THE CROSIER IN THE SAND
It broke my heart but yesterday I for the first time (and I hope the last time in the province of Miami) was unable to attend the installation of my friend and fellow Miami priest, Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez as the new bishop of the venerable and historic see of Saint Augustine. The problem was that Wednesday and Thursday were the final two days of interviews by the Search Committee which I am on to pick a new CEO/President of Catholic Relief Services. So instead of being in Saint Augustine with the other bishops of Florida and with the bishops’ mother, brother and sister-in-law and sister plus nieces and nephews all of whom live in St. Petersburg and one of whom lives in my neighborhood, I was stuck in O’Hare Airport. Bishop Estevez is one of those remarkable stories of a generation ago when hundreds of Cuban youth were put on airplanes and sent to the United States for safe-keeping until they could be reunited with parents and family. It was called Operation Pedro Pan and ex-Senator Mel Martinez was also among their number. Bishop Estevez initially found himself being flown to Fort Wayne, Indiana and lived there briefly until reunification with his family became possible.
After studying for the priesthood, the Bishop was ordained a priest for the Archdiocese of Miami, sent away for doctoral studies in Rome, and returned to become the Rector of St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach, our theologate house of studies. We served together, me at the college seminary and he at the theology house. I left for Washington,DC and the episcopal conference and eventually he became a very successful and much loved pastor of St. Agatha Catholic Church in Miami adjacent to the campus of Florida International University. He built up the school and built a new Church. Always a deeply spiritual man and humble, when asked to forego the parish (remember I always tell you here that being a pastor of a parish is the best job in the Catholic Church), he was asked to return to the seminary which he once headed to become the Spiritual Director for the community. From there he became an auxiliary bishop to Archbishop John C. Favalora and remained in that position under Archbishop Wenski until his appointment to and installation at St. Augustine yesterday. How I would have loved to be there and when I wrote to congratulate him on his appointment, I told him of my conflict and how conflictual I was about not being able to be two important places at one time.
From all reports, the installation was beautiful and many of our priests went over for it as they had the bishop either as their Rector or Spiritual Director. To my friend, Bishop Victor Galeone whom Bishop Estevez succeeds in office I have sent my best and my deep, deep appreciation for this presence in my life and in the life of the Church in Florida. Bishop Victor has been an ardent champion for and defender of human life. St. Augustine as a diocese is not receiving its first fluent Spanish speaking bishop in their new shepherd as Bishop Galeone served for a number of years as a missionary in Peru. He has been a truly exemplary pastoral bishop. Now among the seven dioceses (assuming that Pensacola-Tallahassee will receive a new bishop younger than I) I am the next to go. Fifteen years ago as I looked at those who bore the heat of the day up to that time, I never thought about retirement, leaving or reappointment. Now it is a coming reality in my life for which I must prepare.
Congratulations to both Bishop Victor Galeone and to Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez and to our mother diocese, Saint Augustine, on this important milestone in their glorious history in Florida. Sorry, so sorry I could not be there.
Finally, the finest book on the coming of the Catholic faith to the Florida peninsula is titled The Cross in the Sand and its author is a highly respected historian at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Dr. Michael Gannon. Hence, the twisted title of this blog entry.