Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Education’


Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It has been an interesting few days for me recently and this blog entry might just end up being something like the morning newspaper – lots of filler but not a lot of content, so you may wish to stop here.

In the “Comings” category, last week saw the arrival of the 20th Anniversary ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) bus tour stop in Tampa and St. Petersburg for two days. ACE is the brainchild of Holy Cross fathers Sean McGraw and Timothy Scully who, slightly more than twenty years ago, dreamed about a strategy of taking recent graduates of Catholic colleges and universities (mostly Notre Dame and St. Mary) and offering them a two-year service project teaching in low-income Catholic schools around the nation based on the AmeriCorps model. Accepting about ninety new teachers a year who spend two full summers at Notre Dame in classroom and hands-on teaching experiences, they earn a M.Ed. degree from Notre Dame at the end. During the school year, they fan out around the country and teach in Catholic schools.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has eight ACE teachers working at St. Petersburg Catholic, Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park, Holy Family in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s in West Tampa, Incarnation in Tampa, and three at Tampa Catholic High School.

With about 180 young teachers in the two year program, that was not enough for Fathers Scully and McGraw and they fashioned a dream of a slightly longer program which would prepare candidates for principal positions and to be Administrators in Catholic Schools throughout the country. Called the Remick ACE Leadership program, three summers are required to attain a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. What I like best about it is that it gives a local church like ours a “bench” which we did not previously have from which to cull the best candidates to administer our Catholic schools. Now St. Leo has put in place a similar program and some of our better candidates are attending it as well. All because dreams do occasionally come true.

But Fathers Scully and McGraw did not stop dreaming and with the generous assistance of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), they began a third initiative which at this moment only exists in the dioceses of Tucson and St. Petersburg – ACE Academies. Here our two “ACE Academy Schools” are Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park and St. Joseph’s in West Tampa. What’s all this about?

Well, Notre Dame University sends a team of consultants to schools which are on “life-support” financially (at the moment in Arizona a “tuition voucher” program and Florida the “Step-Up Florida” program by which  corporations can choose to send a portion of what they would owe the state for corporate income taxes to a separate corporation which provides tuition assistance to qualifying low income parents so that they can exercise true choice in education for their children in public as well as private schools). The consultants study the demographics, the ability-to-pay of parents, etc. and if the school looks ripe for “Step-up Florida” student scholarships, then in partnership with the diocese, the management of the school is turned over to Notre Dame which has two special goals: increase the enrollment and improve the text scores. As a matter of fact, the ACE Academy program has this mantra: “College First, Heaven Second.” In one year, both Sacred Heart and St. Joseph have been taken off “life-support” and have significantly increased enrollment and incredibly improved test scores.


So the “dreamers” were in town last week to celebrate twenty years of making what once might have seem fantasy become fulfillment. They honored me with the Father Edward Sorin Award and they honored Tampa’s John Kirtley who dreamed of allowing  poorer parents school choice and founded “Step Up Florida.” Of even greater significance to myself was that my award was presented by Patrick A. Graff, Assistant Director of the ACE program located now in South Bend on campus but for the last two years Patrick was the third grade teacher at our Incarnation School in Tampa.

Also last Friday among the “comings” our Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul presented me with its annual St. Vincent de Paul Award at an evening prayer service in the seminary chapel. I resisted, refused, ranted and raved that I should not be so honored while I am alive and/or in office for simply doing what as a bishop I should do, but I lost. The Board of Trustees chooses the recipients.

I believe deeply in both seminaries and since arriving here as bishop have given my all to both. Signing checks is not that hard a manner of supporting seminaries but I have also allowed the diocese of share some of its best and most talented priests to both places for seminary formation: Father Joseph Waters, Father Kenneth Malley, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups for full-time service. God knows we needed these men here working in this diocese but influencing the formation, education and preparation of our future priests is an even higher priority. So, perhaps this was an award more for giving good men to the enterprise than simply giving money, but who knows?

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Now for the goings. I lost two lovely and influential men to death in the last two weeks. The first was a New Testament professor of mine, Father Daniel Harrington, S.J., who taught me at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts during my own seminary formation days (1975-1978). Father Harrington was only beginning to take his place among the eminent scripture scholars at the time but was already a brilliant and exciting teacher. He was challenged from birth with a speech impediment, but no one cared. What passed through his lips was pure gold to us sitting at our places in his classroom.

