Posts Tagged ‘AMTRAK’


Monday, August 11th, 2014

When last we left my brother Tim in this space, a few years ago he and I had just completed a transcontinental train trip from Seattle to Chicago to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Hollywood, Florida, spanning five days and nights with one overnight in Chicago. Both of us thought that would mark the end of our train travel, likely for the rest of our lives. Recently, Tim’s medical condition worsened and someone our diversionary conversation switched to trains which we wished we had ridden but had not. I should have known better.

As I write this the two brothers are back on the rails again, having left Los Angeles at 1115am this morning [Thursday] bound for Seattle and hoping beyond hope to arrive there sometime tomorrow night, in time for a good night’s sleep before flying back home on Saturday.

Tim is not feeling at all well this afternoon, but he is so excited by the train trip that it is hard to get him to concentrate on how poorly he is feeling. He had a CAT scan on Tuesday prior to flying to Los Angeles yesterday and thinks the injection may have something to do with his general condition. I am worried as I pen these lines and thinking of alternatives. But I probably should be more worried about a “sick” locomotive.

Back to the train trip, however. We are aboard AMTRAK’s train number 14 which is called the “Coast Starlight”. it is a 1377 mile trip from LA to Sleeplessville and if everything works like it should, it will take thirty-four hours. But this is AMTRAK and not everything is working like it should, or maybe I should say it is working exactly like it does (not should). After flying into LA and meeting at the airport yesterday, we overnighted near Union Station in LA to position ourselves well for our 1010am departure this morning.

LA’s Union Station is now one of the nation’s treasures. After years of desuetude, this monument to the days of the great transcontinental trains like the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, El Capitan and Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles has come back to life with trains departing at all hours of the day and evening to San Diego, Santa Barbara, myriad LA suburbs and a few AMTRAK name trains to the Bay Area and Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans. This morning it was full of life and has been magnificently restored. It even has its own Starbucks for heaven’s sake.

The adventure began at LA's majestic Union Station.

The adventure began at LA’s majestic Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

Arriving at 900am for our 1010am departure,we found the special lounge for sleeping car passengers totally full. Tim and I were the youngest people in the assembly by far at 73 and 71. If you are old and want to feel young, just ride an AMTRAK sleeping car!

Anyway, 1010am arrived and there was no train in the station. “We’re having a mechanical issue in the yard and the train has not been cleared yet to back into the station” we were told nicely. At 1035am, good news. “The train has been released and is backing into the station and so please leave for platform 10 and have a nice trip” A delightful Redcap took our luggage, piled us into a golf cart and away we drove to the platform just as the train was arriving. We left LA one hour and five minutes late without moving a wheel – an augur of things to come I suspect.

The very first stop on the journey was twenty minutes outside of Union Station at “Bob Hope Amtrak Station, Burbank where we sat and sat and sat. Eventually the lady conductor came on the PA to announce they hd to summon the police to remove a recalcitrant passenger who was a stow-away without a ticket but still refused to leave the train on his own power. Turns out a night in the Burbank jail might have been better than a night on the Coast Starlight. We are now 95 minutes late and only twenty miles from where we started.

We have two rooms this time because between us we weigh 445 pounds and can generate enough heat in a small space to be comfortable in Fairbanks in the dead of winter. Also, I need to make sure, that one room was on each side of the train because this is the second most scenic train trip in the US (AMTRAK’S “California Zephyr” between the Bay Area and Denver is, in my opinion the most beautiful).

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Ninety minutes after leaving Union Station travelling north, the train hugs the Pacific Coast for about 145 miles, and I do mean “hugs”. There are moments when you can see the fish in the crystal clear water and when not looking at fish, today we saw one in ten Californians enjoying a  magnificent beach day.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

At Gaviota, California, our lead locomotive died. Kerplopp!! Would not start, would not work, would not run the air conditioning system or electrical system. Another forty minute delay but it was decided that we could at least get to San Luis Obispo with the one good engine. Now two and one half hours late and 90 miles from where we started.

The most beautiful part is between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Luis Obispo, two of Father Junipero Serra’s magnificent California mission churches. The rails are right along the seaside and the beach is sometimes less than thirty feet away. Tim is excited and has his HD videocam and his new Canon Sureshot working hard. Someone is going to have to sit through a long showing of ocean pictures taken from a moving train when we get home.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

Lunch was in the Dining Car at noon. There are a lot of people on this train and it is one of AMTRAK’s most profitable long-distance routes. Some will get off tonight when we arrive in Oakland and others will take their place because we are full all the way – four sleeping cars, four coaches, a diner, a lounge and something unique to this train called therr “Pacific Parlor Car” about which I will write tomorrow. Each sleeping car has 43 individual beds and each coach holds 60 people so this journey will find a possible 420 people on board during these very popular summer months.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

This is one of four remaining 1950's era "Pacific Parlour" cars which AMTRAK has retained.

This is one of four remaining 1950’s era cars which AMTRAK has retained.

Outside of San Luis Obispo we pass the southbound Coast Starlight also running two hours and a half late. It seems they ran out of green beans and asked if we would stop and lend them some from our larder (I am not kidding – it was akin to passing Grey Poupon from one train to another.

We leave San Luis Obispo two hours and forty minutes late but we borrow a freight engine from the Union Pacific Railroad to help us climb a steep grade leaving town. It worked, we got to the summit of the spectacular climb, said good-bye to the borrowed engine and proceeded about one half mile when the only good AMTRAK engine we had left konked out. Kerploop. Two additional hours of hard work by the engineer and conductor got it fixed but now we were six hours late and we had only just begun.

AMTRAK's Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

Off we finally rush to Paso Robles, our next stop, which we should have arrived at 437pm but it was now 1037pm when we pulled in. I counted eight stalwart citizens on the platform but then we are told that there has been a medical emergency on board and an ambulance needed to be called. Lost another thirty minutes. That was enough for Tim and I and we went to bed with almost a full moon illuminating the Salinas Valley, breadbasket of California and home to John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN and Cesar Chavez.

