plan for the Church they love and serve.

Team B was also made up of those who love the Church but wish to play a more cautious game plan, conceding as little precious yardage as possible and defensively holding the line against what they viewed as an aggressive offense pulled together by Team A. The difference that I saw during “play” and after the “game” was that Team B said they seemed not to understand clearly enough the coach’s (read that the Pope’s) game plan so they chose to play it “safe” or cautiously.

Just about two-thirds of those engaged in the Synod were on Team A and perhaps Team B felt so outnumbered that they saw a need to engage certain sectors of the media to help them play the game. How do I know this? Take a look at the votes on the three contentious issues (gay and lesbian Catholics, the divorced and remarried, and engaged couples living together) and you will find a majority in favor of stronger engagement in issues relating to these groups but short, and in one case only by the Holy See’s version of Florida’s “hanging chads”) enough to keep the majority from getting the two-thirds necessary to include an even more pastoral solution into the “game plan.” On those three issues, for the moment, Team B’s strategy won the day, but for how long?

The long final message is a very respectable and responsible work product and it should been seen as provisional, just like the previous week’s summary of what was seen and heard in the Synod Hall was provisional. I personally very much appreciated the Synod’s strong affirmation of married life and its words of comfort and support to married couples and I think the over-reaction of everyone, perhaps even myself, could have drowned out the support for marriage and those who are engaged in it which happily is in the final document.

Now “the game plan” goes to teams (aka (arch) dioceses) throughout the world for reflection, prayer, and possible revision prior to “the Super Bowl” on marriage and family life which begins in Rome on October 4th, 2015. If those who will be attending the next Synod are listening to the voice of the Church throughout the world, the final report next year will look an awful lot like the playbook for Team A. I know for certain that my diocese wants to see some form of relief to those who have divorced and remarried and that would be true of priests, deacons, religious sisters and laity. They and I want the principal of the indissolubility of marriage to be retained and upheld, but there are ways in which the Church can reach out to great people who erred in their first choice of spouse and now find themselves in a loving, caring, mutually trusting and  giving relationship.

I also know for certain that this local Church wants to see us welcome members of the Gay and Lesbian community. I cannot, we cannot promise them that we will ever be likely to recognize the nature of their unions as sacramental but if they are willing to accept that reality, then they can be full participants in the life of the Church. I know that many of my pastors have shared with me that Gay and Lesbian parents who have adopted children are wonderful, loving and caring parents and neither my people and my priests nor the laity wish to see the children punished by being denied baptism or the sacraments or being excluded from Catholic schools and religious formation programs because they have two daddies or two mommies.

I also know many parents who, while feeling some pain that their sons and daughters are “living together” with someone likely some day to be their spouse, understand they those same children now find it absolutely financially necessary to live together just to stay alive in the work place.

After the game was over last Saturday night, the Coach addressed both Team A and Team B in a post-game evaluation or “pep talk.” He criticized the more extreme offences and defenses of both teams and asked that in charity they sharpen their game plan for the Super Bowl next year. He chose not to hide the different strategies and statistics by publishing the whole Synod report and the votes for each part, including the three which were rejected by not achieving the two-thirds vote necessary. He said that he felt that at times some of the “players” seemed to be calling plays in desperation and desirous of winning at any cost which the Pope then said should not be a worry because he who occupies the see of St. Peter will listen to all and then decide for the best of the Church. What he was actually conceding, I think, is that certain of his players played as if they had little to no confidence in the coach. He used the very same words which I used in my blog on the interim report about walking sub Petro and cum Petro.

Finally, it was a great start to the “marriage and family life season”. There was a new openness in the Church and transparency has never been more apparent. That the neuralgic issues which I outlined above were even spoken of in public marks a new day for a Church which until now has thought that the best form of governance is secret governance. A retired archbishop friend of mine whom I respect very much said to me prior to the opening of the Synod that the “Church would cross the Rubicon at this extraordinary synod.” I think he was right. I think Blessed Pope Paul VI who envisioned synods as a manner of governance at the service of both Pope and universal Church must have been smiling from his place in heaven. It was collegiality exercised in its most pristine form and the resulting statement going forth guarantees that the next time the teams gather to play again, they will have had more time to pray, ponder and reflect on the Church in the modern day.