I knew Father Harrington also because several of my Jesuit friends lived in the house in Cambridge on Linneman Street where Dan was in residence so learning at his feet took place for me not only in the classroom but often at the dinner table. He would write many books on the New Testament in the years since I was in his presence and I have them all and often use them for crafting homilies. He died at my age of cancer and the Church, Sacred Scripture and its study, the Society of Jesus, and priestly formation lost a great gift. Daniel Harrington was one of those people one occasionally spends too little time with in life but with whom in eternity I hope I can once again learn from.

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Finally, word came of the death of an exquisite priest friend in London, England with whom I often stayed and at whose table I often sat. I first met Canon Adrian Arrowsmith (a Canon is a “monsignor” plus one in the Catholic Church in England), pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in the Kensington-High Street area of central London, because my English counterpart as General Secretary, now since last Saturday Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lived in the rectory of Our Lady of Victories during his years in London.

Canon Adrian operated under the assumption that any friend of any of the priest residents in the house was a friend of his and I always felt welcome by the Canon as my host on many trips to London. I probably abused the welcome by going so often to OLV. If there were a Catholic edition of Downton Abbey, Canon Arrowsmith would have had a major role. He was, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern English monsignor (sorry, could not use “modern major general” here). If Maggie Smith were a male, Canon Adrian would be like her – able to decimate with a quip or an eyebrow flip.

He had young priests as associates who represented well the priesthood of the time with whom he was patient, kind, supportive but doubting. He loved those moments when the occasion called for him to don the clothes of a canon, ermine cape and all, and in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop (Basil Hume at the time), almost pontificate on the fate of the local Church. Having served in His Majesty’s Navy during World War II, salty and seasoned, Adrian was always a delight. If by now you have not figured it out, I loved him.

In his later years (he was almost ninety when he died last week and soon to be sixty years a priest) he was infirm, but I went to visit him at the Assisted Living and Nursing Care facilities when travel took me near London. I shall make a fifty-two hour round trip to his funeral next Tuesday which will be celebrated by his “star-boarder” Cardinal Nichols and I am sure that His Eminence and I will be united to thanking God for the presence of this good man in our lives. Rest now in peace, dear Adrian.



Friday, September 9th, 2011

I know I am quite late in the timing of this reflection but I wanted to have some time to gather and reflect on the enrollment statistics for our schools and centers for the Academic Year 2011-12. That data is now in and from it I want to share with you some of my thoughts. In addition, I have examined the test scores of the standardized test (ACRE) which checks the religious knowledge of fifth, eighth and eleventh graders in our schools.

Enrollment in our schools and early childhood centers remains somewhat static throughout the diocese. Our early childhood programs are down 77 students and the elementary total of all parish and private elementary schools is down 168 students for a total of 8,456 children. Our diocesan high schools enrollment is down eleven students for a total of 1,862 students but enrollment at the Academy of the Holy Names High School division and Jesuit High School is up by 40 students. The total number of students in all Catholic Schools and Centers in the diocese of St. Petersburg is 11, 877.

There has been a consistent drop in enrollment over the past five years in Catholic schools reflecting a variety of factors, the economy, demographic shifts (the St. Petersburg Times reports today that public school enrollment in Pinellas County is down 11% since 2003), charter and magnet schools, home-schooling, dissatisfaction by parents of some programs to name just a few which I hear more often than others. We have several schools which are seriously financially challenged and a few have some academic challenges which need to be addressed. Our buildings often need updating and remodeling to remain competitive but school budgets seldom have the funds to do what is necessary.

At my insistence, many in the diocese have been engaged in examining the reality of Catholic education in the diocese and some recommendations as to  how best address these challenges are forthcoming. There will be neither a quick nor a cheap fix to the challenge. Deeply troubling to me is the emerging reality that there are two types of Catholic schools – the “haves” and the “have nots.” Generally but not always the “haves” are parishes with good schools and parents who can afford to pay the tuition. They are efficiently run and tuition collection is impressive. The “have nots” are schools serving a smaller population, a more financially challenged family economic reality, and lacking the administrative structure because of budget constraints.

It is no longer reasonable to assert that a Catholic education should be available to all who wish to access it regardless of means. I used to believe this as a foundational statement for maintaining Catholic schools. Some middle ground must be found where, if there are any schools, there need to be schools serving our whole community of believers.

