Posts Tagged ‘Bishop Frank Dewane’


Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice's website.

Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice’s website.

Last night around 930pm, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice called to inform me that Bishop John J. Nevins had just gone home to the Father. Bishop Nevins was the first bishop of Venice when the diocese was  established  in October of 1984. He and I lived on the same property in Miami for five years as I succeeded him as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in 1979, but he remained on property as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami till his appointment to Venice in 1984.

An only child of first generation Irish parents, the bishop grew up in New Rochelle, New York where his education was largely in the hands of the Irish Christian brothers. Graduating from Iona College (also run by the Irish Christian Brothers) he entered the seminary for the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order of men, and studied at the Catholic University of America. Just before his ordination to the diaconate, the Fathers of Mercy were disbanded, leaving young John Nevins with no place to go.

A wonderful Sulpician priest recommended that the “homeless” seminarian contact Bishop Coleman F. Carroll who was in his second year as bishop of the new diocese of  Miami and upon doing that he was accepted as a seminarian for Miami and ordained to the priesthood on D-Day the sixth of June 1959. He held many positions in Miami including pastor of several parishes, director of Catholic Charities, and Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1974 till October 10, 1979. Venice was made a diocese in June of 1984 (along with Palm Beach) and he was installed as the first bishop in October of the same year. He served as active bishop for twenty three years until succeeded in office by Bishop Dewane.

I remember very well the consultation which preceded the decision to erect Venice as a diocese. Many people pointed out that it would be a challenging diocese to administer for a number of reasons, the major being that the population of the expected counties to be included consisted of many seniors and finding enough priests from within the diocese would be unlikely. True to predictions, the diocesan population grew very quickly and the need for priests increased even more exponentially than predicted.

It was also a large diocese. Since Bishop W. Thomas Larkin was a classmate in graduate school of St. John Paul II (he taught the pope his English), he was in the driver’s seat in shaping the size of the new diocese, ninety per cent of which was formerly the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Bishop Nevins, faced with these foreseen challenges and many more unforeseen led the diocese often by sheer force of his wining, loveable, Irish personality. He was always a good priest and a person of the people. He was also at the top his game when a priest was in trouble, caring for them and trying to get them the help they needed. In Miami and in Venice, he will be fondly remembered until we all die off as a “priests’ bishop”. Lay people and religious also responded to him well.

He could occasionally be unpredictable as when presiding at the funeral of Dr. Ben Shepherd, the seminary’s doctor, in the seminary chapel during the homily he walked down placed his hand on the casket and told the grieving widow in these precise words, “you know, the shell is still here but the nut is gone!” She shrieked in grief while the rest of us struggled to control our laughter. On the occasion of his 25th anniversary of his ordination, also in the seminary chapel, he began his homily with this line: “my mother and father were peasants” and I thought his mother, Ann, was going to come right out of the pew and “crown” her son.

John Nevins lived his life for his God and for his mother. He began to change and age and start his own walk to heaven’s gate when his mother died. I accompanied he and the casket on a bitterly cold December 27th to Kilkar, County Donegal, where she is buried. When the two of us climbed in the car to leave for Shannon and the next day’s flight home, it was akin to his spirit dropping like low blood pressure. He was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, but were you to visit his home, you had to be struck by the number of pictures of he and Pope John Paul II and he and his mother. It was like he was in love with both.

His period of declining health was long and drawn out and very sad. Bishop Dewane and the Chancellor, Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk took great care of the bishop. He had no other family than the Church and the Church cared deeply and lovingly for him. Many of us, bishops of Florida and priests, have missed him the last seven years during his declining health and next Wednesday at 11 a.m. when we gather at Epiphany Cathedral for his funeral Mass, everyone will have their own memories and recollections. I have shared only a slither of what I could say about this good man and I thank God for coming for him last night and ending his confinement.

Norman Rockwell once painted a picture of a very young John Nevins for the cover of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine. Young Johnny was a red-head with freckles looking expectantly for something coming which was not there. Now he has seen the Lord and the same broad smile as in the Rockwell painting must be on his face.



Friday, December 9th, 2011

The Florida bishops (minus Pensacola-Talllahassee which is still waiting for a new bishop to be announced and installed) met in Miami on Tuesday as guests of Archbishop Thomas Wenski. It took us four hours to dispose of the business of the Florida Catholic Conference. Conference Executive Director Dr. D. Michael McCarron presented us with a lengthy agenda of action items about which there were no real differences of opinion but a need to know more about the challenges which face the Church in Florida in 2012. This state is so lucky to have a superb Executive Director who is assisted by a very able, competent and committed staff. The results of the Conference over the years in the public square far exceeds the per cent of the state population which is Roman Catholic and stands as a testament to prudent, respectful and appreciative engagement with past Administrations (Chiles, Bush, Crist, and Scott in my time) and legislatures.

