Archive for June, 2009

REST ASSURED

Tuesday, June 30th, 2009

Today I officially signed the documents required for the Diocese of St. Petersburg to begin administering its own pension plan tomorrow. After forty years partnering with the Archdiocese of Miami and twenty-five with the Diocese of Venice, Miami chose to leave the pension plan and begin its own effective July 1, 2009. Without consultation with the Diocese of St Petersburg, the Diocese of Venice chose to continue in partnership with the Archdiocese of Miami with some modifications in governance sought by the latter and granted by the former. If you are an employee of the Diocese or any of its institutions, you were made aware of the changes in plan benefits which were a result of the actions of the Pension Plan Board of Trustees in March which I did not wish to cede on your behalf. At the time I had no idea that following the statutes and by-laws of the combined pension plan, I would occasion a withdrawal by one (and later two) of its members. Acknowledging that they announced their intention to withdraw, the two other dioceses approached us and asked if we would be willing in the end to be the party that ultimately withdrew, saving them IRS filing fees, etc. We agreed.

In the intervening months, with the assistance of very wise pension counsel and a lot of hard work by our trustees and particularly Paul Ward, a very fair and amicable division of the assets will occur tomorrow, July 1, 2009. What we are receiving is ample enough to meet our actuarial needs for the future for our present employees and no one should notice a difference as the plan administration remains the same, the bank that pays the monthly pension benefits remains the same, the St. Petersburg Trustees remain the same and what you are presently receiving or expect to receive upon retirement and/or eligibility remains the same. The health of any defined benefit pension plan is directly dependent on the timely and complete payment of premiums by the employing institutions (the parishes, schools, charities, etc.) into the fund. The combined health/welfare and pension payments for our employees now totals approximately thirty-five percent of salary, It is a burden and becomes more so when offertory or tuition collection lessens for whatever reasons.

You can rest assured that what you have worked long and hard for and which has been one of the “richer” benefits of employment by the Church remains the same, tomorrow, with the new Diocese of St. Petersburg Pension Plan as it did in the old plan ending today. I conclude this reflection with special thanks on the part of all of us to Monsignor Anton Dechering, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Deacon William Mahood, Laura Brock and Paul A. Ward for their years of service to us through their participation on the Pension Plan Board and also to the long-time members of the Trustees from Miami and Venice who shepherded this plan to its present state of good health. In a special way I wish to acknowledge Monsignor Noel Fogarty, long-time chair of the Pension Plan Board of Trustees, who protected the plan as it was one of his own “off-spring.” Rest assured, they did well.

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BONES

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Pope Benedict announced in Rome today that forensic scientists had been able through the use of carbon dating and other techniques to ascertain that the marble sarcophagus under the  main altar at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome could likely contain the earthly remains of  St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. This confirmation coming at the end of the Pauline year clearly pleased the Holy Father as it should most Christians, not just Catholics. The Pope stopped short of declaring the remains to truly be those of St. Paul and well he should for there is no way to know with absolute certainty that they are. From the earliest century, however, Christian tradition has held that Paul was indeed buried in that spot and the latest finding tends  to corroborate that reality more than the bones are actually those of Paul. Tradition within the Church also holds that after being crucified upside down outside of the city of Rome on the Vatican Hill, St. Peter was laid to rest in what was likely a mass grave over which the first Christian emperor, Constantine, built the first Basilica in the first Pope’s honor. Having made the trip into the archeological digs under the main altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, I have no difficulty embracing this tradition but our faith is not built on the graves of the dead but on the witness of the living. Every time I visit Rome I believe that I am going to the city where the remains of these two early heroes of the faith rest in death. I tend to be a skeptical person by nature so I am only usually willing to go so far on what seems speculation, even if it is based on some fact. Happily, the Church for twenty-one centuries has assiduously avoided raising speculation to the level of articles of faith. Where the apostles are buried pales in relation to the witness they gave the infant and nascent Church during their lifetime. When  more proof arises as it seems to have recently that the understanding of the early Church about the final resting place of these men seems to have more credibility, then we should all rejoice for they are pillars of faith who despite their earlier weaknesses, grew under the power of the Spirit to be men of courage in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