The Lynches looked at day one and said “it was good!”



Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Recently Pope Francis in speaking to what we old-timer bishops call the “baby bishops gathering” (translated that means all new bishops created in the previous twelve months who gather in September in Rome for a week of instruction on how to be a bishop) suggested to them that they spend more time in their dioceses and less time at the airport. Good pastoral advice which I especially need to take to heart.

But, for the next three days no one will find me at the airport but rather on AMTRAK once again heading to South Florida for the twice a year meetings of the seminary board of trustees for both St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach. To save time and travel money, we also add a half day meeting of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. This leaves practically no time to visit with our diocesan seminarians so I make a third trip to each seminary later in the year to interview, encourage, and hopefully assist each of our seminarians individually. All trips to south Florida are on AMTRAK which is cheap, comfortable, usually always late, and different.

This week, however, there is an additional reason to be proud of one of our seminaries, St. Vincent de Paul, which is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. It has an interesting history for a still young institution. It was built originally as a seminary for the Congregation of Missions or as they are better known, the Vincentian fathers. St. Vincent de Paul whose name is appropriately assigned to magnificent works of charity throughout the US also had as a priority of his nascent religious order the formation and education of priests. In 1959, one year after the establishment and creation of the Diocese of Miami, they responded in the affirmative to a request from Miami’s first bishop, Coleman F. Carroll to begin a six year seminary program on property in southwest Miami, part of a 95 acre track of land purchased years previously by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, bishop of St. Augustine. As soon as three buildings and a swimming pool were completed, the Vincentians opened a high school and first two years of college seminary program .

At roughly the same time, this same province of Vincentian Fathers was given by Bishop Carroll a larger tract of land in Palm Beach county (also purchased by Archbishop Hurley of St. Augustine), over 100 acres in Boynton Beach, so far west in the county that at the time it seemed to many to be in the middle of the Everglades. Here they were to open what they envisioned as a Philosophy/ Theology seminary for their own seminarians as well as those of any other diocese which might choose to send their men there. The Vincentians were already running seminaries of this nature in St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, near Allentown, PA, Los Angeles and in the post war period there were more than enough vocations to consider opening new houses of formation. So in 1963 St. Vincent de Paul Seminary opened its doors on Military Trail in Boynton Beach and welcomed its first class. The Vincentians used an architect from Albany, New York (their provincial headquarters was near Albany) who designed a series of buildings having never been to Florida. All he knew was that it was hot in Florida and he had a collection of postcards of motels along A1A on our state’s east coast to guide him in his design. Thus the student and faculty wings all looked like motel units BUT the bathrooms could only be accessed by walking outside to a common area and no one told this poor architect that even in Florida it can get quite cold at night from December through March.

Those motel like wings of which I write/

Those motel like wings of which I write/

The seminary did well from the start with student enrollment and a faculty largely consisting of Vincentian priests and a few diocesan adjunct professors. Note that the seminary opened its doors at precisely the same moment as the universal church opened the Second Vatican Council. Later it was thought by the archbishop that some things had gotten a little out of control at the seminary; the rector and one or two other priests left to get married so by then Archbishop ColemanF. Carroll (Miami was made an archdiocese in  1968) got quite nervous about the seminary and told the Vincentians that they had to give it to him, free, no exchange of money. They rightly refused claiming it was their money that built the seminary in the first place. That did not dissuade Archbishop Carroll (he was a man who did not take “no” to his wishes well) who went to Rome and basically asked for permission to confiscate [the kindest verb I could come up with] the seminary (the Vincentians to this day would say “steal the seminary”), and assume responsibility for its operation and staff. The Vincentians withdrew and a new cadre of priests from the Archdiocese of Miami began to be trained to take their place. A priest from Boston, Monsignor John O’Connor was brought in to be the first non-Vincentian Rector, then a Dominican, Father Urban Voll who is still alive today, then the first Miami priest to serve as Rector/President, Bishop Felipe deJesus Estevez in 1980. Father Joseph Cunningham from Brooklyn, Father Arthur Bendixen from Orlando took over for a short time. He was followed by my classmate, Monsignor Pablo Navarro, then Monsignor Stephen Bosso, then Monsignor Keith R. Brennan and presently from our own diocese, Monsignor David L. Toups.

Fifty years later, the seminary is enjoying a renaissance in enrollment, now with ninety students and more predicted for the next few years based on enrollments from other near-by dioceses and men in the final two years at the college seminary in Miami. It is the nation’s only truly bi-lingual, multi-cultural seminary where a native Spanish speaking seminarian can take all his courses in Spanish and English speaking seminarians pray and study at times in Spanish. In 1981 St. Vincent de Paul was incorporated as a regional seminary when all of the dioceses except one agreed to pay immediately into an endowment fund and assume responsibility not only for funding but also for staffing. Later in the early part of the last decade, that one diocese which had held out initially also joined so the seminary is owned by the seven dioceses of Florida whose bishops sit as members of the Corporation. I have always as bishop supported both of Florida’s seminaries. Transparency requires me to note for the reader’s benefit that I served as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for five years from 1979-1984. We have in the past shared some of our finest priests with both seminaries and in the seventeen and one-half years I have been bishop of St. Petersburg, not one man ordained from St. Vincent de Paul or who attended St. John Vianney College seminary has left the active ministry – a testimony to great work done by our Vocations Admissions team and the seminary formation programs.