I am pleased to say that the test scores which measure the cognitive effectiveness of religious education in our schools continue to improve. All of our schools are higher than the national average of all Catholic school students tested throughout the nation. As mentioned above, the fifth, eighth and eleventh grade scores reflect grade level comprehension of eight domains: God; Church; Liturgy and Sacraments; Revelation, Scripture and Faith; Life in Christ; Church History; Prayer and Religious Practice; and Faith Literacy. There are also four pillars of religious education measured and they are creed; liturgy and sacraments; morality and prayer. If we did not do what we profess we exist for, then there would be little need for Catholic schools. While I must reluctantly admit that not all parents are as interested in the religious education of their children as others, for most, and for myself, it is the raison d’etre of Catholic education.

Finally, some pastors require evidence that parents support what the schools are attempting in their religious education programs – namely that parents and children come to Sunday Mass and that there be evidence of the same. I support my pastors in this and am a deaf ear to appeals to the contrary.




Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The "cap toss" which has become a tradition at high school graduations. I have been cropped from the left side of this picture but I can assure you that with miters costing in the range of $500, I held on to my hat! Photo courtesy of John P. Christian

It has always been my custom except for one year to either celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass or attend the Commencement (Graduation) exercises for our six high schools in the diocese. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) I will have the privilege of doing the former at Tampa Jesuit High School and will then bring this high school graduation season to an end. I always begin with the actual graduation ceremony for the Academy of the Holy Names which by far is the most stylized graduation of the six. The young women all wear similar white floor length gowns and wear the most uncomfortable looking shoes I have ever seen. After receiving their diploma from me and posing for the official photograph, Academy’s graduates then go center stage and receive a dozen roses from flower girls chosen from the kindergarten class and both then curtsy to the audience and then the graduate returns to her place. It is a tradition at the Academy (and many private girls Catholic high schools throughout the country). Per graduate the Academy commencement ceremony easily takes the longest time but is very lovely. I was pleased this year that three young women from St. Peter Claver and two from Academy Prep received diplomas under the Academy’s “cultural diversity” program.

It is a work-out for me to attend all these end of the year ceremonies and sometimes can be quite challenging listening, as I have, to three salutatory and three valedictory speeches which often contain references that one can only understand if you are in the graduating class (even the parents often are clueless as to the allusions). I am always looking for references in the talk to their “faith formation” which the class has received or expressions of gratitude for having the chance to receive a Catholic secondary education. This year the three baccalaureate Masses which I have celebrated have been very prayerful experiences with super student participation. Last night at St. Timothy in Lutz, the students from Tampa Catholic provided a superb and very appropriate musical program and two of the graduates sang solos during the Mass and did an outstanding job. I was quite impressed.

It seems to me that this year’s crop of graduating seniors are far more serious and deferential to elders than some of my earlier experiences. The brief interchanges when I hand them their diploma or shake their hands at the end of Mass if it was a Baccalaureate moment have been far more substantive and gratitude far more genuine than in the earlier years. I hope I am on to something here in experiencing a trend of some kind.

Congratulations to our graduating seniors and heartfelt appreciation to the parents who made the moment possible and to the faculty and staff of our schools who sacrifice  great deal in order to teach our children. My interaction with all of you this year has been heartwarming and my prayers accompany the graduates as they move on.



Thursday, May 12th, 2011

On Monday evening I did one of those things which no bishop ever wants to do. I along with the Superintendent of Schools and the Vicar General joined the principal of St. Joseph’s school in West Tampa for an emergency meeting with the parents of children in the school. Sister Luann Fantauzza, FMS, the principal, announced that her community was transferring her to another Salesian sisters’ school in New York. That news alone was devastating to the parent community and immediately gave birth to a full gamut of other fears (the school is closing, the sisters are all leaving, etc.) and hopefully I and others were able to allay those suspicions and fears in some manner. The meeting was chock full of genuine emotion with lots of tears, disappointment, some respectful anger. Clearly the school community loves Sister Luann and that alone was enough cause for disappointment. However, the parish is experiencing a double-whammie this Spring in that the much loved pastor, Father Felix Sanchez if also retiring from active ministry for reasons of health. So the parish is stunned and I needed to assure them that both in the rectory and the school, there would be compassion, continuity, and commitment.

Truthfully, although there had been rumors that the sisters would leave St. Joseph this summer, I did not learn definitively until around Easter that it would be the case. The provincial wrote to me and then came to see me at the end of April. I begged for the sisters to remain and it was agreed that while they might live at Villa Madonna, there would be at least two sisters for St. Joseph next year. Sister Phyllis Neves, the provincial, did emphasize that she did not have a principal to replace Sr. Luann. Father Sanchez had no idea the sisters might leave when he approached me for earlier retirement than expected either. Thus, St. Joseph’s parish was ripe for the “perfect storm” – beloved and admired pastor and principal both leaving.

