Archive for June, 2011


Thursday, June 30th, 2011

Rev. George Rozycki

I have found that emotionally one of the hardest things which I have to do as bishop is to bury my brother priests. Obviously the difficulty is not with the theology of death but as in any family when a member passes from life into death into new life, there is a sense of loss and a pain of saying farewell. Because of my faith in the resurrection and that by and through the death of the Lord it became possible for all of us appropriately prepared and at peace with our God to eventually enter eternal life, the “sting” is somewhat reduced but death, especially when it comes surprisingly quickly and somewhat unexpectedly moves me to the same questions for God as it might any family who has lost a member.

This past Easter, Father George Rozycki, pastor of St. Joseph parish in Zephyrhills, began to feel something was wrong with himself. Like most men he delayed seeing a doctor and in 2008 he had had a long siege of sickness and hospitalization resulting from cancer and a colon re-section. I am sure he was not at peace with the possibility of entering a hospital again and facing another surgery and recovery. Last month he finally went to see his primary physician who put him into the hospital in Zephyrhills for observation and tests and pancreatic cancer became the prime suspect. He entered Tampa General only a few weeks ago for biopsy and had surgery week before last. Sparing you the details, Father George was led home to the Lord on Monday afternoon as a result of many things including apparently sepsis. In nine weeks, this good man went from feeling well enough to death. Amazingly he leaves both parents who will attend his funeral Mass along with a brother and nieces and nephews.

Born in 1943, Father George was ordained for the Diocese of Rockville Center in May of 1970. For a portion of his priestly life he served in the Diocese of Honolulu before coming to our local Church in 1992. Ministering as an Associate Pastor in Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg and Nativity parish in Brandon, it was my joy to inform Father Rozycki that he had been incardinated into our diocese and later to give him his first and last assignment as pastor here to St. Joseph’s in Zephyrhills. That parish is amazing in that the population of the area goes from about 10,000 in the summer months to near 60,000 in the winter so the demands on the priests of the parish are especially challenging during those periods when the “snow birds” are here. Father George loved the parish and its people, whether they were the summer remnant or the winter influx. However, he was beginning to tire and he asked me if he could retire on his 70th birthday which is two years away and I said yes. But he had one more thing he wished to do before stepping aside at St. Joseph and that was to renovate the sanctuary of St. Joseph’s, a project underway and so far along that it will not be possible for us to hold his funeral Mass in the Church which is full of scaffolding, but in the parish hall.

Father George had a wonderful sense of balance about himself and a very cheery disposition. If things got to him, it must have been internally because almost everyone would say that he was ever happy. When I saw him two weeks ago before his surgery, he knew he was quite sick and that it was likely that he would not live to see the rest for which he longed in retirement. He told me that he did not fear death but just regretted that he would not have some years free of administration to relax, enjoy life, and “smell the coffee.” I would see him one final time the day after surgery, Tuesday of last week, and he was heavily sedated and in ICU but he still managed to look at me and smile when I told him that we were all praying for him. I think he knew that he had one foot in that place of eternal rest.

Many shall miss him, I among them. Father George, may you rest in peace and may eternal light shine on you.



Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Ever wonder what our thirty+ seminarians do in the summer? Hopefully after reading this you will have some appreciation that even the beginning of a vocation to the priesthood can easily lead to 24/7/365 while still in formation. Well almost, some episcopal hyperbole to be sure but recalling that old maxim that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” we do try to keep our seminarians busy and accounted for.

The college seminarians mostly work in their home parishes during the summers, painting, mowing, sprucing up buildings and grounds. Two of our seminarians are working at Good Counsel Camp in Floral City this summer as counsellors. A stint at Good Counsel at one time was almost a prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood but now they volunteer if they wish to work there. Two of our college men are also working in Omaha, Nebraska at Creighton University for the Institute for Priestly Formation (more about this program in a few seconds).These two seminarians are at the service of those older seminarians who are in the IPF program and they drive cards, make airport pickups, serve meals, etc. And there are two seminarians working with CRS in Africa for eight weeks.