DSCN4132The papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano returned to the sunshine state yesterday (Friday) for the anniversary Mass, joining the bishop owners from around the state, and over 600 people jammed into the beautiful seminary chapel for Mass principally concelebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami who serves the seminary as its Chancellor. The seminary is now in the Diocese of Palm Beach since 1984 and its local bishop is the Treasurer. Those motel units will soon be renovated and for the first time in fifty years will have bathrooms and showers in each room and a new residence building for the students should begin construction within the next few months. The seminary endowment fund now sits at about 14.5 million dollars but the bishops agreed that over the next decade, we will all raise enough money for seminary formation to increase the endowment to about thirty million. So a very good first five decades give way to another form of Florida’s “bright future” in the decade which began this month with the new school year. Congratulations are due to Monsignor David Toups, his staff, administration, faculty, students but in a special way to those Vincentian and early diocesan pioneers that had the vision to build, sustain and maintain the seminary. Ad multos annos the saying goes, or loosely translated “here’s to many more years.”



Saturday, June 30th, 2012

Tim and "T," our sleeping car attendant on the Cardinal

For my brother and I, the most exciting time of our transcontinental train trip began at Chicago’s venerable Union Station at 545pm on Tuesday. AMTRAK’s three days a week departure of “The Cardinal” (the bird and not the ecclesiastical variety) had backed into the station for its eastbound departure and passengers began to board. For the second segment in a row, we had a superior sleeping car attendant named “T” for Tyrell who got us settled in our slightly smaller double bedroom for what would be a twenty-three hour voyage down familial memory lane.

The Cardinal is AMTRAK’s orphan child and, as I have previously mentioned, they would like nothing better than to eliminate it. When it comes to overnight train amenities, it barely meets the “minimum test.” There is no dining car. The one sleeper has three double bedrooms and twelve roomettes but five of the twelve are occupied by the crew for their necessary overnight rest. Full, as was our train, means that they are only committed to serving twenty first class passengers maximum. Not enough to even think about one of AMTRAK’s greatest sore points with the feds, its food service costs. So there is a lounge and in one end of the lounge there are about four tables set, tended by one attendant who is waiter in charge, waiter, cook, and cleaner-upper all rolled into one. The meals come like airline meals and are reconstituted in a convection oven. The process is slow but the end-product is tolerable – not great, but tolerable.

Crossing New River and beginning the picturesque trip along and through New River Gorge, West Virginia

As the sun set over the miles and miles of corn fields in central Indiana (we saw a deer poaching on one farmer’s field), we “sped” along at an average speed of 50 mph toward Indianapolis (midnight), Cincinnati (four a.m.) and points east. Tim went to sleep early, wishing to rise and be wide awake as “The Cardinal” made its way along the Kentucky side of the Ohio River through Cattlesburg and South Portsmouth where he had worked decades ago as the freight agent for the Chesapeake and Ohio. But the big moment was a hour and a half ahead of us – Montgomery (population today is 1,942 ) and the church where we were baptized, the three houses in which we lived for the first ten years of my life and eight of his, the elementary school we attended and a much different and depressing downtown than either of us recall.

Camcorder ready for Montgomery memories

Tim set his camcorder up in the vestibule and our man “T” opened the window on the door so he could shoot pictures of all those places, the first memories of our now aging lives. Although Montgomery is shown as a station stop in both directions for the “Cardinal” if there are no passengers to get off or on, the trains slows somewhat and glides by leaving Montgomery in the distance. Today, we were in luck, however, as there were four passengers to get off and two to board. “T,” God Bless him, opened the door and allowed Tim and I to descend briefly to the platform. With tears in his eyes, Tim turned to me and said, “Bobby, we are finally home.” “T” cried and brothers embraced. We could have remained in Montgomery for two more days save “T,” with tears in his eyes, saying, “Bros, get back on the train. We are leaving.” Tim continued to film on his camcorder the Kanawa River and the falls at its headwaters and New River Gorge, the scenic highlight of the “Cardinal” journey up and down the Alleghanys, up and down the Blue Ridge and arriving for us into Charlottesville.  We took a look at our dad’s old office, all the remains in Clifton Forge of a once vibrant, now dormant railroad town where on this day, only the crew changed and no one got off or on. Soon it was Charlottesville and the sixty minute bus ride to meet the “Silver Meteor” to Florida, all anticlimactic following a day of good memories and fond farewells to places once important,  but now never to be visited again.

The two of us in the Cardinal's AMNOT DINING CAR

I said good-by to my brother in Orlando early Thursday afternoon and he remained on board until Hollywood, Florida. I close this perhaps too personal reminiscence with this compelling thought. My brother said to me with deep emotion, “Bobby, we are home, finally home” and in one sense he is right but now we must both prepare for a more important homecoming in heaven. Until then, our day is West Virginia, almost heaven as John Denver once sang, will sustain our past and our time together will prepare us for the future. Thanks for reading and now to much more important matters.



Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Not Dinner in the Diner but Breakfast and Tim shown here entertaining three strangers

Saturday’s Seattle departing EMPIRE BUILDER arrived in Chicago yesterday a mere 2 hours late which is not bad for a trip of nearly two-thousand miles. By the time we pulled into Union Station, most of the sleeping car passengers were saying good-by to Tim and an occasion, “Nice to meet you, Your Excellency.” It seems that if Tim ferreted out that whomever he was talking to was Catholic, then he identified me as his bishop brother. All in all, for both of us, it was a great trip east and as one does on trains, we met a variety of very interesting people. Lunch on the final day was with a couple from Rhode Island who rode the train out to Glacier Park and spend ten days roaming the miles and miles of spectacular scenery. Whereas I tend to travel quietly, prizing my quiet time, Tim on the other hand, used every occasion to share his love for trains and his life experience to any and all who were willing to listen.