All of this is happening in advance of something truly exciting to happen at St. Joseph’s school beginning with the next school year. Notre Dame has begun yet another program in education called “ACE Academy” which are Catholic schools serving poor to moderate income families. The ACE Academy designation indicates that Notre Dame is prepared to administer the schools in order to achieve two primary results: raise the educational performance of the students in these schools, while at the same time making enrollment in the schools more financially possible through the use of vouchers and programs like STEP UP FOR STUDENTS, the Florida program which provides tuition for true school choice. Notre Dame would provide an administrator to supervise the educational improvement programs in any local ACE Academies (and we are currently considering three schools for this designation) as well as an expert to assist parents in qualifying for every penny of scholarship or tuition assistance possible. There would be a school board which I would chair and which will include the pastors of any schools brought into the program. I was able along with Superintendent Alberto Vazquez-Matos to assure the parents of St. Joseph’s that their school indeed had a bright future but it was hard for the attendees to see that through the lens of the tears flowing at the news of the Principal’s departure.

Generally speaking, if Catholic education is to remain in this diocese with any future, a movement from parochial schools to diocesan schools is going to be required. The costs are exceeding the parish’s ability to maintain the schools, especially in light of diminshing enrollment. Catholic schools, if they are to continue, will require the financial support of the entire Catholic community, including parishes without schools. It is happening all over the United States and it is coming soon in all likelihood to a school near you. The Priest’s Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council are at this time working on something of a transition model which beginning implementation will likely start with School Year 2012-2013. GOOGLE Catholic Schools and see for yourself what other local Churches are doing to meet this need.

So St. Joseph’s school will open again in August, hopefully with an increase in enrollment (something it has experienced in the last two years due to Sister Luann’s incredible effort to inform parents of the STEP UP option if they qualify) and could in a couple of years be one of the more financially stable schools in the diocese with a model enrollment. It is just a tragedy that Sister Luann and a Salesian principal will not be in place to see this dream come true. She knows of the love and admiration that the parents and children hold for her as does this bishop.



Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

The second visit of Pope John Paul II to the United States was radically different in many ways from the first. President Ronald Reagan had invited the Pope to make a pastoral visit this time and the United Nations was not involved. Since the last visit in 1979 both the Pope and the President were survivors of assassination attempts and so security concerns were ratcheted up significantly. More people and dioceses wanted the Pope even though the cost to the host diocese ran at least three million dollars a day and with nine years in office behind him, every US Church agency wanted a piece of the action. Disney World wanted him desperately for a meeting with the youth of the world at EPCOT (making me one of the few Floridians to ever say “no” to Disney and live to tell of it).

In Rome my dear friend Archbishop Marcinkus had been replaced by a new team of papal advance members led by the Jesuit head of Vatican Radio, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ who is now a cardinal. Assisting him were two of the finest men one would wish to work with, Monsignor Emil Tscherrig from the Secretariat of State and Dr. Alberto Gasbari from Vatican Radio. But John Paul remained the same, just a little older. There were two preparatory meetings with him, which included lunch in his apartment, and a meeting of all the host bishops and the archbishops of the United States with him in Rome in advance of the meeting. Tensions were running somewhat high as agendas were beginning to emerge in the United States. In the visit of 1979, only an address by Sister Theresa Kane, the head of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious had raised some concerns but I am certain that the Pope did not hear her. Little known to anyone at the time was that the young pope was near deaf in one ear and the sound in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception was not advantageous for him to hear. Almost every picture ever taken with him never shows him looking at the person but turned so he could hear with his good ear.

But it seemed in 1987 everyone wanted an opportunity to speak to him, hoping to elicit a favorable response. So Monsignor Frank McNulty of Newark addressed him on behalf of priests in Miami, Donna Hanson, a lay woman from Spokane, Washington addressed him in San Francisco, Cardinal Bernardin, Archbishop Quinn, Archbishop Pilarczyk and Archbishop Weakland addressed him in Los Angeles, the National Catholic Education Association, the Catholic Health Association, and many others spoke their concerns. The Holy Father always had a prepared response as those writing for him had advance looks at the texts.