Those in theology have longer commitments. This year there are four men on what is called the Pastoral Year. We interrupt the theological education program of the seminary at the exact midpoint, between second and third year to allow those approaching ordination to have two experiences which we feel will either confirm their vocation or suggest priesthood is not for them. The first component which is currently taking place is something called “Clinical Pastoral Education” or CPE. Three of our seminarians are taking CPE at Tampa General Hospital and one is doing the same at Woodside Nursing Home in Pinellas Park. During this quite labor intensive experience, the men learn a lot about themselves and their ability to deal with the sick and dying. Under close supervision and sometimes very challenging evaluation, CPE students get an immersion course in death and dying, sickness and health, and their own capacity to listen closely, minister appropriately, and evaluate with others in the program their experiences. The three men in CPE at Tampa General spend their nights and week-ends at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City (not much sleep at night on week-ends for these men) and they live and assist a wonderful pastor, Father Thomas Stokes who welcomes them annually with great Irish hospitality and priestly kindness. The fourth is living at the rector of Sacred Heart parish in Pinellas Park with Fathers Anthony Coppola and Tom Tobin. At the conclusion of CPE they will be assigned from Sept. 1, 2011 to May 2012 at four parishs in the diocese learning the art of the possible and sometimes the impossible in parish life. These four men can be found at St. Ignatius of Antioch parish in Tarpon Springs, St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, Christ the King parish in Tampa, and Nativity in Brandon.

Four other seminarians are also involved in an immersion experience, this time in the Dominican Republic learning Spanish. The program is required by our seminary and I would wish it anyway even if the seminary did not. Within fifteen years, the majority of Catholics in many areas of this diocese will be Spanish speaking and we need men able to function in Spanish. Thus, the six to eight week program in the Dominican Republic.

Two seminarians are actually enrolled in a nine week program of spiritual formation and direction at the Institute for Priestly Formation, held each year at Creighton University in Omaha. A mixture of classes on ascetical theology (how those who have gone before us have become saints), spiritual direction and a rather lengthy silent retreat, these men who will begin their theology studies this August are experiencing a much deeper engagement with the spiritual life than would be possible even in a five year program of formation such as we have in our seminaries.

Finally, nine of our theologians are assigned to parishes during the summer and while admittedly some things slow down, most find their summer experience to be enlightening at a minimum and challenging at a maximum. Of the nine, two men are deacons, having been ordained in the Spring and they are baptizing, preaching and witnessing marriages in addition to conducting inquiry classes and RCIA, etc.

So there you have it. Gainfully employed, hands not idle at all, learning the ropes and the “tricks” of the trade during their summer vacation. They all have some time to themselves to travel, relax and rest but no more than a typical working father or mother would likely have. Most are compensated for their summer in a small way but that helps pay for gas, haircuts and an occasional movie during the school year. Come August our college men will return to Saint John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and our theology students to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts and the North American College in Rome. They have a three day convocation at the Bethany Center coming up the second week in August where they will surely share stories of their summer experiences.

I conclude by using this moment to thank those pastors who welcome our seminarians for their summer assignments. Their hospitality to those studying for the priesthood is only outdone by their witness to their own happiness and fulfillment in priestly ministry. So, our seminarians are not “kids” but we still know where they are most midnights.



Friday, June 24th, 2011

Photograph from Notre Dame University Website

This morning in South Bend and in Baltimore, Notre Dame University and Catholic Relief Services respectively announced that Dean Carolyn Y. Woo of the Mendoza School of Business has been chosen to become the President/Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Relief Services, our church’s worldwide disaster relief and development agency. CRS now exists in slightly over 100 countries and has program revenues approaching one billion dollars in the coming fiscal year. Dr.Woo is known to a number of people in the Diocese of St. Petersburg as this year’s main speaker at the Catholic Foundation Dinner last February. There she told an amazing story of being born on mainland China and the family moving to Hong Kong where she studied with the Maryknoll Sisters who had been expelled from China following the revolution. One of eight children, Dr. Woo chose, mostly against her father’s wishes, to pursue a college education and earned a scholarship for her freshman year at Purdue University. Eventually she earned not only a bachelor’s degree but a Masters and Ph.D. as well. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame approached Dean Woo and literally “wooed” her to coming to Notre Dame as head of the Business School. The rest is history as under her leadership the Mendoza School is currently rated first among undergraduate business schools and sixth among those who award Master’s Degrees, no small feat to be sure.

Loved on campus and admired by almost every student in the Business school as well as her faculty, she will be missed under the “Dome.” A daily Mass attendee who met her husband at Purdue where both attended daily Mass at the campus ministry center, they have two children, the oldest of whom just graduated from the Medical College of the University of Virginia and the youngest is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology at Notre Dame. Nine or ten years ago while I served both as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services as well as its President,  the bishops of the US voted almost unanimously to allow lay people to serve on the Board of Directors. CRS for many years did not have a board of directors but was generally run and overseen by the Archbishop of New York and had its offices there as well. In the seventies the by-laws were changed to allow bishops to serve on its board after being elected by the membership of the United States Catholic Conference. CRS always had a bishop as its Executive Director (CEO). The first lay person to serve as Executive Director was Lawrence Pezzullo in the early eighties and he reported to an all bishop Board. Finally, in about 2003, the by-laws were changed to allow for non-bishop membership and I as chair willingly ceded the title of President to the Executive Director to come more in conformity with other international agencies. Carolyn Woo was chosen among the first group of non-bishops invited and elected by the Board to serve a total of six years, ending her service, she thought, two years ago.

