“Golden Rose, Priest of Ireland”
This evening the parish of St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner joyfully celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of their much loved pastor, Father Christopher Fitzgerald. Father Chris was ordained in Rome on December 7, 1958 for the Institute of Charity or the Rosminian Fathers. He has served forty-eight of the fifty years in Florida and forty of them in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. He was the youngest of eleven children and weighed just three pounds at birth. Health problems have been somewhat consistent throughout his life but they have never slowed this good man down.
Immediately after his ordination, while still a student in Rome, Father Fitzgerald was assigned to work with migrant farm laborers, southern Italians who came looking for agricultural work in the fields around the city of Rome. It was surely a sign because after spending his early days in Seminole at Blessed Sacrament parish and about one year at St. Charles Borromeo parish in Port Charlotte, this hard-working and deeply spiritual priest was assigned as pastor of St. Anne parish in Ruskin. There he learned Spanish and Creole so he could personally minister to the Mexican and Haitian migrant communities of southeastern Hillsborough county.
Bishop W. Thomas Larkin asked Father Chris to begin a parish in Seffner in 1987 which is now thriving and growing. St, Francis of Assisi parish has paid all of its initial debt and continues to plan for its future. Like many priests here in Florida and in this diocese, Father Fitzgerald was asked to do a number of things and one which he takes rightful pride in was to serve as Liaison of the Diocese to Catholic Charities. With his dear friend, the late Arnold Andrews, and Jeff Forbes as President of the Board of Catholic Charities (to mention only two out of many) they and Catholic Charities spent many hours dreaming and developing what is now the San Jose Mission in Dover which provides outreach and services to a large and vast migrant community. There are now over 100 affordable housing units on the site for migrant farm workers.
Irish priests like a hymn entitled. “Queen of Ireland” which means Our Lady of Knock. Father Fitz celebrated his 50th anniversary on Gaudete Sunday wearing the permissable rose colored vestment. That gave me the opportunity to thank this generous priest for his example and service and rephrasing the hymn to Our Lady of Knock, acknowledge him this evening as our “golden rose, priest of Ireland.”
Happy Anniversary, Father Chris Fitzgerald, and many more, please God.