I found out that I am referred to as a “foamer.” Worried that it was some kind of comment on saliva or something like that, I was immensely relieved to hear that railroad people refer to rail fans (which is what Tim calls me) as “foamers” since we tend to foam at the mouth at the sight of any train, taking pictures of them, listening to them on the radio transmissions on a scanner, etc. I do  have such a scanner and on Sunday afternoon heard the BNSF dispatcher located in Fort Worth, Texas, tell the engineer and conductor of our train which was leaving Shelby, Montana, that there was now a flash flood warning and until he could verify no damage to the tracks, our train for a distance of about ninety miles would be restricted to a speed of 50 mph, instead of 79 mph, giving birth to the first delay of our trip. Pleased to share this information with my brother, I did so just as the Conductor was informing the whole train of the news, bringing a smile to the face of Tim that even “foaming” didn’t give one a leg up on accurate information. Score Tim 1 – Bob 0.

My brother Tim and absolutely the best sleeping car attendant either of us have ever had - GOL

Monday morning brought sunny skies to Minnesota and I awoke to find Tim gone from the room. Dressing quickly, I found him in the dining car keeping three people highly entertained. Soon after leaving Red Wing, the route of the train follows the west bank of the Mississippi to LaCrosse and a straight run to Milwaukee and eventually Chicago. I can tell that the trip is reaching its zenith for Tim with Tuesday night’s departure on the AMTRAK “Cardinal” through three of the five places where we lived as kids with our Mom and Dad. There is more talk from Tim about Dad and about those days as departure approaches and he is enjoying himself immensely. He now talks to me and others about this possibly being his last trip and what a trip it is – down memory lane for sure, but also drawing us closer together. I discovered on the Puget Sound Ferry to leave politics and religion out of the discussion and we would do fine. However, I have to listen, tolerate and forgive various expletives showered upon Republicans about once an hour.

The Empire Builder stopped for a few minutes in Winona, Minnesota. By this point in the trip, the train consisted of twelve cars carrying about 400 passengers.

I will conclude these reflections sometime on Wednesday as we complete the major portions of this sentimental journey. We change from train to bus on Wednesday afternoon for a transfer from Charlottesville to Richmond where we board the final leg of the trip, the “Silver Meteor” to Orlando where I shall disembark and Hollywood where Tim lives. We had dinner with friends of mine last night in Chicago which was a special delight as I shall soon be witnessing the marriage of two of them. Today is being spent resting and gathering energy for the train which is widely known as AMTRAK’s orphan or the one train they wish they most could get rid of – the Cardinal. The late Senator from West Virginia, Robert Byrd, reminded AMTRAK every year when it approached Congress for its annual subsidy that unless the Cardinal continued in his state of West Virginia, they would have a powerful enemy instead of a powerful friend. So the Cardinal leaves Chicago every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday for Washington and New York and every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday from New York bound for Chicago. It has no real dining car, but more about that in tomorrow’s blog entry. It has only one sleeping car with three bedrooms and seven roomettes to sell to the traveling public, three coaches and a single baggage car. Does it lose money? Big time! But tomorrow we will remember Robert Byrd fondly as we relive our youth and zoom through places important to our history like Covington, KY, Montgomery, W.VA., and Clifton Forge, Virginia. Thanks, Senator.



Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Tim on the Puget Sound Ferry prior to departure east from Seattle

Seattle is history. So is Spokane and Glacier Park. No matter whether I look east or west, north or south, there is nothing out there but “amber waves of grain.” The grain is interrupted occasionally by cattle, but east of the Rockies, there is only miles and miles and miles of grain to be seen . The Empire Builder left Seattle yesterday on an afternoon which quite suddenly and unexpectedly turned sunny and blue. In an effort to find something which Tim could do and might enjoy in the afternoon awaiting the 440pm departure of the “Builder,” we settled on a round trip Washington State Ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bremerton. It seemed like a good idea when I bought the ticket at 1215pm for the 1235pm ferry, but then it began to rain and rain and rain. When we arrived back at the ferry dock in Seattle at three, it was still sprinkling but by the 440pm departure of the “Builder” blue skies prevailed and the first hour running along the shoreline of Puget Sound was spectacular. Three cruise ships were sailing north to Alaska abreast of us and the Olympic mountain range to the west and along the coast were majestic.

At Everett, Washington, the train heads southwest and climbs the Cascades. Since it was two days after the longest day of the year, we had daylight for the entire climb and descent into central Washington’s apple growing area along the upper reaches of the soon to be mighty Columbia River, flowing south and southwest.

Dinner in the diner tonight brought us together with a two men from the coach section, one of whom it took all of two nanoseconds for him to figure out that I was a bishop. The ring gave me away. He is attending Sacramento State College and regularly attends the Newman Center and knows Bishop Jaime Soto and the long retired Bishop Francis Quinn of Sacramento who wears the same Council ring, which I wear. To make the world even smaller, he has a cousin who lives in Plant City and his own mother who lives in California has been on trips and pilgrimages with our Father Carlos Rojas. Tim kept the other young man entertained. Good dinner followed by a challenging first night of sleep – only three more to go in these AMTRAK sleeping cars.

For the first hour leaving Seattle, the EMPIRE BUILDER travels along the shore line of Puget Sound with the Olympic mountains in the distance. Sharp eyes can see Holland America's MS ZUIDERDAM heading both to Alaska.

Since Tim would not easily be able to climb into the upper bunk, I volunteered. Mistake. I should have probably secured two of the smaller roomettes so we could both have lower beds, but like many a football game, which is won on Monday, hindsight is always 20-20. Too bad there was no film of this 230 lb. monster climbing up steep stairs and then trying to crawl into a space of about three feet of headroom. I should win an award as a contortionist.