Eighteen years ago I was on the Search Committee which recommended Ken Hackett to succeed Pezzullo who had been asked by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador Pleni-Potentiary to Haiti following the violence and overthrow of the government in that country. For seventeen years, Ken Hackett has served the poor of the world with distinction and his special diadem will be the solid Catholic identity which he and his colleagues have imbued in the agency. I deeply admire his tenure and respect his decision to retire and turn the leadership over to whomever the Board might choose. Starting on January 1, 2012 Carolyn Woo will serve as his successor.

Catholic Relief Services is admired throughout the world because of the competence and commitment of its people, some 5000 plus strong, many as it should be nationals of the country in which they are working. It is the “go-to” agency because it has a unique delivery opportunity throughout the world through parishes and diocesan charities structures but it never, ever excludes anyone because of their religion nor does it proselytize. There have been many challenging moments in its history including working under the Marcos family in the Philippines, the Diems in Viet Nam and repressive governments in many other parts of the world. Its non-political nature has made it possible to succeed in places like Sumatra, Indonesia after the tsunami, Sri Lanka and throughout Africa. Its mission is securing the present and future of people, not governments. It makes Christ present – nothing less and in Dr. Carolyn Woo it will be led by a woman of great faith, a history of vision for organization, and a winning personality which made her one of Notre Dame’s most successful fundraisers – and saying that about any one person at Notre Dame is a “mouthful.” I enjoyed serving with her on the board, travelling with her to remote parts of the world (together we survived an 8.9 earthquake in Medan, Indonesia (she did not come looking for me by the way) and hearing the amazing story of her childhood. But I so deeply admire her love of her Catholic faith. She is making a great sacrifice to leave Notre Dame for many reasons but like heading to Lafayette, Indiana when she was eighteen, she follows Blessed Pope John Paul II’s challenge to “put out into the deep.”



Sunday, June 19th, 2011

In this space I have previously written of my experience celebrating both “Red” and “White” masses for the legal and medical professions respectively. This morning for the first time i celebrated a “Blue” mass for those women and men serving in the police, fire, EMT and private security professions. As locals know all too well, the last three years we have bade farewell to two police officers in Tampa, three in St. Petersburg in the first two months of this year alone, and recently one private security guard, all of whom were killed in the line of duty. Monsignor Robert Gibbons, the pastor of St. Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Petersburg was approached earlier this year by several parishioners following the deaths of the three St. Petersburg policemen about the possibility of having such a Mass and  time was found this morning on my schedule for this celebration of bravery, valor and heroism. If you wish, you may read my homily by clicking here.

About one hundred and fifty people turned out for the Mass this morning which was not bad for the first time effort. I hope it will grow each year and that a way may be found to involve those in the safety professions in our other counties. Two bagpipers led the procession in and out and an officer carried a flag with streamers with the names of all fallen officers of the St. Petersburg Police Department on it.

Blue Masses began in 1934 and became an annual moment in the lives of dioceses in the Northeast. As one might expect, Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Chicago to name but four had police departments with large Catholic police and fire department members. Holy Cross, St. Patrick’s, Holy Name cathedrals would be full of mostly men at that time in their blue uniforms, hence the name.

It is very important that we not take the lives of these defenders of our security for granted. Every day they take risks that few of us appreciate or can even comprehend. What better place to thank those, dead in the line of duty and alive than at the Eucharist which means “Thanksgiving.” I applaud Monsignor Gibbons and the people of St. Paul’s for reinstituting what I promise will be an annual tradition and I thank those who attended this first Blue Mass in a long time.

Please remember these earthly Guardian Angels in your own prayers and give thanks for their service and sacrifice.


Two officers lead the Prayers of the Faithful or Intercessory Prayers - all photos here courtesy of Reggie Wilson



Friday, June 17th, 2011

Hearkening back to my blog entry on the way to Seattle I find myself once again on United, flying over one of those big square states that all look alike between Colorado and the Mississippi River. Our bishops meeting in Seattle ended one hour later than scheduled last night in Bellevue, Washington with a very long Executive Session. The public agenda was very light as I have previously indicated and pretty much devoid of disagreement as I have noted already.

There is a short, succinct statement of the bishops on the matter of Physician Assisted Suicide which can be read on the USCCB website by clicking here. I found it interesting that the site of the acceptance of the document happened in a state (and along with its neighbor Oregon) which allows for it legally and that it follows closely the death of Dr. Jack Kevorkian a few days ago – probably the most famous and fatal administrator of assisted suicide in the history of this nation.