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SAVING MAJOR VAKOC

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

The horror and tragedy of war and violence continues in our times and the continuing urge some feel for violence remains largely unabated. Totalitarian regimes like we see in Iran and China think nothing of mowing down those who stand in protest of the denial of their basic rights. How often it seems the local newspapers announce the name of one or more of our sons or daughters serving in the armed forces who has been killed in Afghanistan or Iraq and the printed word is soon followed by pictures on TV of flag-draped coffins, the funeral and the grieving families. It seems at times we can almost become inured to it, give it little thought or attention, or write it off to the realities of war and violence. I turn to this subject this Sunday because for the first time since Vietnam a Catholic priest/chaplain has died of wounds sustained in combat. Major ( Father)  James Vakoc of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis was laid to rest this week after having been seriously wounded in Iraq on May 29, 2004 while heroically caring for the troops and their spiritual comfort. Chaplains carry no guns or other munitions but an enemy adversary, even if they wished to, or a roadside bomb is always unable and unwilling to make distinctions. Father Vakoc’s death moves me to say again what I said when the war in Iraq first began (and it was the stated opinion of Pope John Paul II as well) that the war in Iraq did not and does not meet the standards of the “just-war” theory properly applied. It is therefore, quite simply, immoral.

So many young lives lost. My prayer is that President Obama will withdraw our gallant young women and men from harm’s way and soon. What is left behind in Iraq will certainly not be pretty and already the Iraqi government is claiming credit for throwing out the Yankee imvaders. How’s that for gratitude for lives lost? The war in Iraq should be on the list of wrongs that all pro-life people demand to be addressed but it seldom is. Why? Perhaps there is a sense of patriotism, a kind of “my country right or wrong but still my country” or, and I count myself in this group, a reluctance to seem to be saying that our service women and men are engaged in an immoral war. The US bishops have been silent too long and way too supportive. 9-11 gave birth to the Afghanistan incursion in search of the Taliban. I believe that decision met the criteria of “just war” and so did most of the rest of the world as the search for and rendering impotent the terrorists who struck fear into the hearts of peace-loving people throughout the world following 9-11 was justifiable. But it is time for us to remove our soldiers from Iraq. They have done what they could and only history will ultimately judge whether it was worth the loss of life. I suspect most of you who read this like myself will likely doubt it. But it is time for them to come home, to their wives and husbands, their parents and their children, to their jobs and to their places of worship. Father Vakoc’s ultimate sacrifice of self stirs me to ask all of you to pray for peace and an end to all forms of violence and attacks on human life – abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, embryonic stem cell research and war. The President of the United States promised during the campaign that ending this war would be a priority and he seems to be moving in that direction. This effort needs our prayers and our support.

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MOVING DAY

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Next week is moving day for a number of priests in the diocese. Since all of our new appointments take effect annually on July 1st each year, a number of my brothers are preparing to move and I know of at least two who have already done so. It is not an easy moment in a priest’s life. I think all of the men involved in this year’s transfers were pretty comfortable and content where they were. Now they must leave a parish community with whom they have become friends and move to a strange new place, start all over again, make the case for what their particular priestly ministry brings to their new parish and adjust to a number of factors most of which are still unknown. A few are becoming pastors for the first time. For them this move is even more daunting. We devoted one whole week this Spring to beginning to prepare men for becoming pastors and many of them attended a national preparation session in Detroit this month. However, every priest who has been a pastor will tell you there is no way you can be totally ready for what pastoral ministry today calls for. While I suspect that ninety-nine per cent of the associate pastors look forward to the moment when they become pastors, there is still a large measure of priestly generosity and trust in accepting their first assignment as pastors.

To Monsignor Michael Devine, outgoing (literally and figuratively) pastor of St. Brendan parish on Island Estates and to Monsignor Colman Cooke, retiring pastor of St. Michael’s in Clearwater, I wish to extend special thanks for their years of pastoral service here in this diocese. They have earned a breather and break and I hope their retirement years will see them in good health and happy. Both will continue to minister in the diocese from time to time but they no longer have to worry about administrative responsibilities. As they say in Italian, che bella! Thank you Mike and Colm for all that you have done for me as well as for God’s people.

So keep our transients in your prayers next week. Their number decreases but the expectations are ever on the rise.