The Native American Blessing with an Eagle's Feather

Three things gave him special energy in this visit. Although earlier in the day for the first and only time in his entire pontificate his Mass was interrupted and rained out in Miami, he was at his best that day in Columbia, South Carolina on the campus of that state’s University. He could lot believe the tens of thousands of students in a state he knew to be 1% Catholic would gather on the quadrangle and cheer for him and remain while he conducted a ninety minute ecumenical and interreligious exchange with religious leaders from throughout the United States. There were as many students still there when he exited as when he went in and he commented to me, “These young people, they are not Catholic?”  Later he and Billy Graham were to share the stage in the football stadium for a truly ecumenical prayer service, which was frowned upon by some of those travelling with him from Rome.

He also enjoyed a meeting with Native Americans in Phoenix, which included their ritual blessing with an eagle feather, also causing some alacrity with his travelling party that a largely pagan sign would be used with him but something, which clearly he enjoyed.

The Holy Father Meeting Young People at the Superdome

And as in 1979 at Madison Square Garden, in 1987 the meeting with the young people of New Orleans and elsewhere who would fill the vast Superdome brought him special happiness. He was more comfortable and at ease with kids than with bishops by far. Their spontaneous response to his obvious thrill of being with them and their love for him drew them closer to him always.

Popes carry burdens of soul, which few others have to carry. The 1987 visit was right when the AIDS pandemic was spreading and becoming better known in the U.S. Church teaching on condom use and abstinence were not well received in many quarters and to those involved in AIDS ministry and even to those suffering from the disease, the Church in general and the Pope especially seemed insensitive, uncaring, even cruel. When at the old Serra Mission in San Francisco at a prayer service for those with AIDS the pope picked up a child with aids and hugged an adult and embraced him, hearts melted and compassion marked the Gospel. It was quite a moment for me, one that I had helped arrange with the assistance of my Roman colleagues but somewhat looked askance at by others.

John Paul II arrived in Miami with a long and warm meeting between two men nearly killed by an assassin’s bullet and it ended with Vice-President George H. W. Bush offering farewell remarks in Detroit, a city added at the insistence of Archbishop Edmund Szoka which required flying back two thirds of the way across the U.S. and then West again into the Northwest Territory to Fort Simpson in Canada to keep a date he had to cancel several years prior due to fog precluding the landing of his plane at that time. The Holy Father was clearly weakened by his horrible moment with history and not exactly the same as in 1979 but he kept a hectic daily schedule nonetheless and there was always that time for meditation and prayer. Bone tired at midday, on this trip with a scheduled brief rest he would recover well enough to keep a schedule that would kill me at his age, drawing strength from inside himself and at prayer, never wishing to disappoint anyone, and renewed by the adulation of the masses of people who came to pray, listen and reflect with him, especially the young. On both occasions he was impressed with the vitality of the Church in the United States and liked the manner in which we prayed. He mentioned this to the officers and I after his trip in the Fall of 1987 at lunch with him in Rome. For this trip I asked Bishop Larkin if I could have the services of Father John Tapp to assist essentially in the care and feeding of the papal entourage who came with the Pope from Rome and he had his hands full. Also I hired a young lay man from Indiana to work for a year and a half with the Secret Service and the USCC Communications office in arranging for the needs of the local and traveling press (about 300 travelled with us on the full ten day trip). His name was Paul Etienne and he is now the Bishop of Cheyenne, Wyoming.

On the TWA 747 in Detroit I climbed the steps once again. This time he was ready for me having been reminded by someone of my quip in Washington in 1979 that he could come back but not too soon. He gave me that half smile and said, “Father, will I be welcome again?” Off he went to Fort Simpson and my life returned to normal.




Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

I come to work and never quite expect what the day often brings. There are often so many surprises. Last year I arrived at work one day to find that several people in this diocese had raised a question about the requirement of the diocese that children in Catholic schools must be immunized in order to enroll in our schools. A check of the practices in other dioceses revealed that they too had this requirement but it was sometimes “more honored in the breach than the observance” [not my words but those of the “bard” of Avon]. The Catholic school superintendents in the state asked the bishops for a uniform policy which each diocese could implement.

What was their concern in the first place one might ask? The welfare of all children was primary as such childhood diseases as measles are quite contagious. The welfare of teachers and particularly pregnant women teachers who if they were to come into contact with a child with measles, again for example, could possibly give birth to a deformed child as a result of the contact. On its surface it seems such a simple matter.