Attention was given to fixing some things in the Dallas Charter for another two years before it will once again be revisited and reexamined. I know that some people, particularly victims and groups representing them believe that there are large lacuna in the charter and things which the bishops do not wish to change. Personally, as I have written earlier this week in the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, I recognize that the Charter is not a perfect roadmap to complete and total child safety but its efficacy can be seen in the radical drop in new reports of sexual misconduct against minors by priests and other Church employees. In our area of the country, our diocese, you have not had a reported instance after 1995 and contrast that with the instances in the five county public school districts and other organizations dealing with kids.

Our Diocese will be audited under some new rules as well as under some previous rules in October of this year. There is a new auditing firm. They do what are called compliance audits to make sure you are doing precisely what you promised to do. My staff and I welcome this visit and are prepared to tell them that there have been no complaints against priests, religious, volunteers, staff, faculty or volunteers during the period of the audit.

The bishops did agree to start implementing the music attached to the new Mass translations which will be used throughout the Liturgy on the First Sunday of Advent this year, so we will begin to sing the Gloria and the Agnus Dei in English using the new translation in our parishes beginning in September. I need to consult with the staff of my Worship Office to find out how best to accomplish this, so stay tuned here for more information as it becomes available.

Bishops’ meetings are opportunities to spend time with old friends, from the staff of the Conference as well as with brother bishops. This meeting marked the 51st General Meeting I have attended, either as staff (22) or as a bishop (29). My good friend Bishop Paul Etienne of Cheyenne, Wyoming, boarded the flight with me in Denver last Sunday and we spent Monday on Puget Sound and celebrated his birthday on the 15th.

What is always hard for me is that the membership of the episcopal conference is about eighty per cent new since I left the Conference’s employ and became a bishop myself. Faces that I could recognize in a nano-second are no longer present and the new faces one does not see often enough to etch them in memory. The outgoing General Secretary paid a nice but unnecessary compliment to me in his farewell speech and now I shall miss him unless and until he returns as a member.

Finally, they almost all want to come back to St. Petersburg for a meeting and soon. They loved the Vinoy, the waterfront, the gelateria on Beach Drive, the walks to Albert Whitted Airport and the Rays baseball games. I told them, you had better hurry, and the clock is ticking quickly on my time. I was happy they loved our area so much. Also the Bethany Center gets brought up often as a destination of choice for retreats and meetings. So we may not have Mt. Rainer (saw it for the first time this morning in all its glory) or Puget Sound or a seafood store where the employees toss salmon at you but we do have things which give birth to good memories. I will be glad when in one hour I step forth at TIA once again and am back with those I love.



Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

My brother bishops trying to stay awake at times. Photo furtively taken by me.

Today (Wednesday) is the first full day of the Spring meeting of the United States Conference of Bishops and we are in Seattle this year (Atlanta next year in June, then San Diego, then New Orleans). I had a ten hour meeting yesterday involving Catholic Relief Services and find that I am falling asleep around 830pm every night and waking up around 430am. I am not unhappy with that since I hope to somehow “trick” my b0dy into thinking it is still operating on Eastern Daylight Time for my return trip early on Friday morning (a 545am departure).

There are about 200 bishops present for the Spring meeting and the weather has been, well rainy, what else? We are not exactly meeting in Seattle but in a suburb called Bellevue which is the home of Microsoft. Lots of tall buildings, high end shopping stores, and not a McDonalds in sight. There is no view of Puget Sound to be had from Bellevue and no view of Mt. Ranier which has not been available since I arrived from any vantage point due to the very cloudy and overcast weather. So what else is there to do but sit in a meeting room, listen intently and look at one’s watch for the next break.

We passed a few items this morning which did not allow for amendments and listened to some oral reports. One of the more interesting was led by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, who has been appointed to work with communities of Episcopalians in the United States who wish as a congregation, including their priests, to come over to the Roman Catholic Church. Pope Benedict has reached out to these communities and their priests and will allow them to come into full communion, their priests to be ordained as deacons and priests and they can bring with them the treasured aspects of what is called the “Anglican Rite.” I listened with interest even though I know of no such movement of any parishes or communities in the Diocese of St. Petersburg wishing to come over.

There is one more hour of public session tomorrow and then we dive into the rest of the day in Executive Session which means I will not reveal any of the discussions which take place under that rubric. Overall it is a light agenda and to have come such a long way. Tonight I am invited to a farewell dinner for the departing General Secretary of the Conference, Monsignor David Malloy who will be returning to his home Archdiocese of Milwaukee after completing five years as the chief operating officer of the episcopal conference. Monsignor Malloy is the fourth occupant of that position since my own departure in 1995 (the term is for five years and it can be renewed as it was in my case but annually after five). It is customary that there is a dinner for the departing GS and all living former General Secretaries are invited. By my count there are exactly six of us remaining on this mortal coil. Monsignor Malloy has a priest brother who is residing and working in our diocese as a Chaplain at Bay Pines Veteran’s Hospital, Father Frank Malloy. His successor was elected last November and will assume office on Friday with the closing gavel of this meeting.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, our new President, is chairing quite efficiently and we are considerably ahead of our meeting agenda’s schedule going into the Executive Session.