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TRUE GRIT

Thursday, June 25th, 2009

Permit me one more day of my experience in the Black Hills and it will focus on the person of Crazy Horse and an American the iconic chief never met. Korczak Ziolkowski was born in Boston in 1908 and grew up a foster-child in a first generation Irish family where the father was an  professional boxer. His father repeatedly beat the young boy and when the lad reached 16 he left home, discovered that he was born of Polish parentage and changed his name to that given to him at birth. He had artistic talent and was somewhat adopted by the famous New England Cabot family who saw to his further education in fine arts. He won the highest prize for a sculpture at the New York World’s Fair in 1938 and attracted the attention of Henry Standing Bear, the chief of the Sioux tribe in the Dakotas. The Sioux were put out, to put it mildly, with the further desecration of what they considered sacred ground when the work began on the faces of the four presidents on Mt. Rushmore and Standing Bear wanted something in the hills to recall that the “red man” also had heroes worthy of appropriate remembrance. Korczak and Standing Bear chose a mountain and the former arrived with only $174.00 in his pocket. With what he had and what he could assemble, he bought the mountain and without compensation from anyone except those willing to donate to the monument began his work in 1947. Although accompanied by his wife, she soon abandoned him to return east as she did not like either the harsh climate or the spartan living in a tent. Another young woman, Ruth Ross came west, and after the legal divorce married Kocrzak and together they had ten children. Without a dime of federal or state support and with no money from the poor Native American community, the project continues to this moment to carve the largest monument in the world, taller than the Washington monument and the Eiffel Tower and many times the size of the great pyramids of Egypt.

Like Mt. Rushmore, the sculpting is done first by carefully placed dynamite blasts and then finished with chisels. Crazy Horse’s head, which is finished and which I include below, can fit the four giant figures of the American presidents in his right ear alone. It is an amazing accomplishment and since his death in 1982, Ruth and the children have continued work on the monument uninterrupted. Korczak and Standing Bear’s dream is more quickly becoming a reality due to precision tools and new technologies, all of which are donated to the project. I stood in awe of what two people had done and are doing and I was lucky enough to join her good friend, Bishop Cupich in having lunch with the indomitable and unsinkable Ruth Ziolkowski. There are now thirty-two grandchildren, seven of whom are working at the monument site this summer. All share their grandparents passion for the mountain and the monument. True Grit if I ever met it face to face.

Korczak's 1/34 scale model of the monument with the complete head of Crazy Horse one mile away

THE THREE CHIEFS -Bishop Lynch, Bishop Cupich and the other guy

THE THREE CHIEFS -Bishop Lynch, Bishop Cupich and the other guy

The amazing Ruth Ziolkowski, keeper of the dream of her husband and all the Native Americans, now in her 83rd year and still directing, managing and administering her husband's dream

The amazing Ruth Ziolkowski, keeper of the dream of her husband and all the Native Americans, now in her 83rd year and still directing, managing and administering her husband's dream

LETTER FROM INDIA – NUMBER TWO

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

Several weeks ago in this place I offered the first “Letter from India” written to me by Brendan J. Stack, a junior at Loyola Baltimore and from the Cathedral of St. Jude parish. Brendan is being sponsored by the diocese for a summer intership program in India by Catholic Relief Services. He reports on his experience and this time includes several photos which you can access by clicking here.

BADLANDS, YES TOPOGRAPHICALLY, NO ECCLESIALLY

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Good day from the badlands of western South Dakota. For two nights I have been the guest of my good friend and the bishop of Rapid City, South Dakota, Bishop Blase Cupich. A native of Omaha, the bishop and I became good friends when he was on the staff of the Apostolic Delegation (now Nunciature) in Washington and I was at the bishops’ conference. Working at the time with Bishop Cupich were Archbishops Timothy Dolan now of New York, Dennis Schnurr now of Cincinnati, and Bishop Michael Cote, now of Norwich, CT. They were a wonderful group of men with whom to collaborate on behalf of our respective bosses. Bishop Blase is now chairman of the USCCB Committee on the Protection of Children and Vulnerable Elderly.

