Archive for February, 2009


Saturday, February 28th, 2009

Tomorrow is not only the first Sunday of Lent but it is also the afternoon when at the Cathedral of St. Jude, the Diocese of St. Petersburg welcomes most of those preparing for baptism, confirmation and first Eucharist at the Easter Vigil ceremony throughout the Diocese on Saturday, April 11, 2009 (the catechumens) and many more who will be received into “full communion” with the Church and be confirmed and make their First Eucharist at the same Easter Vigil (candidates, they are called). Candidates will have experienced first Penance prior to the Easter Vigil and, of course, those being baptized are washed clean of all sins in that sacrament, not just Original Sin.

The Cathedral ceremony is called “The Rite of Election” and earlier in the morning, those present will be “sent” to the Cathedral following the homily at Sunday morning’s Mass. One of the great pleasures in my life as bishop takes place tomorrow when these 1000+ gather for Evening Prayer and the welcome. Catechumens come up into the sanctuary first, accompanied most often by their pastor or the person who has helped them through the whole Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) or the Order of Christian Initiation of Children (OCIC). They bring a “Book of the Elect” which contains their names inscribed and enrolled to remain forever a part of the history of the parish. They shake my hand and I congratulate and welcome them, in the name of the whole local Church. For much of their journey they think they are largely alone or making the pilgrimage of faith with a few other nice people who are doing the same. When they get to the Cathedral and see the vast throng of people coming into the Church, they often become even more excited about their journey.

The reading for Evening Prayer tomorrow is taken from St. Paul’s Letter to the Phillipians, (1:4-6, 8-11): Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the Gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus. God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, so that you may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God. St. Paul’s pride at the growth of the Church at Phillipi gives him “joy” and “confidence”. The number of converts was likely to be no more than several hundred at the most at any one time. Imagine St. Paul’s joy at receiving over a thousand into the Church. God is very good and continues to work in our midst through the modern day servants of the Gospel, those who guide and direct the RCIA/OCIC programs in the parishes, the sponsors of the catechumens and candidates and those whose example of faith (often a spouse) has moved the initiate to make the journey.

A great afternoon for our local Church is in store and a thousand welcomes to all who await the Easter Vigil for unity of faith with us.



Friday, February 27th, 2009

Does the title seem to be gobbledgook to you? Not if you look at the Southwest baggage tags on my suitcase.  I left Tampa at 600pm on Wednesday night to attend an all day meeting at the headquarters of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington on Thursday. It was a meeting of the Committee on Budget and Finance which I have attended almost every year since 1984 and am once again a member on. The good news here, however, is that I stayed at the residence for priests working at the bishops’ conference and had a chance to spend some time with our own Father David Toups who is on the staff of the Conference in the areas of vocations, priestly formation, priestly life and ministry and deacons (talk about a “full plate”). Then at 520 pm yesterday afternoon, I flew from Baltimore Washington airport (BWI in the above) to Providence (PVD), rented a car and drove to my own alma mater, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary, to spend some time with Tim Corcoran, a seminarian for our diocese who is in his first year of theology studies. Father Len Plazewski always joins me for these annual seminary visitations so he is present here as well. Tim Corcoran is an attorney and served as a federal magistrate judge in Tampa for a number of years. Blessed Pope John XXIII is a seminary for older men pursuing the priesthood and they like Tim and Tim likes them.

I visited the graves of my parents at the parish cemetery in Canton, Massachusetts and my one surviving aunt and uncle prior to driving back to Providence for the flight home tonight. All the flights have been filled to the brim but they have been on time so far and for that I am grateful. This is a big week-end coming up for the diocese as we welcome to the Cathedral of St. Jude on Sunday afternoon all of the catechumens and candidates who can make it to the ceremony called “The Rite of Election.” I shake over 1000 hands every year and have to soak my hands in ice after it is over. But what nice pain to have.



Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

“Throughout these forty days, O Lord, with you we fast and pray. . .”

