Posts Tagged ‘Christ the King-Tampa’


Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

With Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

On Sunday for the second Sunday in a row, I was present for the 10:00am Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish in the Ybor City District of Tampa. The previous week, I formally installed Father Roland LaJoie, S.M. as pastor and this week I surprised the previous pastor by showing up unannounced for this final Mass at the parish. Father Thomas Stokes, S.M., a Marist priest, born in Ireland, has been ordained for fifty-one years, forty-nine of which he has ministered in the United States of America, the last twenty-six as pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Father Tom is simply an amazing priest. The word “no” is not to be found in his vocabulary. When the growing Haitian population needed a place for their new Haitian priest to offer Mass on Sunday, Father Tom said, “Of course, you will be welcome at OLPH.” Mass is also offered in Spanish for a community which is rich in numerous Hispanic ecclesial cultures. In fact, the doors of OLPH have always had a big welcome sign from the early days of the last century when the Cuban population descended on Ybor City in great number, establishing their cigar production facilities and successfully finding security here in west central Florida. When I came to the diocese, soon to be seventeen years ago, I was told that there did not seem to be a great future for Our Lady of Perpetual Help parish and I might have to close it. Those prognostications failed to take into account the energy, zeal and love of Father Stokes. My chair was not warm yet when he came and asked to build a lovely parish social center, which is paid for. Then he came and sought permission to renovate the old parish school and convent building which previously had been used for Cursillos but was in a growing state of disrepair. He did it and paid for it. When the diocese needed a place for its seminarians during the summer they would be doing their clinical pastoral education at Tampa General Hospital, Father Stokes opened up the Rectory to the men who found his Irish hospitality and his priestly zeal captivating.

There were a lot of tears yesterday at all the Masses when Father Thomas Stokes bade his farewell, including my own. Words can never adequately express the love and gratitude of a parish community and sometimes even a bishop for a man who for twenty-six years lived in the middle of weekend chaos in Ybor City and loved it there. The Hispanics, the Filipinos, the Anglos all lined up for pictures with this lovely man and to say farewell. Father Stokes is returning to his native Ireland to help take care of his brother and  sisters as they too age and it is doubtful we shall see him again anytime soon. I may have totally surprised him by my presence at Sunday’s Mass but nothing about his ministry ever surprised me. He is one of the great generation, as was Father Sanchez, and as is Monsignor Higgins who have all served central Tampa so well over the years. Now, Tom, as the Irish saying goes, “may the road indeed rise up to meet you, may the wind be ever at your back. . . .until we meet again.”

The seven bishops of Florida met this week as the Board of Trustees of Saint John Vianney College Seminary and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul and as the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. The first meeting was in Miami and I was unable to attend because of the opening celebration of Tampa Catholic’s Fiftieth Anniversary. However, I did join my brothers for the latter two at our theology house in Boynton Beach.

Father Toups making his promises before God, the bishops of Florida, and the seminary community. Photo and caption kindness of Father Len Plazewski.

During that occasion, Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski formally installed our own Father David Toups as Rector-President (click here for a few more photos). Father Toups, for two brief but memorable years, was pastor of Christ the King parish in south Tampa. Looking out at the assembled guests during the installation Mass, I would swear that fifty-percent of the several hundred in attendance were Christ the King parishioners who had traveled the 200 plus miles for the installation Mass. It was a happy occasion for the seminary community to be sure, for the bishop owners of the seminary for whom the person serving as Rector holds so much of our trust, and it should be for the Church in Florida as well. Father’s mother, Lynn, was present as were his aunt and uncle. We have two wonderful priests of this diocese now who are devoted to the education of our future priests (both of whom went to St. Vincent de Paul Seminary from being pastors of Christ the King), Monsignor Michael Muhr and Father David Toups. We are a relatively small diocese which might normally not be expected to give this high level of talent to a seminary, but you and I value the formation of priests so highly that how could we not invest in the future by giving the seminary some of our great priestly talent? I think God is already paying up back for our sacrifice with fine newly ordained priests and more on the way. So life has been a series these past two weeks of goings and comings. Praise be Jesus Christ!



Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Saturday, November 20th, 2010

Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

Today I attended the rededication of the Cathedral of St. James in our neighboring diocese of Orlando. As my regular readers know, both the dioceses of St. Petersburg and Orlando were created on the same date in 1968. When a new diocese is erected, usually one Church is chosen to be the Cathedral Church for the new diocese and is announced on the same date, with said designation coming from the Holy See after consultation with the local churches. In Orlando, the original Cathedral was St. Charles Borromeo and the first bishop of Orlando, the late Archbishop William Donald Borders was installed as its first bishop there. However, St. Charles experienced a catastrophic fire and it fell to the second bishop, +Thomas Grady to select another Church for the “mother church” of the growing diocese and he chose the downtown parish of St. James, much smaller in size, seating about 500-600 people. Normally a church chosen to be a Cathedral Church remains that way for ever but except for the great basilicas of Europe, in the United States almost every Cathedral Church will go through some remodel and/or refinish every fifty years or so. The Cathedral of St. Augustine was restored and remodeled once in my lifetime, Miami’s Cathedral has been significantly altered twice in the last thirty years. Palm Beach whose Cathedral of St. Ignatius is the youngest at thirty-six years has been totally redone from its original plan.