We awakened on purpose around 630am (having lost an hour due to the change from Pacific Daylight Time, to Mountain Daylight Time), in time for Tim to detrain in Whitefish, the station at which the Builder begins to climb to the top of the continental divide and enters Glacier National Park. Once again the weather was beautiful on the west side of the Rockies but it has been overcast on the east side. About fifty people detrained at the West Glacier Station and the same number boarded. At East Glacier, within walking distance of the National Park Lodge, the same number left the train and slightly less boarded. Clearly the National Parks are in their busy season. Tim entertained three people at a table for breakfast in the diner as I kicked him out. I had breakfast with a young woman from Corvallis, Oregon who was going to East Glacier and the Lodge with her family. She was very pleasant.

Traveling with one’s brother is not always easy. Tim chose the middle of Puget Sound to tell me how he thought I and the other bishops were looking pretty darn stupid (not exactly his choice of adjective) on the HHS matter. He could not believe that in this age of enlightenment, anyone in his or her right minds could be raising any kind of ruckus about contraception. I used all my best and every argument that I had that it was not about contraception but religious liberty but he was not buying. And he was vehement enough that had I not expended thousands of frequent flyer miles and AMTRAK Guest Rewards miles for this trip, I might have thrown him overboard in the middle of Puget Sound. Probably the testiest moment on this trip and in years. He has been quiet since then!

Lunch was with a husband and wife from Rhode Island who clearly like to ride trains. They came west on the train and are now heading home. They also like the Queen Mary III, which they have taken on a quick trans-Atlantic voyage three times since she entered service. They have a short connection tomorrow in Chicago and are already worried that perhaps they will not make it (this train has been averaging 140 minutes late the last two weeks into Chicago). The Lynch boys have their second and final hotel night tomorrow in the Windy City.

Tim is beginning to reminisce and rhapsodize about the trip which begins Tuesday night on what was once the Chesapeake and Ohio. He worked for them for twenty-four years after returning from Vietnam and there has been all kinds of talk emanating from him that he intends to bribe the sleeping car attendant into opening the top part of the Dutch doors in Montgomery, West Virginia and Clifton Forge, Virginia to allow he and his camcorder to record houses we used to live in and places we used to frequent. We will see. Now it’s back to those “amber waves of grain” and towns like Malta, Montana; Saga, Montana; Wolf Point, Montana. Come to think of it, Montanans have probably never heard of Frostproof, Florida, or Lokey either.



Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

My brother Tim.

The long awaited and much anticipated reunion of two of the three Lynch boys took place on Friday at Gate D11 at the Miami airport. I flew from Tampa to meet Tim and accompany him the rest of the way to Seattle, a trip of eight hours duration. He was so excited that we were finally on our way, having navigated by wheelchair from the curbside check-in counter through security to the gate. I had “cashed in” enough American frequent flyer miles and moved early enough to secure two first class seats on the flights from Miami to O’Hare and then on to Seattle. Tim said that the Miami to Chicago flight was on the largest and quietest jet he had ever flown on and then with something approaching “gallows humor” said that the next time he would be so far forward in an airplane would likely be when his casket was in the forward hold beneath where he was sitting. American did a great job of having wheelchair assistance waiting for him with his name specifically on it for transferring from gate to gate in Chicago and from gate to baggage claim in Seattle. It was, however, precisely at baggage claim that I began to really appreciate the challenges facing people with disabilities. Delivered to baggage claim and receiving her “tip” for the service, we were abandoned by the wheelchair person. At first I did not think that would be a problem because arrival pick up was taking place just a few steps from the carrousel. Then, struck with fear, I noticed no cabs nor any signs for taxis anywhere. I approached the American Airlines agent in the baggage claim are and she said, “Oh, the taxi’s are on the third level of the parking garage.” She then said you need to walk to an elevator, walk across and bridge over the roadways, walk through the fourth level of the garage and then take an elevator to the third level where the taxis could be found. I knew it would be too much for Tim and I could not manage his luggage and mine as well. It took two people to accomplish the transfer from baggage claim to taxi: someone handling the bags and a second person pushing a wheelchair. But we did it. Then out of the garage and right smack into Seattle’s signature climate: rain!

Arriving at the hotel at 1000pm EDT, our sole goal in life was no longer heaven, but something to eat and then sleep. We attempted to “dine” at the Pike Pub and Brewery across from the hotel but the wait time was 45 to 60 minutes so it was back to the hotel. I had two “sliders” evoking our memory of White Castles in Columbus, Ohio and Skyline Chili parlors in Cincinnati. Tim loved the day, the attention he received on the plane from various flight attendants who were drawn to him by his sunny disposition, paying little attention to the sour puss next to him.

Conversation was mostly about trains and our youth. Tim has very clear memories of his trip to and from Seattle for his service in Vietnam in the army – the troop ship out of Fort Lewis and the return from there. I do not pursue and he has always volunteered very little about his time in the war zone. My brother Jim and I surmise that those memories are just too painful. Every one is suspicious that Tim’s COPD situation results from a combination of smoking and, we think, Agent Orange exposure which the Veterans Administration is finally acknowledging is a source of veteran disability after years of denial by there VA officialdom. He does have a hard time breathing and even experienced some stress on the plane where the cabin is pressurized to 8000 feet. But we made it.

At dinner we talked a lot about railroads and about our Dad. Perhaps the most poignant moment of this special Friday for me will be when Tim said, with a tear in his eye about our father, “I still miss him terribly. . . I love him. . . I talk to him daily.” Later today a ferry ride on Puget Sound to Bremerton will be followed by the start of our eastbound transcontinental rail journey at 440pm on AMTRAK’s Train No. 8, THE EMPIRE BUILDER.



Thursday, June 21st, 2012
The “Empire Builder”  James J. Hill. Photo from Google Images.