Students Receiving Holy Communion on Ash Wednesday at SPCHS

Students Receiving Holy Communion on Ash Wednesday at SPCHS

Lent has begun. I celebrate Mass this morning for the students and faculty of St. Petersburg Catholic High School, my next door neighbor.  Green gives way to purple, the Gloria gives way to something of a more somber tone, clean foreheads give way to ashes. Priests generally like Lent, partly because the Gospels chosen for the next five Sundays are great for preaching, partly because of the excitement of those preparing for Initiation at the Easter Vigil, and surely partly because there are always more people at daily Mass.

How about yourselves? Do you like Lent? Do you make use of its special call to prayer, fasting and almsgiving? Do you prepare to make things straight with the Lord through use of the Sacrament of Reconciliation? Do you find just a little more time in an already busy day for prayer, reflection, meditation? It’s none too early to begin to think about these things as faster than a speeding bullet, quick as a gazelle fleeing a lion, Holy Week will be here and you and I may end up lamenting opportunities lost.

Every Lent I give a parish mission somewhere in the diocese. That means I preach all the week-end Masses and speak usually on three successive nights. It is something of a penance and a privilege for me to share Lent with others in this way but it might be a mighty penance for those who come to the mission. I am not by training or great experience a terrific mission preacher in the old school, but this year I will be preaching on the three evenings on: Gathered in Faith, Nourished in Love, and Sent as Hope for the World. This year only I am doing it two weeks in two different parishes and here is the schedule if you are in the neighborhood and are interested:

St. Paul’s Church, Tampa – Week-end of March 14-15 and the 16,17, and 18th in the evenings at 700pm/

Holy Family Church, St. Petersburg – Week-end of March 21-22 and the 24,25 and 26th in the evenings at 700pm. In this parish only I will also say the morning Mass and “try out” my evening presentation then.

I hope I am not “shilling” for myself but preaching Jesus Christ crucified and risen.

Wear today’s ashes proudly and throughout these forty days, fast and pray with the Lord Jesus.


$2.95 x 40 = $118.00

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

It should be no secret to any Catholic that tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent begins. Lent is that graced period when Catholic Christians and others as well prepare themselves for the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord – Holy Week and Easter Sunday. One of the several ways in which we traditionally enter this penitential season is through private acts of penance which are meant to remind us that if Jesus could endure what was in store for Him, how much more can we give up something far less than our life, our health and well-being to indicate our love and thanks. Sacrificial giving and sacrificial denying oneself are good things to do at times and Lent is the time to do it. Almost every morning of my life I drive into a McDonald’s on the way from my residence to my office and order exactly the same thing – every single morning;  a sausage biscuit and a medium Coke. The anonymous voice taking the order knows my voice which is no longer anonymous so I am spared the usual follow-up question “Do you want the meal?” and they know I do not need to be reminded that the two items total $2.95 (that’s only at those McDonalds that still include a sausage biscuit in the dollar meal menu). To be recognized and appreciated at McDonalds is as much fun as the sausage biscuit and medium coke is filling. Last year, I gave it all up for Lent – even Sundays! They missed me at my McDonalds and almost sent the police to search for me (well, a slight exaggeration). But I really missed my morning nourishment. I was grumpy until lunch in the early days of Lent last year and I did not substitute something else, I just went without anything for breakfast. It hurt. It was a pain. I could not wait until Easter Sunday (even went there after midnight on Easter Sunday morning following the Easter Vigil to have my first sausage biscuit in forty days (they had ceased offering breakfast beginning at midnight on Palm Sunday).  So among other things I have in mind (we are not after all suppose to go around bragging about our sacrifices) the $118.00 saved will go to the Tuition Assistance Fund this year. But Lent meant a lot more to me last year as a sacrificial season and Easter took on a new meaning. And I need to go beyond the obvious and the easy to something this year perhaps a little more painful, a tad more sacrificial.