I have employed the image of the concluded Extraordinary Synod in “football” language because I think more readers can understand what was really at play the last two weeks. But I do not consider the Synod to be a game at all, but an opportunity for the Spirit to guide and direct the Church under the watchful eye and mind of our chief shepherd, the Pope, for a more effective spread of the Gospel in our day. Next October, you and I dear reader, will not be watching from the sidelines or the locker room, but we will be playing and praying for the Spirit of Pentecost to come upon our Church.

+RNL

ANOTHER GREAT PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE GOES TO THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

October 15th, 2014
Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. conducts Benediction service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

I am woefully late in posting this tribute to a great priest of the diocese who recently went home to the “house of the Father”. Father Christopher Fitzgerald, IC a priest for fifty-six years died just as I was leaving for Rome and the ordination to the diaconate of Rev. Mr. Ryan Boyle. It is interesting to me that on the very day I was ordained to the diaconate at St. Clement’s parish church in Fort Lauderdale by the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy, a wonderful Lithuanian priest with whom I lived at St. James parish in North Miami, suffered a major and eventually fatal heart attack (Father George Razutis) and I went right to his hospital room after the ordination and I have not forgotten what he said to me then: “It is all right, Bob, today God gives his Church a new priest and takes to Himself an old one.” When I arrived in Rome and learned of Father Fitz’s death, I immediately thought of that moment thirty-seven years ago.

Father Chris’ final years were spent in the loving care of his long-time Associate Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner, Father Michael O’Neill. Aided by a staff which clearly loved their founding pastor, they were all able to take care of him until skilled nursing care was required but they never abandoned him to the loneliness of a nursing home but were present to him as often as they could be. Father Fitzgerald was ordained a priest in 1958 having been born in Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, Ireland on January 3, 1932. He was ordained as a member of a religious order called the “Institute of Charity” in Tanzania and served his first two years there before having to leave because of serious health issues. His order sent him to Florida where he first served for eleven years at Blessed Sacrament in Seminole and then briefly in Port Charlotte and then St. Paul, St. Petersburg.

In 1973, he became pastor of St. Anne Church in Ruskin where he served for fourteen years. While there he fell in love with the growing Hispanic population, mostly Mexican and strove not just to minister to them but to learn their language as much as he could. He was a faithful son of Anthony Rosmini who founded the Institute of Charity to serve the poor and needy in a diocesan priest-like formation and ministry program. Rosmini was ahead of his times in many ways and irritated the established clerical system of the time and found himself condemned in a way by the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The fathers of his order, however, continued to pursue the charism of their founder despite the “cloud” under which Rosmini stood. Father Fitz gave me a copy of a biography of Rosmini when I first came and I found it fascinating. The I.C.’s staff the parishes of Blessed Sacrament Seminole, St. Theresa in Spring Hill, and St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner and they have been great priests in this diocese and we are indebted to them.

In 1987, Father Fitzgerald was made the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, newly abuilding in Seffner with parishioners “cut off” from the then gigantic Nativity parish in Brandon (much to the chagrin of the Brandon pastor at that time, Monsignor Jaime Lara, who was still complaining about the “theft” in 1996 when I came here as bishop in 1996). St. Francis under Father Chris’ leadership became quite a faith community and the turn-out for this funeral (nine days after his death) attested to the love which they had for him. During his time there, his order chose him as Provincial of the Province in the United States and he had to travel more than he would have liked because he missed the parish so much. His contribution to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as my personal delegate placed him right where he and Rosmini would have liked him to be – on the front lines of charity. Father Fitzgerald would live to see the total rehabilitation by no less a person than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which once had condemned Anthony Rosmini and he was able to attend his beatification in Rome. Now Pope Benedict XVI would beatify Anthony Rosmini in November, 2007.

Every bishop when he buries a priest buries a brother in the priestly ministry and I am finding it increasingly difficult to preside over these moments because I am saying good-bye to my contemporaries who in so many ways have served the Church better than perhaps I have. Father Fitz and I had a special relationship and he asked that I both celebrate his funeral Mass and preach at it as well. Twelve hours after getting off the plane from Rome, I did as asked and I wish to share with you my homily for this great priest which you can read by clicking here.