Tim Lynch is my brother and has been for sixty-nine of my seventy-one years. Of the three Lynch boys, he was the only one to have been drafted and to have served in Vietnam, for him a life changing experience in many ways. He has never married, worked at one job for only a limited time after returning from the War, and seems to have existed for some time on the margins of society or life which I have lived or so it seems. He loves his Catholic faith which came to us from our parents and attempts to attend Sunday Mass as often as possible at Little Flower parish in Hollywood, Florida, where he lives. He does not always agree with the leadership of his Church, including his brother, and has never met a Republican he trusted or liked (slight exaggeration, but not much of one). His working life consisted of being a clerk on the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad as well as a freight agent, the same railroad onto which our father hired after graduating from Holy Cross College in 1921 and Harvard Business in 1922 with an M.B.A. When Tim returned from the war, however, our dad had already retired and with our mother, had moved from Ohio to his family home in Massachusetts where he died in 1970 and where he is buried with our mother who died in November of 1995. Tim has an artificial heart valve which seems to be leaking (it was a pig’s valve inserted about twelve years ago) and has chronic COPD. Last Spring (2011) he was diagnosed with a cancer of the lower left lobe of his lung. Because of his precarious heart and lung conditions, for a time there was a question as to whether any cancer protocol could be attempted on him, but eventually a decision was made in favor of three massive chemo injections and thirty-five successive (save week-ends) radiation treatments. The first post treatment PET scan showed that there was no longer any presence of the tumor in Tim’s lung and he remains cancer free though mightily physically challenged. It was on learning that the cancer was history that I made an offer to Tim, noting that the two of us as brothers had not done anything as brothers, since childhood. I told him I would take him any place in the world where he might wish to go as long as it was someplace he could physically handle (that ruled out Macchu Picchu). He chose an adventure that evokes the memory of James J. Hill and the reality of Warren Buffett.

Warren Buffett, the Empire Builder of this age. Photo from of Google Images.

James Hill was born in Ontario but wound up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He quickly became a successful business man in the Twin Cities whose personal mantra was “Work, hard work, intelligent work, and then more work.” Seeing an opportunity to purchase a struggling railroad  in 1873 and ten years later he began to build a railroad which would stretch eventually from the Mississippi to the Pacific, a transcontinental railroad. “What we want, “Hill said, “is the best possible line, shortest distance, lowest grades, and least curvature we can build.” He succeeded and in January 1893, his Great Northern Railroad was completed spanning 1,700 miles. He became known as “The Empire Builder.” Hill died on May 29, 1916 in his adopted St. Paul, a true railroad “baron.”

Warren Buffett, as people may or may not know, is the head of a giant investment firm called Berkshire-Hathaway and lives and works in Omaha, Nebraska. In his time as an investor, he has owned many things, but recently, he has developed an interest in railroads as well. In 2004, Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway bought Hill’s railroad (now named the Burlington Northern following many buy-outs and mergers) and the Atcheson, Topeka and Santa Fe giving him effective control over both the northern and southern transcontinental routes from the midwest to the Pacific and all points in-between. Only the mighty Union Pacific, amazingly also headquartered in Omaha, stand between them.

Tim called me back and first said that he would like to take one last trip on what was the original Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, for which he worked for a number of years, on which I had worked while in college, and our Dad had retired from as an operating officer. Such a trip would necessitate our flying to Chicago from either Fort Lauderdale or Miami and taking AMTRAK’s “The Cardinal” which runs three times a week between Chicago and New York over the old C&O line through the towns of Covington, Kentucky; Montgomery, West Virginia; and Clifton Forge, Virginia where we had lived as young boys with our younger sibling, Jim. We would connect with AMTRAK’s “Silver Meteor” in Richmond and disembark from the train two days and two nights later in Hollywood, Florida. Easy enough I said, but not long enough. My good brother then said, “Well, I don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but when I went to and from Vietnam I took the train from  Route 128 station just south of Boston to Chicago and on to Seattle” (where he shipped out on a ship and returned on a charter airplane). I said, fine, we will fly to Seattle and train it transcontinentally (is there such a word?) from Seattle to Hollywood, Florida via Chicago, Cincinnati, Charleston, W.Va., Charlottesville, Richmond, Charleston, SC, Savannah, Jacksonville, Orlando and Okeechobee. We are on our way and my brother is so excited and so happy.

Life has not been a bowl of cherries for Tim and death is coming inexorably and slowly. This was the first thing on Tim’s “bucket list” and we are on our way west, no longer the young men of Horace Greeley’s prompting. Two brothers, sharing six special days. With Tim’s permission, I will share the highlights of the trip with all of you. He will have editorial control of the text because it will be more about him than me. If you find it boring, come back to this thread on June 29th for more Fortnight for Freedom. The travelogue begins tomorrow, June 22nd with the flights to Seattle by way of Chicago. The two of us have a lot of time to be made up which cannot be completed in six days but I suspect the memories of this time together will last the rest of our lifetime. While we don’t exactly command the stature of Buffett and Hill, we are something of railroad “barons” ourselves.






Thursday, November 17th, 2011

The “Silver Star” is about to appear over Tampa’s Union Station; right on time I might add as it has been throughout the night on its 1120-mile journey from Baltimore yesterday afternoon. I slept like the “Chessie Kitten” albeit with some help from an “Ambien” tablet, falling asleep while standing in the station at Cary, North Carolina (twenty miles southwest of Raleigh) and waking up in Palatka, Florida this morning. Columbia, South Carolina, Savannah, Jacksonville were all just dreams. However, I think I have one more post of observations about the bishops’ meeting that just concluded.