Almost everyone has some personal way of living Lent. We have until midnight tonight to put everything in place. Tomorrow we will fast and abstain from meat and repeat both again on Good Friday. At other times during Lent we will abstain from meat on Friday’s. Here are the Lenten regulations for 2009:

To assist in promoting a common observance of penance during the season of Lent, the following Lenten penitential regulations are issued for the Diocese of St. Petersburg:

1. ASH WEDNESDAY and GOOD FRIDAY are days of FAST. On days of FAST, one full meal and two lesser meals are allowed. Eating between meals is not permitted. Catholics between the ages of 19 and 59 are bound to fast.

2. ASH WEDNESDAY and ALL OF THE FRIDAYS OF LENT, including GOOD FRIDAY,  are also days of ABSTINENCE. On days of abstinence, meat may not be taken. The law of abstinence  binds all Catholics fourteen years of age or older.

If members of the faithful are unable to observe the fast and abstinence regulations because of ill health or other reasons, they are urged to practice other forms of penance and self-denial suitable to their condition.

The practice of giving something up during the Lenten season is also a good one although not mandated by Church Law. Since the three-fold hallmarks of Lent are prayer, almsgiving and penance, it is always recommended that we be mindful of others and perhaps share what we might have spent on what we might give up with others. Attendance at daily Mass is also strongly recommended. Now there is sacrifice – doubled!

Finally, this is the beginning of the period when one can fulfill his or her “EASTER DUTY”. Minimally this means that we received our blessed Lord at least once in the Eucharist during a period of time from the First Sunday of Lent through Trinity Sunday. “Easter Duty” has nothing to do with going to confession once a year, during this time or otherwise, except that we should use this holy penitential season as an opportunity to experience the healing moment of reconciliation and penance. And, if one has committed serious sin, it must precede the reception of the Eucharist. I will write more on this aspect of Lenten observance in a few days.

So as they say on Southwest Airlines so often, “that ends the list of don’t and do’s, now sit back, kneel down, and enjoy the short flight through this holy and rich penitential season.”



Monday, February 23rd, 2009

The Holy See announced this morning that their worst-kept secret was  true and the Holy Father had indeed appointed Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan as the new Archbishop of New York. My personal friendship with Archbishop Dolan goes back to 1984 when I was asked to serve as Associate General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the United States and the new archbishop was on the staff of the Apostolic Nuncio in Washington. We worked together on common matters and enjoyed the friendship and company of each other. Archbishop Dolan is a Church historian who has that wonderful ability to make today’s problems and challenges seem small compared to some other era in the Church. He is witty, expansive, warm, articulate and bright. I shall not soon forget the story he told at his episcopal ordination a few years ago as Auxiliary Bishop of St. Louis. From a solidly Catholic working class family in St. Louis, home to Anheuser-Busch, he said that when his Archbishop, now Cardinal Justin Rigali, called him in to tell him that he was being made a bishop, as he was leaving his archbishop said, “Oh, Tim, you will need a coat-of-arms.” Dolan responded, “really, what is that?” The archbishop then described the heraldric shield that every bishop has which usually includes some symbol of one’s personal family. “Well,” the new bishop-elect said, “then I will just have to place a six-pack of Bud on it somewhere!”  The new Cathedral in St. Louis exploded with laughter and long applause.

Our Fathers Ken Malley and David Toups will be happy today because Archbishop Dolan was their Rector at the North American College in Rome for most of their time as seminarians there. They have a great affection and respect for him. New York now has a very priest-friendly Archbishop who understands the challenges of priestly ministry in this time and that place. The new Archbishop-Designate of New York has come at my invitation and spoken to our own priests here in the Diocese of St. Petersburg. I am proud of our Pope and our Papal Nuncio for making this important appointment and I predict that the Church in the United States will be stronger and better with +Tim in Gotham.



Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Part two of our three diocesan convocations on the Eucharist took place and was completed yesterday. The venue was the same as last year, the Tampa Bay Convention Center and the participants were about the same or slightly more than last year, about 3000. It has long been my hope that every teacher in all of our Catholic elementary and high schools, every parish director of religious education and formation, and as many others as are involved in the catechetical ministry of the Church with children and adults would attend. Once again, the spirit in the place was palpable and the gratitude for the opportunity to deepen our awareness and understanding of the Eucharist was oft expressed, in words, applause, and smiles. Yesterday was a day for any bishop to be proud, of his hard working and zealous core planning committee for putting the day together, of all the diocesan employees who worked as volunteer staff in making people welcome and assisting in their needs, and of all the generous presenters who in some cases traveled great distances to share their knowledge of the Eucharist with us.

To explore the depth of the mystery of the Eucharistic Prayer, I invited Franciscan Father Edward Foley, a professor at the Chicago Theological Union to be the major presenter. He had earlier spent three days with the priests of the diocese going over what he would be presenting yesterday. Focusing on the Eucharistic Prayer as the heart of the celebration, Father Foley emphasized that more than just bread and wine are transformed but so should the hearts and souls of the participants be transformed. Using word, visual images and music, he invited the willing participants to delve far more deeply into the richness and meaning of the Eucharistic Prayer and the Communion Rite than most of us, myself included. have ever gone. So many people said after each of his two sessions, “you know I never saw that, I never thought of that but it makes sense.” I often wonder how many of our people truly understand what they are present for or how many are present simply because of a sense of sin and obligation. Understand the depth and richness of the Eucharist and one should never want to miss the opportunity and obligation takes a distant second place to desire. “How cool is that?” our young people might say.

The enemy of richer celebrations of the Eucharist is not the devil. It is the clock, the parking lot, the early-bird Saturday night dinners, the inflated notion of service, the Mass that takes less than one hour and the homily that is measured more easily in seconds than minutes, the music that has nothing to do with readings or action, the mass schedule that allows for a few hale and hearty to have their own Mass free of singing, participation, communion-building with one another, the back doors and side doors mandated by fire marshals but used by those who have a limited time for post-communion meditation and use the exits as escape hatches for early dismissal, the priest who thinks he knows better than the Church what the people “want” for Mass. The 3000 people present representing every parish in this diocese at the Tampa Bay Convention Center left wanting more – of me, of my brother priests and of each other. Deeper, fuller, richer, more active participation in the Mass is our goal and we took another baby step in that direction yesterday.

Eucharist unites us. It was a proud moment for any bishop yesterday and forget me, it was a great moment for this local Church which is finally wrestling with a better understanding of and greater celebration of the Eucharist which Christ left to His Church. Many of us can not wait until next year when our final convocation focusing on the concluding words of the Eucharistic celebration, “The Mass is ended, Go in peace to love and serve the Lord and one another” -SENT- becomes our final focus with Father Timothy Radcliffe, OP, former Master General of the worldwide Dominican order coming to us from London to open our hearts and minds once again.



Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

In a few days our diocesan Clergy Personnel Board will meet for the first time this year. This consultative committee of myself and six priests meet as needed to discuss the assignment of our diocesan priests. Religious orders make their own assignment of priests to parishes which they staff and inform me of their choices and ask that I extend faculties and welcome. But the approximately 120 men in active ministry who receive their assignments from the bishop are the responsibility of a Personnel Board. Different bishops approach this challenging task differently. Some let their clergy boards meet without the bishop, receive the recommendations and then make the assignments. Other bishops meet with the Board itself and take part in the dialogue and then call the priests affected and seek their acceptance of their new assignment. If the priest receiving a new assignment is an associate pastor, then the receiving pastor must be called first to ascertain if he is willing to accept Father X who is being considered for assignment to his parish. It’s hard work matching a decreasing supply of priests to an increasing chorus of demand for help and assistance.