But those seeking a change offer several concerns and want the Church to offer a “conscience exception” to the immunization. Some  feel that to use a vaccine which comes from cell lines derived from the tissue of aborted fetuses is intrinsically evil. After consulting at several levels, the bishops of Florida said that there is no moral fault to be found in vaccinations which are derived from stem cells and that the greater moral danger was placing children and staff at risk by not requiring immunization for enrollment. A second concern has its roots in concern about the use of any medicine not absolutely required for health purposes but required for admission to a school.

At the end of the discussion, the bishops of Florida agreed to require immunizations as a greater good with no evil moral consequence. Thus, in this diocese the policy which will be uniformly enforced will be this: Catholic Schools within the Diocese of St. Petersburg require enrolling students submit a Florida Department of Health Certificate if Immunization as provided for in the Florida Statute 1003.22 as a condition precedent to acceptance. Catholic Schools in the Diocese of St. Petersburg do not recognize a religious objection to this immunization. This policy is effective as of the 2011/2012 school year.

I should note that state statute does allow for a religious exemption in the public schools if a parent can make such a case and thus our schools are stricter. It is believed that the legislature feared first amendment lawsuits and chose to grant an exemption. Since we are a private school system, however, we can require whatever we believe to be in the best interest of our students’ health and that of our teachers and staff as well.

This was not an easy call but it is a good one and part of our overall effort to provide a safe environment for our children. I hope everyone will understand. The Church does not play loose with its moral teaching and for sure is not doing so in this case. Pastors and principals are being notified of this policy and its uniform enforcement throughout the diocese will be expected.



Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

The Abbey Church at St. Leo Monastery

Last Sunday night I celebrated the student liturgy at St. Leo University and confirmed six of their members and offered First Eucharist to one. First let me begin by saying that it was a lovely liturgy and they had a roughly ten person choir who provided very appropriate and beautiful music for the liturgy. Father Stephan Brown, S.V.D. is in charge of Campus Ministry and invited me to be with his community. Normally I do not ever confirm during Lent but I made an exception this time at Father Brown’s request since Easter falls so late and there are only ten days of sch0ol left at St. Leo after the Easter break.

The liturgy on Sunday night took place in the Abbey Church although it usually occurs in a room at the student union. I suspect that St. Leo had a large share of students who go home on week-ends because they live so close to the University. Attendance of students at this liturgy was not large and the fact that Sunday Eucharist is celebrated in the Board Room of the student union indicates the challenges inherent in a campus ministry program for a school such as this.

St. Leo University has grown significantly in the last twenty-five years, for the first ten or eleven under the leadership of Monsignor Frank Mouch and for the last thirteen under the current president, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. While its residential program on campus numbers about 2000 traditional four-year students, its outreach through distance learning and programs on military bases makes St. Leo about the fifteenth or sixteenth largest Catholic university in the nation.

I know a lot of graduates of our high schools who attend St. Leo and love it. They are certain that they are getting a first rate education for life after college and the graduates students are grateful for for the opportunities afforded them as well. It’s local, it’s Catholic, it’s educationally sound. – all good things. Soon they will dedicate a new building housing the School of Business and the campus has experienced such growth that it is impossible for me to locate a single picture which does the whole justice. St. Leo Prep which preceded St. Leo College which preceded St. Leo University was for many years an apostolic work of the Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey. A number of years ago the title and ownership of the college was turned over to basically a lay board of trustees who have taken bold ownership while still remaining committed to the Benedictine spirit and tradition of ora et labora, or “prayer and work.” Another part of the Benedictine spirit from their founder is that of hospitality and it was certainly in evidence on Sunday night. Congratulations to the confirmandi, to the campus ministry and peer ministry program and to all who keep the light of Saint Benedict and his sister Saint Scholastica alive.



Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

The Florida bishops met with Governor Rick Scott this morning, obviously for the first time and I must say that I was impressed with him. Obviously somewhat nervous to be in front of seven men in black suits with crosses and chains, the Governor quickly warmed up to the audience and gave us about thirty-five minutes of time in his busy schedule. While I consider discussions such as this to be somewhat privileged, I would say that our first meeting went very well. Our talking points were these: sanctity of life concerns (nothing to worry about here with this Governor), the McKay and Florida Tax Credit scholarships for children in non-public schools (he is strongly in favor of choice in education), criminal justice reform (his administration has proposed some interesting concepts which just might lead to greater restorative justice in our jails and prisons), immigration concerns (here he tends to think somewhat in Arizona terms but acknowledges that until the border is sealed and the economy improves, there will be no shift in public perception and feelings about immigration reform), health reform and Medicaid changes (in this regard, he thinks health care can be improved and delivery of services more accessible than presently or even under the proposed federal health care reform act).