First, our new President, by sheer bent of his wonderful personality, managed to make what could be tense moments less so and I think his gifts as chair were appreciated by the majority of bishops present. By nature he is kind and patient, both qualities very necessary in a bishop leader today. There was quite a bit of concern expressed in the Catholic and secular press that the USCCB has lost its moral compass on social issues like jobs, the economy, justice, capitol punishment, etc. These same critics see most of our time and attention when congregated directed to issues like abortion, contraception, the government and President of the United States, etc. These comments and reflections at this moment in time are quite fair I believe. As a body of bishops, we seem to be in a period of navel gazing at the “safe” issues and have lost for the moment our zeal for those which society largely ignores, even though I readily admit advocacy on behalf of human life also fits into this general category. Some voices were raised by my brothers about immigration but not a lot. Some voices were raised by my brothers about atrocious injustice at home and abroad but not a lot. And as proof of this reality, there is not a lot if anything in the hopper of future USCCB concern which might portend the prophetic engagement of many of these issues. This is the period of the life issues, almost  p-e-r-i-o-d-“ We long have been the most consistent and persistent voice on behalf of human life from conception until natural death and I would not wish that to change one bit. But we used to be able to be that voice as well as a voice for other issues of deep social and societal concern. It is that second “edge” that I feel we are losing.

The whole movement to engage and enlarge the issue of religious liberty flows primarily from assaults on Church teaching on human life currently seeming to arise from the Obama administration and more so from the Department of Health and Human Services. We would not be so keenly interested perhaps were it not for the fact that HHS seems to be having a field day threatening to require religious employers to provide a vast range of contraceptive and abortifacient services in the new health care law, certainly with nothing but total disregard it would seem to date for the Church’s longstanding teachings on these matters (and here I would enjoin our Mormon brothers and sisters as well as the Christian Scientists and other evangelical religions) which want nothing to do with provision of services which are against our (their) conscience belief. Let me give you an example of what I, as your bishop and the diocese of St. Petersburg might be up against if the individual mandates remain in the law and are regulated as HHS currently plans. On its face, I would be required to provide all our employees a full range of contraceptive opportunities not currently covered by our health care plan. Ah, but HHS might say, we can make you exempt as a religious employer (please note that to this moment they have not yet been this generous). But for the diocese that is just hurdle number one. Hurdle number two is the fact that we are self-insured, which means we are an insurer acting as an insurance company and we would seem to still be even more compelled. Thus, I and every other head of a Catholic institution would have to in conscience terminate the health care plans for myself, my priests and all our 2300 employees, perhaps give them a check the equivalent of what would have been our contribution to their health care and send them looking for a plan and carrier that will come the closest to matching the plan they had. Our religious freedom to fashion a health care plan consistent with our beliefs will have been denied and removed. And as diocesan employees would readily admit, a great health care benefit which until now we could mount on would be taken away. That’s not progress in health care, that is sheer regression.

This week the Supreme Court has agreed to five hours of oral arguments in the New Year on several aspects of the health care plan including the mandate. We should know prior to the fall election what our fate would be on this matter. Soundings from Secretary Sibellius’ HHS are not promising. It is an important moment in the history of Church and State in this land of freedom of religion and I agree the signs are so far ominous.

But, as I conclude the last of these reflections on this year’s fall meeting, the Presidential Address of Archbishop Dolan was a bright spot precisely because it can serve as the launching pad for what I believe to be the most important work of the Church over the next two decades – the new Evangelization.

Quite truthfully AMTRAK’s “Silver Star” is presently “backing up” into Tampa’s Union Depot to drop me off. Like others remaining on this train and continuing south, I look to more forward progress in the days, months and years ahead.



Wednesday, November 16th, 2011

The second day of the annual fall meeting of the bishops of the United States had more parts than a dinosaur skeleton, not a mindless analogy mind you. When one asks 305 bishops (active and retired) to work on the plans, programs, priorities and new initiatives of the conference for the years 2013-2016, almost everyone has an opinion. And all of us had an opportunity to voice those opinions during the second half of the morning session when we broke into regional groupings (in our case the two dioceses of North Carolina, the one in South Carolina, the two in Georgia, and the seven in Florida). Every bishop in the region weighed in as to whether or not we should stick with the five priorities of the last five years, add “Religious Liberty” and the “New Evangelization” or reduce our expectations for the next planning cycle. First thing in the afternoon, the chair of the committee on Priorities and Plans and the Conference Secretary, Bishop George Murry of Youngstown, Ohio tried to assimilate all that had been heard at the morning regional meetings into a roadmap for his Committee to finish its work. Hats off to Bishop Murry for working with the clay putty of ideas the body of bishops had.

Also in the regional meetings we discussed how the Pontifical document Ex Corde Ecclesiae of ten years ago was being met by the Catholic colleges and universities in our region. There are five such institutions in four (arch)dioceses: Belmont Abbey in the Charlotte diocese, St. Leo University in our own, Ave Maria in the Venice diocese, and Barry University and the University of St. Thomas in the Archdiocese of Miami. I was able to report that as regards St. Leo, the president, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. and I meet annually, our Vicar General, Monsignor Morris is both an alum and on the Board of Trustees, and that I have promised to return to Board membership if invited this year when I end my term on the Catholic Health Association Board.

For about an hour, our region knew when its dates for the Ad Limina visits to Rome were to be, but then word quickly came from Rome that the newly announced visit of Pope Benedict to Mexico and Cuba might delay us into late May or early June. Que sera sera!

Of great interest in the afternoon was a report by Cardinal Donald Wuerl of Washington on the establishment of an ordinariate (think diocese even though there are some canonical differences) to accommodate those parishes and priests in the United States who wish to leave the Episcopal Church and become Roman Catholics while retaining their rites and ritual. Pope Benedict XVI opened up this possibility a few years ago and England and Wales already have such an ordinariate. Cardinal Wuerl said that the United States would have one as well by January 1, 2012 and a Catholic priest who has joined the Church through the Pastoral Provision would be or has been chosen to serve as the head of the ordinariate. If that priest, and this is most likely, is married then he cannot be ordained a bishop but he can administer the ordinariate. Two parishes, one in Fort Worth, Texas, and one in Washington, D.C. have come over under this papal provision so far. I do not expect any movement in the territory of our diocese at this time.