+RNL

A VIEW FROM THE SIDELINES

October 13th, 2014

As one who was somewhat skeptical ever since Pope Francis unveiled his intention to call a synod to address the issue of marriage and family life in our day, I must say that the work product from the first week of Part I of the currently convened Extraordinary Synod exceeds my fondest hopes and prayers. And while it is still, as the song goes, “A Long Way to Tipperary”, I find my own skepticism giving way to genuine optimism that our beloved Church is turning a corner on pastoral sensitivity. My initial skepticism was based on two assumptions: first any real pastoral progress develops very slowly in the Church and advances at the same speed as a glacier. Second, no matter what wonderful pastoral ideas the world’s bishops may offer, when they pack up and leave Rome there remain behind in the curia many who usually manage to dilute, diffuse and dissemble the pastoral solutions agreed to. So what’s different this week and wherein do I find my new optimism.

The bishops and laity attending this synod are speaking the truth in love before a Pope who told them, “don’t tell me what you think I want to hear, but tell me what you think.” [from his opening words last Monday]. When Church leadership puts ambition aside and speaks from the heart and soul about everyday problems of humanity throughout the world, a different world view and ecclesial view results.

Today’s report on the first week of deliberations is the most open and honest and pastoral document I have ever seen or read. It really indicates a Church leadership which is seeking to reconcile, love and pastorally care for many who have felt mistreated, disowned or unwelcome: those divorced and remarried outside of canonical form (in civil second marriage, for example) can see in the document a genuine care and concern for them which has not previously been seen. Gay and Lesbian Catholics can find the beginning of a call to them: don’t leave us and give us a chance to find both the right and charitable vocabulary as well pastoral openness which makes the future better than the past. Young people preparing for marriage can find our Church leadership acknowledging the real challenges of living in this moment (cohabitation is an absolute economic reality for many, for example) and asking what can the Church do better to prepare them for marriage in their lived reality today? Perhaps it is with unholy glee that I found in Cardinal Erdo’s synthesis of the first week of the Synod almost a carbon copy of what the people of God of St. Petersburg said in the pre-Christmas and pre-Synod survey of local Catholic opinion on these and other matters. Our Church is listening the voice of the people! That’s why my skepticism gives way to optimism on my first point from the paragraph above.

But, given our history the last thirty-five years, what happens when this Synod concludes it work and goes home? What about those persons in the service of the Holy See who will remain? Some of them have been heard from prior to last Monday’s opening preaching the gospel of doom and gloom and a couple have been providing certain outlets a running commentary, what in my opinion, the late Vice President Spiro Agnew once described  as “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

First of all, I think they know that with Pope Francis, this Synod and those which may follow are providing him with some real opportunities for exercising the collegiality and subsidiarity envisioned at Vatican II. It is pretty clear that the previous methodology of “you discuss and I will decide” is giving way to a synodality model which suggests that moving sub Petro et cum Petro [“under Peter and with Peter”] means that we will walk together but ultimately “the buck will always stop with the Holy Father.” For those on his staff who don’t like it, there is an exit strategy. He  is slowly and patiently assembling a team which is attempting to do what we have tried to do (not always totally successfully in the diocese, I might add) of asking “how we can serve the universal Church” more than “how do we shape up the universal Church since we know best.” Here, it is indeed a “long way to Tipperary”, and we need to patiently give him time to implement the vision in the bodies and minds of individuals. Those who don’t like what is happening these days probably know their “shelf-life expectancy” is limited. More reasons for optimism and less skepticism.

So I begin this calendar week with genuine optimism that the Holy Spirit is guiding the majority of those attending the Synod to walk the path of reality and openness which Pope Francis issued forth on that first night the world saw him in March of 2013. They will chart a roadmap for next year’s regular assembly. For those of you old enough to remember the American Automobile Associations “TripTik” for taking trips by automobile in the U.S. this Synod is using a “highlighter” to map out the most direct and fastest way between two points, as well as to point out where construction of the roadway is taking place” and even warning where there might be “speed traps” to be encountered. The next Synod will have this triptik with perhaps even an alternate roadway or two, and they will make the final decision to leave home and journey to a new place. My God, what a great Church we can become!

+RNL

HOPE IN ABUNDANCE

October 7th, 2014

One of the surest signs that it is Fall finds me visiting both of our seminaries, the college program, St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and the Theological program, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. At conclusion of the second, each September, the bishops of the province of Miami meet for several hours as the corporate members of the Catholic Conference of Florida. Thursday, September 25 was the meeting in Miami, Friday, September 26 was the meeting for the Board in Boynton Beach, and Saturday morning, September 27, saw me exit the Florida Catholic Conference meeting to catch a plane to Rome to meet with our two seminarians at the Pontifical North American College and to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one.