So from the shadow of the Cascade Mountain range, greetings to all back home, leave the light on as I will return on Friday.



Monday, June 13th, 2011

Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, then the second Archbishop of Miami, ordained me a priest. He was an incredibly fine man, almost a kindly uncle to me and to most of the other priests in the Archdiocese. His primary way of communicating with the people of the Archdiocese was through an occasional column in THE VOICE  (the weekly Archdiocesan newspaper)and later the FLORIDA CATHOLIC which he entitled “Devotedly Yours”. Every time it would show up, we knew the Archbishop was writing at “altitude” or above 30,000 feet on an airplane going to someplace or coming home. Laptops were not available in those days so the Archbishop would take out a brown pen and write on the back of the air-sickness bag, a piece of hotel stationary – anything he could get his hands on and his wonderful secretary would transcribe it on a typewriter prior to submission for publication. Priests can sometimes be quite “catty” and occasionally when someone would read one of his “Devotedly Yours” columns, some crack would be made about a lack of oxygen at altitude. But those columns were very personal and one never had to struggle to discern what the great man meant.

Well, I am tonight at altitude, on board a small United Airline plane bound first for Denver and then I must switch to their fiancée in the airline business, Continental for the remainder of the trip to Seattle. Having left Tampa on Pentecost night at 710pm EDT, I will arrive Seattle at 235am EDT (1135pm PDT) and probably climb into my Hyatt hotel bed about 4 am by my body time. The Catholic bishops of the United States are holding their spring meeting this month in Seattle. You may recall that last June they held a longer assembly in St. Petersburg which they loved enough to talk about coming back again. How I wish I could once again drive down the street for twenty minutes to attend the meeting.

The actual meeting begins on Wednesday morning and ends on Friday evening but I must leave Seattle at 545am on Friday to return for the celebration of a “Blue Mass” for policemen and firemen on Saturday morning and the second and last wedding of my summer later Saturday. On Tuesday, however, the Search Committee on which I serve for a new CEO/President for Catholic Relief Services will present two candidates to the CRS Board of Directors for their ultimate decision. I am no longer able to fly coast to coast and start a meeting the next morning without some kind of rest day in between. How I hate being 70 (except that on Saturday I was called for Jury Duty in Pinellas County and discovered that if you are over seventy you do not have to serve – the first “bene” from being ancient!)

On these two very long westbound flights I have been able to read the documentation, which precedes each meeting. The most important thing I find on the public agenda is a discussion of the Dallas Charter, which was passed in 2002, and deals with how the Church will handle accusations of sexual misconduct with a minor or vulnerable adult. I have written an “Op-Ed” piece at the invitation of the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times for today’s paper in which I outline the experience in our diocese in the last ten years. It is possible that this agenda item will receive more than its share of media attention this week, but reading the changes, which are being recommended to the bishops to me indicates that there will not be a wholesale re-working of the Charter but some tightening up and tweaking. There will be a first discussion of a new document of the Conference on physician-assisted suicide entitled “To Live Each Day With Dignity, another seeking permission to develop a document on preaching, and some liturgical matters all dealing with the liturgy in Spanish. Once again it is not a particularly heavy or burdensome agenda.

So as I chase the sun west tonight on a never ending evening, I recall celebrating Pentecost this morning at St. Jude’s Cathedral and a lovely confirmation of about seventy-five young people. What a great day to confirm! Pentecost, the birthday of the Church which is the body of Christ. Have a great week and stay tuned – I intend to interrupt any boredom which may occur with blog posts.





Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Stained glass window at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, Waimauma. Photo courtesy of John Christian

This day before Pentecost was quite a day for me. The morning began with a large confirmation at Our Lady of Guadalupe parish in Wimauma where I confirmed 64 young people, almost all of whom were Mexican. Readers who are unaware of local geography in the Diocese of St. Petersburg need to know that southeastern Hillsborough county is home to many migrant workers who live in the camps or low cost housing. This part of what is too often thought of as “Tampa” is agricultural and thus the presence of our largely Mexican brothers and sisters. Most of the confirmation was done in Spanish although the generation I confirmed was clearly more comfortable in English than Spanish. However, the sponsors with their hands on the confirmands’ shoulders seemed very grateful to hear the words spoken in Spanish. Over the fifteen years I think my spoken Spanish has improved even if it remains a challenge to extemporize.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is probably our second largest concentration of Hispanics in the diocese, following only St. Lawrence parish in Tampa which has the highest concentration of Hispanics per square mile than anywhere else in our five counties. Father Demetrio Lorden, a native Spaniard, has been the pastor in Wimauma for slightly longer than a decade and he spends himself for his people. Any ceremony there must leave the Anglo propensity for good order at the vestibule door but I love celebrating the liturgy and confirmation before this very lively and grateful community of people. The music was good, the children were all over the place which was also fine, and the young people well prepared to receive the sacrament.