Bishop Cupich succeeded Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver and has served here as bishop for eleven years. He loves this land and its people and he has shared his enthusiasm for both people and place with me since I moved into his hands on Sunday following the wedding at Mt. Rushmore. He has one of the largest Native-American reservations in his diocese  (Red Cloud, home to Wounded Knee) which he cares for deeply. South Dakota is defined largely by whether one lives east or west of the Missouri River which practically divides the state in half. East of the Missouri and you are likely a farmer and west of the same you are likely involved in ranching. Rapid City as a diocese is home to two national parks, Wind Cave and Badlands, three national monuments, Mt. Rushmore, Jewel Cave and Devil’s Tower, the Black Hills National Forest, and two truly spectacular state parks, Custer and Bear Butte. It is also home to Sturgis and the bikers by the thousands are already on their way now for their annual “bike week”  which does not start until the second week of August. Historic figures from the past still loom large here: Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, General George Armstrong Custer, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane to name a few(the last two are buried in the Catholic cemetary in Tombstone). A lot of the history of the west is to be found here.

The Church here is spread far apart and is small. The diocese numbers about 27,000 Catholics. One-third of that number of Catholics are Native Americans. Many parishes are administered by a parish priest miles away from the Church and my wedding on Saturday which took place at St. Rose of Lima in Hill City is a mission of Blessed Sacrament in Rapid City some twenty-five miles distant. A wonderful permanent deacon looks after the parish when the priests are not physically present and the people have Mass every Sunday and several weekdays. All would say it is not optimum but it works.

The bishop is very fond of his Church’s presence in the native-American communities and on the reservations. The Jesuit fathers continue to serve the Rosebud reservation and the Sacred Heart fathers serve a second reservation. With great pride the bishop notes that last year nine graduates of the Jesuit run school received Gates Foundation scholarships, full rides to college and graduate schools. Although Catholics on the reservations and throughout this vast area are a very small minority population, the Catholic school is a passport to perhaps a much better life. Ponder this for a moment, if you will. In the original treaty signed in the latter part of the nineteenth century, all of the land in the Black Hills was deeded to the Native-Americans. That was fine until gold was discovered in the mountains, then the treaty was abrogated, and ultimately the Native-Americans were given for their purpose far inferior land. For centuries of American history, promises made but seldom kept have defined relationships between the land’s original occupants and the federal government.

There is a vitality to this local Church which is palpable as well as a pride. Distance only bothers outsiders like myself. The bishop notes that his clergy is young and local. There are, if I remember correctly, about thirty diocesan priests of whom he has ordained eleven and about sixteen religious order priests for a diocese equal in land mass to the whole country of Ireland. The bishop at sixty is about the third or fourth in the retirement ladder so most of the priests are younger.

Today he is taking me to have lunch with the wife of the sculptor of the Crazy Horse monument now abuilding and later in the day I will visit the “badlands.” So far, nothing but good lands for the Church and its Gospel mission.

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YEAR OF THE PRIEST

Sunday, June 21st, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has introduced into his papacy a slight change from his predecessor. Pope John Paul II loved to declare every few years something special and nothing was more special to him than the Millenial year or Holy Year of 2000. During his twenty-three years as pope, John Paul II twice declared two  special Holy Years. We used to think that he thrived on looking outside his window and seeing St. Peter’s Square full of pilgrims. His successor, our present Holy Father has a knack for calling our attention to something special every year also but he prefers the Church to meditate and think about something them rather than go on pilgrimage. We will end this coming week the “Year of St. Paul” and immediately begin to observe a “Year of the Priest.” The proximate cause of this special year is the 150th anniversary of the death of St. John Vianney, the patron saint of parish priests and the Holy Father wants to call all the Church and in a special way today’s priests into a reflection on the priesthood. If you would like to learn more about the life of this saintly Cure d’Ars, click here for immediate transfer to Wikipedia.

Using St. John Vianney’s anniversary as a launching pad, the Holy Father is asking both priests and people to reflect on the nature and meaning of priesthood. He asks us to look inwardly to check and see if we are truly living the priestly life to which God has called us. He asks God’s people to look at their priests as men who have sacrificed much to be at the service of others. And he reminds all of us that we are here for Christ and for others.

It could be and should be a good year. God knows there is enough written and said these days negatively about priests and if one result of the Holy Father’s declaration for this special year is to encourage the Church and its ordained to pause and reflect more deeply on both the mystery and reality of the priesthood, that alone will be a great thing. I intend to use this year and its opportunities in a variety of ways which I will make known in the coming months here. For the moment, I thank Pope Benedict for thinking of a special year and I invite the reader to begin a special year of prayer for your priests.