I almost always take AMTRAK to Miami and Monsignor Robert Gibbons who is on the board of the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary usually accompanies me as far as West Palm Beach. I had hoped to take sixteen seminarians at the college in Miami out for a light dinner but AMTRAK’s tardiness killed that good idea. We have sixteen men studying in six different years of the program. In recent weeks, Father Art Proulx has moved in as a house Spiritual Director and he is doing just great. So are our sixteen fine seminarians who come from three cultures with four native languages.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The seminary has plans for expansion, as they are too full this year with 97 seminarians living in space maximally designed for 72. The Miami Archdiocese has monies to fund these projects whole and in entirety so we will see what happens. They were in great form and fun to be with when I was not otherwise occupied in a meeting.

Thursday night we left St. John Vianney College Seminary for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary (about eighty minutes north) where all the seminarians were waiting for dinner and received sad news. One of their brothers, second year theologian Tim Williford’s mother lost her valiant battle against cancer. Here was to be found a group of men so close to one another that the pain and loss of one affected the others. We immediately prayed for Lisa Williford and had a special, second Mass the next morning for her and her family. Our meetings were properly sober and when she was buried on Friday at St. Paul’s St. Petersburg, all of his fellow diocesan seminarians (34) and nine (9) others were present at the Mass to pray and sing.

Our own Monsignor Toups has a mostly new faculty at St. Vincent’s this year and is in the in finishing stage of his twelve plus million construction project which will be ready for occupancy in late November. He has some 87 seminarians on campus and about fourteen in Pastoral Year programs in the dioceses, which send men to St, Vincent’s. They seemed a happy lot and Friday night was devoted to their major fundraiser, FRIENDS OF THE SEMINARY.

With the understandable and lovely exception of Lisa Willifords’ death, the men at St. Vincent de Paul seminary were enthusiastically well into their school year. Please remember that in God’s grace and assuming no departures, our diocese will ordain five men to priesthood in May 2015, seven men to priesthood in May 2016, two in May of 2017, and four in May of 2018. At no time in its fifty year history will this diocese see so many ordained in a four year window – something to be proud of, thank God and these young men and their families for, and continue to encourage others to think of a life of service to God and neighbor in religious life or priesthood. I also with to mention that another seminarian is studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, and will, God willing, be ordained a deacon this coming Spring. Kevin Yarnell previously was on the faculty of Tampa Catholic.

Earlier I mentioned that I was in Rome for the diaconate ordination of Ryan Christopher Boyle. Home grown in the Diocese (attended Bloomingdale High School), Ryan graduated from the Air Force Academy and began flying the air forces’ version of the Boeing 767 which serves as a “gas truck in the air to refuel” air force jets as they fly their missions. Along, among and in the “wild blue wonder” Ryan began to see the call to life as a priest, made the decision with the encouragement of his military superiors and with my permission entered that could be called a “co-sponsorship” between our diocese for which he would be ordained and the Military Archdiocese as an Air Force Chaplain. He loves our diocese and its parish work but he knows he must meet his promise to the Air Force for at least seven years.

Thursday morning last (October 2) dawned absolutely beautiful in Rome and several thousand people crowded the area known as the Altar of the Chair behind the Main Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the ordaining prelate for the occasion and gave a magnificent homily.

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.  Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.

Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

See more photos from Deacon Ryan’s ordination here. Later the same day, Deacon Ryan assembled his family and friends for a Mass of Thanksgiving at Santa Maria in Trestevere, one of Rome’s oldest and in some ways loveliest Churches and the parish of the Saint Egidio community in Rome, which is quite active for social justice.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

It was a great day and week for our still young seminarian and this morning he put his family and us into cars and buses for the airport breathing a great sigh of relief and likely climbing into bed for a long and well deserved Fall nap. Tanti auguri, Ryan!

So I am back and have Father Chris Fitzgerald’s funeral tomorrow (Monday, October 6) followed by our annual priests convocation at the Bethany Center.

+RNL

*Note: This blog was originally written on Sunday, October 5.