Where serendipity or Divine Providence comes into play is that by some application of the unexplained, at four o’clock this afternoon I said Mass at Old St. Mary’s parish in downtown St. Petersburg for the Vigil of Pentecost and then I officially blessed and inaugurated a lovely new shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Here the congregation was totally Anglo. It seemed to me appropriate, however accidental, to dedicate a shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe on the Vigil of Pentecost. While Scripture is silent on whether or not Mary or any other women were present at the Last Supper, the same scriptures are very clear that she was present with the apostles in the Upper Room for the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Having given birth to Jesus at the moment of the Incarnation, she was present for the birth of the new body of Christ which came about on Pentecost in the form of the Church. The Church is the new body of Christ. I think I was able to meld the Pentecost reality with the presence of Mary both on that occasion and in our new Shrine to her under the patronage of Our Lady of Guadalupe in my homily which I will share with you below. You can form your own opinions about my success or failure.

The shrine was a gift of Federal Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich in honor of the late Monsignor John McNulty who was diocesan director of Pro-Life Activity for years and her parents, one of whom was an active parishioner of St. Mary’s while the other, her mother was loyal and dedicated to St. Paul’s. The judge’s desire was to place the shrine in such a manner on Church property that it could easily be seen from the adjacent and huge ALL CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL just to the west. A parent worried about the birth of a child or the health of a child could go to the windows facing east and toward the Church, see the Shrine to the patroness of pro-life causes and seek her intercession with Jesus on behalf of their child. It works. I wish to thank Father Cletus Watson and the Third Order Franciscan Friars who staff St. Mary’s for their toleration of this project in their property. For myself, in addition to the Judge’s pro-life concept, I wanted a place in Pinellas county (St. Petersburg and Clearwater among many communities) where anyone could come at any hour of the day or night and pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I hope and pray that it will be a place of short pilgrimage for all who seek her assistance.

The Prayer of Blessing of a Shrine Photo Courtesy of Vivi Iglesias

So today was devoted to the Mother of the Redeemer under the banner of the Patroness of the Americas, Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. All in all, a high gear run up to tomorrow’s Solemnity of Pentecost. Happy Birthday to we Catholics who have for millenia acknowledged that the Church was born when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and they began their missionary effort.

The Shrine in the rear of Old St. Mary's, downtown St. Petersurg - Photo courtesy of Vivi Iglesias

St. Mary’s, St. Petersburg June 11, 2011

This evening the Church gathers in Vigil before the celebration of the solemnity of Pentecost, the birthday of our Church, the day on which all lethargy and lifelessness was cast aside with the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the followers of Christ. In some ways it is a shame that this most important moment in the life of the Church does not usually get the attention accorded Christmas or Easter. In other places, families are not gathering to celebrate this Feast and the limited confines of space in our Churches is not challenged by overflow crowds who stand twice a year but not tonight or tomorrow.  Pentecost, the moment of making for the Church will this year come and go with only limited attention paid to it. It is a shame because it is indeed the birthday of the Church.

Among the apostles, the waiting game is over with the coming of the Spirit. From the Ascension to the moment of coming of the Spirit, Acts and the Gospels infer that they remained together in prayer, waiting for the next shoe to drop. When they signed up to follow Jesus, they surely did not expect Him to die an ignominious death. But then, despite his predictions, they did not expect him to rise from the dead either. In those precious days between Easter and the Ascension, he several times told them that he would send the Spirit, the Paraclete, who would mission them to spread the Gospel throughout the world. He told them that He would need first to ascend to the Father before the Spirit would come. They listened but they were never quite sure.

Then with the roar of the wind and with the symbol of fire God visited the earth once again, this time in the form the Spirit, the third person of the Trinity and in a few short moments, they had both the gifts needed for and the mission to preach Christ to all. There was among them, however, one person who never doubted, who waited with equanimity and patience, because she had already been gifted with the Spirit. Her name, Mary. Luke in Acts tell us that prior to the day of Pentecost, “persevering with one mind in prayer and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” the apostles were graced by her presence.  She who had given life and breath to Jesus prayed for the coming of the same Spirit so that the Church, the remaining body of her Son on earth, might be born.