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HI HOLY BISHOP

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

Recently the Diocese of Venice celebrated the golden anniversary of its first bishop, now retired, Bishop John J. Nevins. Founded in 1984, the Diocese of Venice was created mostly out of territory which once belonged to the Diocese of St. Petersburg with only Collier County (Naples and Marco Island) coming from Miami and several interior counties (Hardee, DeSoto, and Glades) coming from Orlando. After flying up and down the coast from the Skyway Bridge to Florida City, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States  (Pope’s representative) chose Venice to be what we call the “see city” or home of the Cathedral of the new diocese. He chose an auxiliary bishop from Miami, John J. Nevins to serve as its first bishop which he did for twenty-three years.

Bishop Nevins is special to a number of us in this diocese. He was the Vocation Director of Miami when I was accepted as a seminarian for that archdiocese. In the initial interview he got after me about my weight at the time and I thought to myself, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.” But he and admissions board accepted me.

He was the Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary at the time I was ordained and many of our current priests in this diocese were students there during his time (Fathers Muhr, Tapp, Morgan, Weber, Rebel). He had a knack for what might be termed “baby talk” and would often approach you and disarm you with something like, “Hi, brother in Jesus” or “Hi, holy man – you’re going places.” Sometimes he would approach a seminarian who had been with him four years in the seminary by asking, “Are you new here?” I suspect he did a lot of this to gauge the response.

In 1979 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Miami while serving as the Rector and with the new duties expected of him, I took his place as the fifth rector of that seminary. He lived on the seminary property and we became close.

Venice owes Bishop Nevins a lot for his time as their bishop. He took a large geographical area and built the Church up amazingly. He opened about fifteen new parishes in his time as bishop. To staff these new parishes he turned to sources for priests outside of the state and sometimes even the nation. He was always a man of good humor with a love of history. When he was a child, the late Norman Rockwell drew him in color for one of his famous covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the good bishop also was a contestant on an early TV program called Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. Both parents were born and raised in Ireland and he loved the Irish.

My dear friend is suffering the ravages of aging but his mind is still sharp and his sense of humor remains in tact. His successor, Bishop Frank Dewane had a special celebration of his fiftieth anniversary two weeks ago when I was in New Orleans so I drove down to Venice to take Bishop Nevins to dinner last night. I told him that the priests, deacons, religious and people of his neighbor to the North were praying for him on his golden anniversary and he said, “I hope so, brother. I hope so.” And of course he greeted me  with, “Hi, holy bishop.” What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him I suppose but I sure wish I could do some of the things as well as he has done them.

We have five retired bishops at the moment in this state – all wonderful men with great histories of service: Bishop John Snyder, the former bishop of St. Augustine, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, the former bishop of Orlando, Bishop Nevins, Bishop Agustin Roman, the retired auxiliary bishop of Miami, and Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, retired auxiliary bishop of Miami – big shoes for those of us still “walking the walk” to fill. Ad multos annos to Bishop Nevins especially and to all my retired brothers.

Now it is off to Mount Rushmore.

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TOP TEN REASONS NOT TO ASK A BISHOP (WELL PERHAPS ONLY THIS BISHOP) TO DO YOUR WEDDING.

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

10. Chances are good he does not know how to interpret the pre-marital inventory if he even remembers to have you take it.

9.   Chances are better he does not know how to fill out the pre-marital forms correctly.

8.   Chances are excellent he does not have enough time to meet with you prior to the ceremony.

7.    Chances are poor that his dress for the occasion will fit with the color chosen for others at the occasion or that what he is wearing gets more comments than the bride’s dress.

6.    Chances are slim that he knows the difference between the two rings (bring a good Best Man!)

5.     Chances are 50/50 he will have time to prepare a special homily for the couple who have invited him.

4.     Chances are good that he will forget the special Nuptial Blessing after the Lord’s Prayer.

3.     Chances are excellent that it will be comical watching the bishop “juggle” all the books and rituals required, especially if there is no MC.

2.     Heaven help you if you need a dispensation for your wedding.

1.      Almost certain he will employ the same smile throughout the ceremony he has worn out during confirmation season.

As you might guess from the above pass at “whimsey”, I am off to marry two graduates of the ACE program, one of whom taught here in this diocese, near Rapid City, South Dakota in the shadow of Mt. Rushmore this week-end. I don’t witness many weddings at all so say a pray for Lindsay MacRandall and Patrick O’Keefe, the bride and groom. The four presidents and Crazy Horse will likely be smiling down on this one Saturday.

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