Governor Rick Scott meets with the Florida Bishops

What impressed me most is that our session was a no-nonsense and straightforward discussion. This Governor does not equivocate if he holds a position on an issue. If it is something he can espouse but needs more information, he promises to see to it and I leave thinking that he will. There is a passion in the man that is not political but practical. I left our meeting today thinking that Governor Scott at this moment in his tenure doesn’t give a proverbial “hoot” about re-election but is dedicated to achieving the goals he laid down in his campaign to reform, streamline, and attempt to make every aspect of state government more effective while at the same time less costly. In other words, he seems intent on doing exactly those things he said he would do during the two campaigns.

On the matter of the death penalty, the Governor clearly does not like being the person who will sign the final warrants for death by lethal injection. He noted that out of the 392 persons on death row, 40 have exhausted all their appeals and decisions will have to be made case by case. We spoke to him with our own passion about the fact that Florida is now the only state in the union which allows juries to offer an advisory sentence with only seven of the twelve recommending death. It takes a unanimous jury to convict but fifty percent plus one to execute. I remain equally uncomfortable with the fact that Florida elects its judges, many of whom make capital punishment decisions while running for election or reelection.

We will surely disagree on issues of public policy in the years to come but he seemed to me to be respectful and a good listener. After the meeting I learned that he has removed all state aid to the homeless from his budget and that is troubling and I wonder if his approach to Medicaid reform will really improve or remove the access of the poor to medical care and service.

The Governor who is not a Catholic will be attending the Red Mass this evening, something his predecessor never did and promised that his Administration would be open to further dialogue with our Conference staff and the bishops. All in all, a good morning in Church-State relations and a good start to what I hope will be a useful and fruitful l relation with our new Governor.

Later in the morning we met up with the representatives from our respective dioceses who were here for the annual “Catholic Days at the Capitol.” These generous and dedicated volunteers come early in each legislative session to meet with the members of the Legislator and share our and their position on certain issues of public policy.

The afternoon was taken up with a meeting of the heads of the Catholic hospitals in the state to talk about the implementation of the Patient Protection Act (“Obama-care”) in Florida, its consequences for conscience protection and use of federal or state funds for abortion, etc. It was a ninety-minute walk through an alien land for most of us bishops as health care is almost a world unto its own. The CEO’s present from hospitals in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Tampa and St. Petersburg, Jacksonville and Pensacola were a very impressive group of women and men.

Now I am ready to fly back to Tampa after a long day and a packed twenty-four hours. On the way up last night, our flight was twenty minutes into the sixty minutes trip when our right propeller engine began to fail and we had to turn and limp back to Tampa, allow them to swap planes and arrive here an hour and thirty minutes late. I am hoping for better luck tonight.




Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Front of the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal

This blog entry has absolutely nothing to do with the table to be set on Thursday. Rather, I want to take a few moments to recapture the wonderful spirit present at the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle yesterday when we awarded the St. Jude the Apostle diocesan medal to women and men from our parishes and missions who have given so generously of their time and talent.  For me it is a wonderful and humbling moment to see these recipients who never sought or wished for any public recognition for the service they have rendered approach and receive their medal.

The ceremony takes place within the context of Solemn Evening Prayer on the Solemnity of Christ the King. Eleven years ago I chose this particular date for the first such ceremony because it is the day we reflect on the kingship of a man who came “to serve and not to be served.”

Here are the names of this year’s recipients and the parish or mission which chose them for the honor.

Finally, about five years ago we began to designate some person to receive the medal for their service to the diocese. This year’s very worthy recipient was Helen Marston, for many years the principal of Sr. Cecilia Elementary School and more recently both Assistant Superintendent of Schools for the diocese and for a few brief months this year our acting superintendent. When I told her colleagues in Catholic education my intention to award the St. Jude medal to Helen, they burst into loud and long applause. Helen lost her beloved husband, Bob, this year so my prayer is that in the loving support of others encapsulated in this year’s award, some of the tough and penetrating sense of loss can be ameliorated.

Congratulations again to all the recipients.


Bishop Lynch presents Helen Marston the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal while her brother shares in the moment.