From left, bishops who attended the Mass included: Bishop Victor Galeone, retired of St. Augustine: Bishop Fernando Isern of Pueblo, Colo.; Bishop John Noonan of Orlando; Bishop Felipe Estevez of St. Augustine; Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice; myself; and Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach. Photo courtesy of Ana Rodriguez-Soto with The Florida Catholic.

In the evening we reconvened at the Cathedral of St. Mary in Miami to celebrate retired Archbishop John C. Favalora’s golden anniversary of priestly ordination and silver anniversary of episcopal ordination. I hope and pray that you remember kindly the five years that Archbishop Favalora served as our third bishop here in St. Petersburg. About one hundred and forty priests, nine bishops, and a good representation of the laity came for this special Mass of Thanksgiving.The Archbishop was both the principal celebrant of the liturgy and the homilist. I must say that St. Mary’s Cathedral has a music program to “die for” and as good as I remember it, it has never been better than this evening. The celebration took about seventy-five minutes which is not bad when one gathers that many bishops and others.

Archbishop John C. Favalora sits in the cathedra, a symbol of a bishop's authority, during the Mass. Photo courtesy of Ana Rodriguez-Soto with The Florida Catholic.

Archbishop Favalora gave a beautiful homily on the occasion, focusing not on himself but on the Lord’s call to serve in the priesthood. In twelve minutes (I time myself and everyone else who preaches because I firmly believe that the mind can not absorb what the tush can’t take) he gave a ratio fundamentalis or foundation reasons for what the gift of priestly ministry means in our own time. Only at the end did he quickly express his thanks to those gathered for nourishing his ministry in the past twenty-five and fifty years. At the conclusion, he was greeted with prolonged applause and standing appreciation, I believe not just for his lucid homily but for his many years of service. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is about forty-four years old now and its first bishop, Charles McLaughlin served for the first ten years, then Bishop W. Thomas Larkin succeeded him for just shy of ten years. Archbishop Favalora’s tenure was about five years and my own is soon to enter its sixteenth year. I think each of us has attempted in our own way to nourish and fashion a community of faith at the service of Christ’s Church. I have always been grateful that the Lord in his kindness allowed me to follow Archbishop Favalora because things were in great shape when I came. I only hope I can with God’s help leave them that way for my successor. In words spoken and written yesterday I extended to the good Archbishop the gratitude of the Church of St. Petersburg for his presence in our midst. He seems incredibly happy to be free of the burden of administration and I am admittedly jealous.



Tuesday, April 20th, 2010
Then-Bishop Wenski and then-Archbishop Favalora at Wenski's 10th Anniversary of Ordination as a Bishop.

Then-Bishop Wenski and then-Archbishop Favalora at Wenski's 10th Anniversary of Ordination as a Bishop. (Florida Catholic)

The Holy See announced at noon Rome time today (600am EDT) that Pope Benedict XVI has accepted the request of Archbishop John Clement Favalora to retire as the third Archbishop of Miami and has appointed as Miami’s fourth archbishop, Bishop Thomas Wenski, formerly a priest of Miami but now serving as bishop of Orlando. This announcement is of special interest to our diocese as many of you will remember that Archbishop Favalora served as third bishop of St. Petersburg and as my immediate predecessor. I was the first priest ordained to the episcopacy by the Archbishop on January 26, 1996 and therefore I am in a way his “oldest son.” In his fifteen and a half years as Archbishop of Miami, he has ordained as bishops Bishop Victor Galeone of St. Augustine, Bishop Wenski of Orlando, Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, Bishop Felipe de Jesus Estevez, and Bishop John Noonan as assistant bishops in Miami and has installed Bishop John H. Ricard as Bishop of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Bishop J. Keith Symons as Bishop of Palm Beach, Bishop Norbert Dorsey as third bishop of Orlando, Bishop Anthony J. O’Connell of Palm Beach, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Palm Beach, Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach, Bishop Wenski of Orlando and Bishop Frank DeWane of Venice. So one can easily see his presence as metropolitan archbishop of Miami just in episcopal ordinations and installations and is in addition to daily managing a large archdiocese.