The annual process begins around January of every year when a letter goes out to every priest on diocesan assignment asking if they would like a transfer, would like to remain in place where they currently are, wish another opportunity for either a sabbatical or higher education effort. Not every priest responds to these inquiries but if they do they begin the process of planning. This year two of our senior priests will be retiring (which any priest can do at the age of 70 if they wish). At an agreed upon moment, those parishes needing pastors are sent out to all the priests with a brief description of the parish. Priests interested are then free to inform us in a timely manner of their interest. This year we have one to be ordained and he will be interviewed as to his hopes for his first assignment and he will be given an assignment around Easter time.

Several new realities are beginning to be felt in the area of priest personnel assignments for the first time. One is that some parishes are beginning to say that they can not afford more than one priest. While the salary of a priest is not that great (about $2200 per month for pastors), fringe benefits such as pension and health a welfare can end up costing a parish about the same amount as the salary total per month and then there is room and board to be provided. Some estimate that it is now costing about $55,000 per year per priest. I don’t have the exact amount but that would be close in many places. Another new reality is that there is no longer a bench off  which a priest can be called. It is something like playing football with only eleven players on the team or baseball with only nine. A surprise retirement, an unexpected death, a serious illness now becomes a great challenge because I can no longer call up someone from the “minors” or off the bench.  Dogs and smoking are new realities which make life tough for the personnel board and for myself. Many pastors now have dogs. Many assistants do not like dogs or are allergic to dogs. Smoking in the rectory is no longer an option because of the knowledge that society has about smoking and its harmful effects on health. So now we not only try to match a priest with a place, but have to figure in animals, habits, and cost.

Regardless of all these challenges, for thirteen years I have enjoyed Clergy Personnel Boards which have always placed the best interest of a successful ministry for a man above all else. It is not an easy time, this Spring assignment period, and decisions that I and others make often cause lots of people  to become sad, upset and even angry. There was one time when I was sure that a transfer of a pastor would find my picture in local Post Offices with the caption: Wanted, Dead or Alive. Like most employers, we can not tell what we know. Sometimes I laugh when I hear that a priest who has requested a transfer stands up before his people and says: “the Bishop made me do it!” That happens a lot. Every once in a while, however, like last Sunday morning at St. Michael’s parish in Hudson, lots of people stop on the way out and thank me for the two new priests they received last summer.  This is not exact;y “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic” because this ship is never going to sink. It may just not look exactly like what it has in the past. So say a prayer for the Clergy Personnel Board as its begins its yearly work of assignments and pray for your priests, that they will feel happy and fulfilled in their assignments.



Monday, February 16th, 2009

How old were you when you decided that you wanted some day to get married? At what age did you begin to think about a profession and your future education? Sociologists and others are fairly certain that a child begins his or her discernment process about vocation, profession, education when they are eleven years old. I think that was the case for me. I began to focus on becoming a priest long before I really knew much about priestly ministry. A friend decided to become a fireman at about the same time. Then a dream, a desire, a direction begins to solidify in eleventh grade – junior year in high school. That is when families begin to talk about college or university, take campus visits, think about majors and minors (albeit in a preliminary way). So the number “11” takes on great significance in vocation discernment.

This week for about the ninth or tenth time with the cooperation of our Catholic elementary and high schools, eleven year olds, and eleventh graders will gather for a full day at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Tampa. I show up for a brief “cameo” with the fifth graders (eleven year olds) and celebrate Mass for the juniors (eleventh graders) in high school. The Serra Club of St. Petersburg and the Diocesan Vocation Committee help feed the youngsters and the indefatigable Father Len Plazewski organizes the full days activity. I don’t know this for certain, but I sense that the younger ones (the eleven) like it and the older ones (eleventh graders) tolerate it. It is a lot of work for the generous organizers and we as a local Church ought to be very grateful to them. FOCUS ELEVEN is a very important part of our over-all vocation recruitment program.

I am impressed annually by the energy and spirit at these days. It can’t hurt and there is evidence that it does help. Prayers, please, for the three days of FOCUS ELEVEN which begin tomorrow, Tuesday at St. Lawrence.