Bishop Lynch presents Helen Marston the St. Jude the Apostle Award Medal while her brother shares in the moment.


Thursday, October 21st, 2010

When my mind is unable to focus on a single thought, it is time to share many scattered and unrelated thoughts with you. So here we go.

Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

Cardinal-designate Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Cardinal-designate Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura

Pope Benedict named new cardinals yesterday including two Americans, Archbishops Raymond Burke, formerly of St. Louis and now in Rome and Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. Cardinals came into being in the Church in 1056 when the Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor was a six year old boy. Until that time, the emperor and other political figures had a significant say in who was to become Pope so the Church taking advantage of a moment when the sovereign was too young to do anything about it established a new rank of prelate, namely cardinals, who would meet as needed to elect a new pope upon the death of his predecessor. The end of the eleventh century was a particularly challenging time for the Church because it did not have good control over its priests and bishops who were too often subject to outside influence and interference. Thus the birth of a group of men whose main task was to elect popes. Over time, the college took on additional meaning and duties and can be and has been called on occasion to advise the Pope on matters of concern to him. Pope Paul VI limited the number of cardinals who could vote in a papal election to 120 members under the age of eighty. Pope John Paul II while never changing that “magic” number did give it some elasticity at times and often, as did Pope Benedict XVI yesterday took into consideration the number of soon-to-reach-the-eighty age limit. Yesterday’s choices marked somewhat a return to a heavier preponderance of archbishops working in the Vatican than in the trenches but little should be made of that in my opinion since there have been a number of changes in administrative offices whose head is usually a Cardinal. In the time of Popes Pius XII and John XXIII, elevation to the cardinalate was not done that often and made significant news when done. Now it seems to happen about every three years and the secular media largely gave the moment a giant yawn except in the U.S. in Pittsburgh and Washington where Archbishop Wuerl once served and now serves. On a personal note, I was elated that Archbishop Wuerl was chosen as I regard him very highly as a churchman of great principal, good mind and a pastoral heart. I think he will serve the Church in the United States very well as a member of that special group of advisors to the Holy Father. Enough said.

If yesterday marked the coming of the “red tide”, today in this diocese we welcome Catholic women from around the state as they gather here for their once every two year statewide meeting of the Florida Council of Catholic Women. I will offer Mass for them tomorrow morning and officially welcome them and on Saturday afternoon, Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami will make his first visit to our diocese as our Metropolitan Archbishop to say Mass for the FCCW. Welcome ladies and enjoy your time on Florida’s west and best coast.

Like most of you, I can not wait for November’s elections to end. The bitter acrimony and charges and counter-charges which mark the Florida landscape this year is deafening and downright depressing. Visitors to this state from other countries who make the mistake of turning on the television in their hotel rooms or apartments must wonder about the nature of our form of democracy. Scare tactics rule the discourse and untruths and partial truths are the order of the day. I am early voting again this year so I can shut myself off to all the last minute diatribes and for the first time will have voted purposely without listening to a single debate – what is there to hear other than charges and counter-charges between the candidates and no plan for real recovery and hope. God help us!

Earlier this week I joined thirteen other bishops from the South in a meeting to discuss financing of Catholic education. The meeting was held in a hotel adjacent to the Atlanta airport and was organized and paid for by the University of Notre Dame’s Alliance for Catholic Education program. Our schools throughout the region, except perhaps for Atlanta where the population continues to explode with parents with good annual incomes, are in trouble and the number of students declines either due to demographic shifts, economic reality, better public school options like charter and fundamental schools, etc. The bishops listened to a number of presentations on how we might access more federal and state monies for our own children in our own schools. An outstanding advocate for parental choice in education from Tampa, John Kirtley, spoke of his experience spearheading the corporate income tax credit program (STEP UP, FLORIDA) through the legislative and administrative process and my brother bishops deeply admired his commitment, counsel and concern. Good stuff!

Finally, on Saturday I will celebrate the annual jubilee Mass for religious women and men who pass this year their 25th, 50th, 60, 70th anniversaries of religious profession. The number of jubilarians is in steep decline as the religious age and die. In my first years as bishop, fourteen years ago for example, we acknowledged annually about fifty religious passing significant anniversary dates. This year I think we are half that number and only about eighteen can be present for Mass and lunch. I would do it even if there were only one left because these women and men have given their life and love to the Church unconditionally, and sometimes that has not always been “easy street” for them. Happy Anniversary Sisters, Brother and priests. We still love you!