Integral and essential in God’s plan for the birth of His Son on earth, Mary remained integral and essential to God’s plan for the birth of his Church. Amazingly all this took place in the same room in which Jesus Himself gave birth to the Eucharist. Thus in this place she was to give birth to the new evangelization and through her presence and prayers bless its beginnings.

This afternoon here in this Church which carries Mary’s name, we shall shortly dedicate and bless a new shrine to her under the title of Our Lady of Guadalupe. She is the patroness of the Americas, two vast continents which none of the Apostles could have even dreamt about much less visited. Here on the premises of St. Mary’s her image from the tiny village of Tepeyac, outside of present Mexico City, will welcome all who come to do precisely what she was doing at the moment of Pentecost – praying. They will come to pray to Mary to ask her Son for help in their sorrows and sufferings. They will come to pray to Mary to ask her Son to help our generation and those who follow to have the same respect for human life which God had in choosing to send his only begotten Son to live among us not as a person of wealth and privilege, but the simple son of a carpenter and his wife.

The image that this afternoon we dedicate to the glory of God and the memory of his earthly mother is that which appeared on Juan Diego’s cloak, an image and appearance originally rejected as a hoax by his bishop, but which in the succeeding centuries and decades has rallied the faithful to greater hope in the Lord.

This morning I confirmed 65 young women and men at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church in Waimauma. They were all Mexicans, many from the camps of southeastern Hillsborough county. At least ten took the name of Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe and another ten the name of Saint Juan Diego. The hope of our Hispanic brothers and sisters is that the same Gospel which the apostles preached post Pentecost will continue not to be just preached but lived out in this moment in history, at this moment of need. I have no idea how many of them were documented or undocumented. It would not have mattered to Mary or to the Apostles and it should not matter to us. They trust her even when at times they distrust us. They know she will ask her Son to watch over them, protect them, nourish and encourage them and from her place in heaven she prays that the Church born today will do the same.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is also the “patroness of human life” and especially that life which is carried in a mother’s womb.  I am very proud that her image faces the massive All Children’s Hospital and those disposed to do so who worry for their children there can look down and ask her intercession on behalf of the young lives being treated there.

Pinellas county now has a place with easy access where all of those who love and respect this woman of Pentecost came come and pray. It was God’s will that we bless and dedicate this shrine on the eve of Pentecost. She was there then and she is here now. Nuestra Senora de la Guadalupe, oye nos.

Elizabeth Kovachevich, Donor of the Shrine in the memory of her Parents and Monsignor John McNulty, former pastor of Old St. Mary's - Photo courtesy of Vivi Iglesias

Saint Juan Diego to whom Mary appeared on December 9, 1591 at Tepeyak in a stained glass window at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, Waimauma, Photo Courtesy of John Christian


Friday, June 10th, 2011

On Monday night I had the annual privilege of commissioning this year’s graduates of the Lay Pastoral Ministry Institute who have concluded four years of discernment and study. This effort was begun early in my time here as bishop because of the realization that the Church would need more employees and volunteers for work previously done by priests and deacons. For the first decade we required any male thinking about the permanent diaconate to complete the LPMI program and then add an additional four years of more formal preparation prior to ordination as a deacon. We have dropped that requirement because just the thought of eight years seemed to dissuade some very good candidates. i was ambivalent about the change at the time and remain somewhat so because I feel so strongly that the LPMI is a very good program for preparation for service within the Church itself as well as in specialized ministry and the deacon candidates should and could grow from the LPMI experience.

2011 Graduates of the Lay Pastoral Ministry Program with retiring Sister Marlene, front row far right

Commissioned and Missioned

This past week there were thirteen graduates. When we first began there were more than 1oo applications per year and the number of those commissioned in the early days was around 50-60. But service in the Church is never about the numbers game but about the quality and dedication of those who commit to prepare properly. Those in the program bond with each other and their very fine and mostly uncompensated faculty (there is a small stipend given, no where near the amount due in justice for the time required of already busy people for preparation, time and teaching). The foundational document for those engaged in the LPMI is the USCCB statement “Co-Workers in the Vineyard” which outlines both the boundaries and blessings of lay ecclesial ministry in the Church today.

Congratulations to the women and men who this year completed their course of study and continued blessings on their ministry in the Church. Most of the graduates are already involved with their parishes or other institutions and just took the four year program to deepen their knowledge and understandings of the Church into which they were baptized and are serving.

With this year’s commissioning, Sister Marlene Weidenborner, OSF completed her tenure as the head of this fine diocesan initiative and all who have been engaged in the program throughout her leadership have shown their appreciation and affection for her. She remains on the diocesan staff as Vicar for Religious. Sister Marlene, thank you so much for your gifts of time and talent in directing this very important initiative and with you I thank your staff and the volunteer faculty who have assisted you.



Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Heraldry for a Protonotary Apostolic

Heraldry for Prelate of Honor

Heraldry for Chaplains to His Holiness

From time to time, people in the diocese write to me and ask me to make their pastor a “monsignor.” Easier said than done for reasons which I will put forth in a few moments. The title of “Monsignor” is a strictly honorary title (that means no more money or responsibility for the person) which is used for priests who have been recommended by their bishops to the Holy See for the title. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, the word “Monsignor” is also used when addressing bishops or anyone other than Cardinals and Patriarchs but that custom is not present in English speaking countries for bishops (pardon the diversion). Here in the United States, Monsignor is almost exclusively used for those who have received this title from the Holy Father at the request of the bishop.

There are three “ranks” of Monsignors, Protonotary Apostolics (bet you haven’t heard that one before), Prelates of Honor to His Holiness, and Chaplains to His Holiness. The title “Monsignor” is used for all three and only the ecclesiastical dress signifies any difference. Pope Paul VI greatly simplified these honorary recognitions.

So, what is to stop me from making your favorite pastor a “monsignor?” Several things which have changed in the last ten years. First, no diocese is allowed to have more than 10% of its living clergy honored with the title. In other words, there is a ceiling number above which a local bishop may not exceed. When a bishop submits a name to the Holy See for consideration, an examination of files is conducted to make sure that there is nothing in the nominee’s background which might block him from receiving an honorary title. Not every name submitted receives approval and no reason is ever given. Finally, generally monsignors must begin at the “bottom level” (Chaplain to His Holiness), spend five years at that level before they can be advanced to the next level (Prelate of Honor to His Holiness).

Early in my time here as bishop I hoped to award longevity and faithful service to everyone who passed a certain number of years of incardinated service (thirty was the number in my mind at that time) and was able to name ten in the year 2000. Subsequently the new rules were put in place about 10 per cent of the clergy and beginning at the level of Chaplain to His Holiness and working the way up five years at a time.

Does it cost the diocese to make Monsignors? The answer is yes but it is very minimal given the record keeping and parchment issuing that is involved. The “taxa” or tax for Prelates of Honor is $200 and for Chaplains to His Holiness is $150. Should the new monsignor choose to obtain the proper dress which accompanies the honor, more cost is incurred by the priest himself.

Some dioceses simply do not make monsignors. In Florida this would be true for the last ten years for the dioceses of Palm Beach and St. Augustine. It was also true here in this diocese for a brief time. Generally speaking,  priests are uncomfortable with the practice and rarely, very rarely ask. If asked, as many bishops have done, the priests usually vote “no” on the question of whether or not a diocese should ask for one or more of their number to be appointed. But there are not too many ways a bishop can recognize devoted and faithful service over a long period of time. I always said that I would rather be given a sabbatical than be made a monsignor but neither hope was realized. I was made a Monsignor because of holding the position of General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference in 1989 and never really had a sabbatical. Certain positions in a diocese (such as Vicar General) often can be better served (usually outside of the territory) with the occupant having the title. Rectors of seminaries are often bequeathed the title as sometimes is their Spiritual Director counterpart. So if you ask me to do something nice for your pastor, it might be easier to find another way of expressing admiration and appreciation. Here are a list of the Monsignors in this diocese according to the rank:


Reverend Monsignor Laurence Higgins, P.A.


Reverend Monsignor Norman Balthazar

Reverend Monsignor Harold Bumpus

Reverend Monsignor J. Bernard Caverly

Reverend Monsignor John Cippel

Reverend Monsignor Diego Conesa

Reverend Monsignor Colman Cooke

Reverend Monsignor George Cummings

Reverend Monsignor Desmond Daly

Reverend Monsignor Anton Dechering

Reverend Monsignor Dacian Dee

Reverend Monsignor Michael Devine

Reverend Monsignor Antonio Diez

Reverend Monsignor William DuBois

Reverend Monsignor Thomas Earner

Reverend Monsignor Aidan Foynes

Reverend Monsignor James Lara

Reverend Monsignor Joseph McCahon

Reverend Monsignor Robert F. Morris, VG

Reverend Monsignor Brendan Muldoon

Reverend Monsignor Edward Mulligan

Reverend Monsignor John Neff


Reverend Monsignor Avelino Garcia

Reverend Monsignor Robert Gibbons

Reverend Monsignor Patrick Irwin

Reverend Monsignor Michael Muhr

Reverend Monsignor Austin Mullen

Certain readers who have read this far will note that there is some news contained in the list above. More about that later.


Images from Wikipedia,