Posts Tagged ‘Bishop John J. Nevins’

A FACE WORTHY OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

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.

+RNL

HI HOLY BISHOP

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now it is off to Mount Rushmore.

+RNL