Sunday, February 15th, 2009

St. Anne’s parish in Ruskin has a new Church. Last night  we dedicated a brand new 1,234 seat Church to the glory of God . It is presently the fourth largest Church in this five county diocese (St. Michael, Hudson is the largest, followed  by  Our Lady, Queen of Peace in New Port Richey, Nativity in Brandon and then St. Timothy’s in Lutz). St. Anne is the southernmost parish in this diocese serving all of southwest Hillsborough county to the Manatee County Line. Prior to the recent economic downturn, southern Hillsborough from Brandon south was the most rapidly growing area in the diocese and it was my hope that a significantly larger Church in Ruskin would serve the growing population of Apollo Beach and Ruskin itself. Today the parish lists slightly more than 1,600 parishioners on the rolls. Up until this week-end, particularly in the winter months, it was necessary to have simultaneous Masses in the Church seating about 400 and in the adjacent hall. Beginning this week-end everyone can be more than comfortably accommodated at a single Saturday evening Vigil Mass, two Masses in English on Sunday morning and one in Spanish at Sunday midday. I force every parish anticipating building a new church to supersize it in case the day comes that only one priest is available for Sunday Mass. We are getting close to that exigency.

St. Anne’s now has a commanding presence in Ruskin along Highway 41. The top of the crucifix stands 76 feet off the ground and the roof reaches to 42 feet, 8 inches. The length of the nave measures eighty feet. The new Church furnished cost approximately $6.5 million. Amazingly, the new altar stands on exactly the same spot as the original altar in the first Church which was demolished at the beginning of this construction project. As the Church was being built, the congregation prayed at every Mass, “We, the Living Stones of St. Anne Church, come together after 50 years to worship, to create a new house of prayer. Guide us so that we do not forget the past. . .” Father John McAvoy, the present pastor was the driving force behind the new Church. Shortly after his assignment to St. Anne’s he began to gather consultative committees from the parish membership to plan for the new Church. There was already a good amount in the bank which had been raised over the years to widen the second parish church but with the parish growth, something substantially larger was called for. Larger then translated into raising about three times the money in savings but they did most of it – enough to gain permission from the Diocesan Finance Council to begin construction seventeen and a half months ago.

The architect died, FEMA changed its rules in midstream after initially approving the original plans resulting in a substantial additional cost, one of the major design firms was sold and the new owner was neither local nor engaged, then the cupola designed for the pinnacle of the Church was too large and heavy and in need of redesign. Work continued and the county granted a certificate of occupancy on the 10th of February. Great credit must go to Herman Construction Services, Steve Fowler, the succeeding architect, and Father McAvoy who turned out to be not just the project cheerleader but its manager. All of this will quickly become history with a short shelf-life. St. Anne’s begins a new chapter in its five decades of existence today and priest and people were extremely proud of what they had given birth to. Many of the living former pastors were present tonight: Monsignor Anthony Diaz, Father Chris Fitzgerald, Father Ed Lamp, Father Norman Choate,  and a beaming Father McAvoy. They were joined by about thirty-six priests whom I always accuse of coming to dedication Masses not as priests but as architects and liturgical designers- they sit there and comment on what they like about the new church, what they don’t like and what they would have done differently (I’m kidding but only slightly).

Finally, the Church may have been too small tonight for the assembly gathered. The Rite of Dedication of a Church and Consecration of an Altar is one of the most beautiful ceremonies in the Church’s treasury of liturgies. It is a veritable assault on the senses (darkness and light, incense, holy water, chrism, touch, etc.) Although long by Sunday Mass standards, everyone tells me at the end how moving the liturgy is and that they will never forget it. There will be pictures here and on the diocesan website in hours or a few days max, and you can read the homily I gave here. Congratulations are in order for Father John McAvoy and the people of St. Anne’s, Ruskin.



Friday, February 13th, 2009

This morning we said our final farewell to Monsignor Patrick Trainor. If you wish to read the homily I gave at his Funeral Mass, please click here.