With that report, we concluded our public business, had a coffee break, and went into Executive Session, which will last until midday today (Wednesday). This afternoon I will be “following my star”, AMTRAK’S “Silver Star” and should arrive in Tampa’s Union Station around noon tomorrow. The “Star” does not move as does the “Meteor” and the trip will take twenty-two hours instead of nineteen on the way up. Plenty of time to prepare yet another blog entry as this weekend, Christ the King will be such a busy one for our local Church. All aboard!



Sunday, November 13th, 2011

Darkness has now descended on northern Florida after an incredibly beautiful sunset and I am comfortable in my small room on AMTRAK’S “Silver Meteor” bound for the fall meeting of the bishops of the United States held in Baltimore and beginning tomorrow morning. If all goes well, which means God and AMTRAK working together, I will just arrive at the meeting room as the assembly begins. So tonight seems like a good night to post some unrelated and unconnected thoughts.

POPE BENEDICT XVI on Wednesday at the General Audience seemed to me to be quite animated and well. I had been reading of speculation about his health for several weeks and when he was an almost unprecedented twenty minutes late arriving in St. Peter’s square for the audience (very un-German like) I wondered, but once there, save walking more slowly (which I find myself doing), he seemed little different in bearing than when I last met him five plus years ago. We reminisced for about a minute and the fact that he still recognized me was encouraging also. From the beginning of his papacy, he has set a pace for himself consistent with his age and wisely has not tried to imitate his predecessor in having every meal with guests, forty people for daily Mass and individual opportunities for pictures at the drop of a hat. He should not be faulted for that and I suspect we will never again see the likes of a public pope like Blessed John Paul II.

THERE ARE ONLY THIRTEEN MORE DAYS LEFT for “Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.” The new translation will be placed into use in our parishes, schools and missions on Saturday night, November 26th, the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of October. All of will have to adjust but adjust we will. It may take some time to do so but it will be the new translation of very familiar prayers. I ask all of our good people to be patient with their bishop and priests for some time to come. Two weeks ago today, when offering Sunday Mass at the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee, the Franciscans in charge of the church had only the new English translation with which to work. I found praying the Eucharistic prayer to be challenging and difficult. In fact, I would say that I did not pray it as I would the translations with which we are so familiar as much as reading it. The wording is challenging, new in many instances, and the temptation to slip back into the more familiar when I took my eyes off the text was present and palpable. Only the “Our Father” has been spared change, everything else will require you and I and our priests for some time to pay attention to the printed word. And on both of our parts, in the beginning, we are going to “slip” from time to time. Please don’t write me with complaints about priests and deacons “refusing to use the new translation” when all that is happening is a simple mistake in these early months. It is going to take some time. Perhaps at the end of a year if you wish to share with me your thoughts about the changes, feel free to do so and I will respond by mail but give yourselves and us some time to make the change. I wish to thank our priests, deacons, and lay leadership who have prepared the diocese for this moment and you for being open to see how it goes. I have said many times this year and here will repeat for the last time, the changes will be far harder and more challenging on we priests than on anyone else. Soon perhaps we will be able to stop reading and resume praying when we commit to memory the new translation.

THE BALTIMORE MEETING this year going into it has a thin agenda – so thin I was able to read all the action items between the Orlando AMTRAK station and the Winter Park AMTRAK station. I do not see anything fractious or contentious to be discussed in public session but your bishops like nature abhor a vacuum and who knows? Unless there are more substantive issues, which arise in executive session (I have not seen the agenda), I wondered if I should even go to the time and expense of travelling to Baltimore. There are the usual elections plus elections of delegates to next year’s Rome Synod on the “new evangelization,” several small liturgical matters like the approval of some Mass texts for new saints and one for Blessed Pope John Paul II, and the annual approval of the budget and plans and programs for the Conference. Since its reorganization about five years ago, there has been a decided decline in matters brought before the body of bishops for debate and vote, which I think, was one of the purposes for the reorganization in the first place. I never thought twenty to twenty-five years ago that if a bishop I would want to miss a general meeting or leave early, but now I find myself guilty on both counts.

FINALLY, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY, JOE PATERNO and the sad news that children, minors, had been violated in the worst ways by a member of the coaching staff and while authorities knew of it, nothing was done brings back the worst of memory recall about our own challenges in this regard for the past decade. Since it all happened in 2002 and our dark night of the soul began in 2001 one would think that in light of our poor performance, every other organization would have learned and gained from our calamitous situation. As a Church in the United States and as a worldwide Church, we are far from “out of the woods” on this matter but we are working on it. Two things are foremost in my mind: anyone who has reasonably certain knowledge that an employee of the church, ordained, professed or employed is engaging in actions which even suggest inappropriate behavior need to report it to the civil authorities immediately, and second, when notified, those of us responsible for the governance of the Church must act as we promised we would in Dallas and have reaffirmed repeatedly. Words without actions spell further disaster.

IN THIS REGARD, the Diocese of St. Petersburg has been found to be in full compliance with the requirements of the Dallas Charter by Stonebridge Associates who have been retained by the United States Conference of Bishops to conduct annual audits. They made several recommendations, which will be implemented like posting in public places the phone numbers of where people should call and report if they sincerely suspect sexual misconduct with a minor to be present. Most of our parishes, schools and institutions have done this but apparently some have not. There was also a concern about one parish where it was not clear that all parents and children had been given the instructions about creating and maintaining a safe environment. I wish to thank everyone in the diocese from pastors to lawn care personnel for being attentive to the needs of insuring a strong safe environment. But in the end, like Penn State, it all depends in the end on me to make the right decisions with the help of a truly independent diocesan Review Board, Victims Assistance Coordinator and alert people.

The “Silver Meteor” has just landed in Savannah and it is time for me to go to dinner in the diner and nothing could be finer. Prayers for all of you this week and please keep me in your prayers as well.