So what does this change imply for our local Church and for myself? The Church asks archbishops to “mentor” the other bishops of his province, to monitor if necessary important things occurring in the other dioceses, and to call the bishops of the province together from time to time to discuss candidates for the episcopal office. In our case, the Archbishop of Miami is automatically the President of the Florida Catholic Conference so he convenes us as bishops four times a year to conduct the affairs of the FCC, and he is Chancellor of our theologate in Boynton Beach where most of our future priests and bishops are trained, and there we meet twice a year. For myself personally this is a bittersweet moment. I am happy for Archbishop Favalora that after many years of active ministry, as priest and bishop, he will soon be freed of the burden of administration and can begin to relax. As our “leader” he had a wonderful ability to help us relax when we were together and to enjoy the company of one another as bishops. He did not like or lead long meetings and he was available when we needed someone to talk to about anything. I will miss those wonderful gifts very much as I suspect will also my brother bishops. The last few years in Miami have been particularly stressful for not only the archbishop but for many others there so I wish him a stress-less and peaceful retirement.

Bishop Wenski knows what he is inheriting. He is a gifted linguist speaking fluent Creole, Spanish, and Polish in addition to his native tongue. It will be the first time when at a minimum a tri-cultural and tri-lingual urban archdiocese will have someone to easily communicate with the people in their native tongues. As I told him in a phone call, now I know who is likely to bury me and I assured him of my prayers and support in his daunting new ministry.

When the Diocese of St. Petersburg was created in 1968, Bishop Charles McLaughlin was appointed our first bishop. On the same day, the Diocese of Orlando was created and  William Donald Borders was named first bishop of Orlando. Amazingly he died yesterday at the age of  96, one day prior to his successor three times removed  being named to Miami. He himself retired as Arcbishop of Baltimore many years ago. Also yesterday (Monday) the mother of Bishop Barbarito of Palm Beach went home to the Lord after a long life and lots of love from her priest/bishop son. May we remember both of these people in our prayers.



Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The bishops of the state have arrived in the state capital and gathered early this evening with our fine and extremely competent staff of the Florida Catholic Conference for a “renewing our acquaintance and getting to know you” opportunity. Later the bishops had dinner together and we were happy to celebrate Bishop Frank Dewane’s birthday today. There was a cake with four candles and best wishes to the bishop for many more happy years.

I spent the day driving the panhandle. You may recall that last week in this space I mentioned that I wished to arrive a day early so that I might visit my friend and fellow-bishop, John Ricard of Pensacola-Tallahassee who was in therapy at a rehabilitation facility in Panama City. So at 1015am, my driver for this jaunt and I departed our hotel in Tallahassee for the two hour drive to Panama City. The bishop had initially suffered an incident of blood being unable to return to the heart from his brain on December 22, 2009 and was hospitalized in Pensacola in intensive care for several weeks. Since then he has suffered several more incidents and found himself in rehab at the facility in Panama City.

Well, about twenty miles out of Panama City I received word via cell-phone that the bishop had left the rehab facility and was at that very moment enroute to his house in Pensacola (another 120 miles west) via medical transport. What to do? It was fairly easy for me as I had determined that I would see my friend on this trip so back to I-10 we went and on to Pensacola. Finally reunited, Bishop Ricard and I had a visit of about an hour and he was both surprised and happy to see me.

I have previously asked for prayers for Bishop John and I renew my request now. His recovery is far more challenging in a number of ways than my own was. The bishop, as you may know, is an African-American from Louisiana originally. He entered the Josephite Fathers and was ordained for priestly service with that wonderful and predominantly African-American religious community. I first saw him when he was pastor of a parish on New York Avenue in Washington, D.C. and then from there he was chosen by Pope John Paul II to be an auxiliary bishop in Baltimore and Vicar for the city of Baltimore. Priests and people loved and respected him. In 1997 he was sent to Pensacola-Tallahassee as its fourth bishop and his acceptance and affection quickly visited his service here. It was a bold move by the Pope to assign an African-American to an area of Florida which others call “The red-neck Riviera.” The bishop has shared with me some anguishing stories of what it was like to be black, to be a black Catholic, to be a black Catholic priest in the Church in the United States. The cruel hand of racism was as strong an image for this good man as the hands of the bishop on his head when he was ordained priest and ordained bishop.

With a doctorate in psychology and a deep personal commitment to Africa, he served as chairman and president of Catholic Relief Services (he preceded my term in the same capacities) and has also chaired the USCCB Committees on Domestic and International Social Justice. In the man’s blood there has always been a passion for the poor and a yearning for justice. He is a genuine article, a pastor par excellance, and for me a confidant, mentor and wonderful friend.  On the three hour drive back to the capital city, I thought how tough it was to say good-by to him this afternoon though I know we shall see more of one another in the months and time ahead. The Church of Pensacola-Tallahassee is praying for their good shepherd and I hope you will join me in doing the same.


Bishop Ricard and I before saying good-bye this afternoon in Pensacola. Picture kindness of Walter Pruchnik.



Thursday, June 18th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it is off to Mount Rushmore.