Several years ago, Orlando’s fourth bishop, Thomas Wenski, embarked on a project to renovate and remodel St. James, adding seating space, improving sight lines, and truly creating a “cathedral” which takes its name from the presence of a permanent chair or in Latin Cathedra from which the bishops presides and celebrates the major functions of the diocese: ordinations, Chrism Masses, Holy Week and Christmas midnight, etc. The newly redone St. James now seats about 1000 people, artfully done by taking a challenging footprint and expanding out on one side with an enlarged transept and on the other with a daily Mass chapel which will also seat a large number of people who can participate in the Mass through glass.

Sanctuary of the Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

The sanctuary is larger and more functional for diocesan ceremonies and all inside the Cathedral feel a sense of closeness to a permanent, granite main altar. Since Catholic liturgy has three parts as we have featured in our own diocese during the last three years, the new St. James has a very impressive granite ambo from which the Liturgy of the Word is proclaimed. Behind the main altar and the granite cathedra are panels of art work depicting major moments in the life of Christ and there is a half-dome presenting the Blessed Mother. I am including some pictures to give you an idea of the finished product.

At moments like today, the Cathedral or any church which has been built from scratch or substantially remodeled is full of priest architects who can be heard saying to their neighboring priests either “I wonder why he did that?” or “I would have done it this way!” Bishops give in to the same temptation as well but over-all, given the space and footprint with which they worked here in Orlando, I think they have done a very fine job of transforming basically a downtown parish Church into a Cathedral.

Baptismal Font in the Cathedral of St. James, Orlando

I have more than a passing interest in today’s rededication because our own Cathedral of St. Jude needs attention badly. Earlier this year, for the first time in over fifty years, we replaced the mechanical system (air conditioning and heating) at the tune of $550,000. Our Cathedral needs another 3 million dollars worth of work just to keep its doors open (pointing, roofing, new doors and window sealing up the leaks of both, new pews to replace the rotting original pews in the Church, etc.) My consultative bodies along with the parishioners or St. Jude’s have been working on a redesign of a Church which was never designed in the first place to be a Cathedral church but was chosen simply because of its size and newness in 1968. So today was a busman’s holiday for me, sitting back and not doing too much praying but rather watching and thinking.

Archbishop  Wenski who was installed as Archbishop of Miami in June returns to his old diocese today but his successor has already been named as you know from reading this blog and will be officially installed as the fifth bishop of Orlando on December 16th. And to him went the honor last night, presiding at Evening Prayer in the Cathedral of St. James the Apostle, Bishop John Noonan was the first to occupy the bishop’s chair, cathedra.

Tomorrow, Christ the King and the St. Jude the Apostle awards at our own Cathedral.



Monday, November 1st, 2010
2010 CCJS Eternal Light Award Recipients Dr. Arthur Kirk and Mr. and Mrs. Paul and Gail Whiting

Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr., Mrs. Gail Whiting, and Mr. Paul Whiting, 2010 Recipients of the St. Leo Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies Eternal Light Award

Oh, oh you are probably saying to yourself reading the above caption. Yet another, third priest has died! Not so. Last Wednesday night I was honored to participate in the latest Eternal Light Award Dinner sponsored by the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies located at St. Leo University. The center which has now been in existence for longer than a decade was originally the brainchild of a Jewish Rabbi, James A. Rudin, for many years deeply involved in the intricacies of interreligious dialogue. He approached me to inquire if I thought that St. Leo (“College” then, but on the cusp of becoming a “University”) would be a good home for a deep Southern center for extending the dialogue between Jews and Catholics. I told him that the future of St. Leo was not all that certain at that moment but that I felt that the new University President, Dr. Arthur Kirk, Jr. would be receptive. Rabbi Rudin had been referred to me by Cardinal Keeler of Baltimore who has no equal in American Catholic history to date for his engagement in Jewish-Catholic relations. Rabbi Rudin, often a colleague of Cardinal Keeler’s in those dicey moments of the early dialogue (the Auschwitz convent, Vatican recognition of Israel, etc.) had developed a reputation with Bishop John Nevins, Bishop Emeritus of Venice to our south, who had begun an annual dinner of Jews and Catholics in his diocese.

Over the years, the Center has grown but Jewish-Catholic understanding in this area has grown by leaps and bounds. Going out on a limb somewhat, I would say that my closest non-Catholic minister friend in this area is Rabbi Jacob Lusky and his wife JoAnn who have made me welcome in their synagogue, their home for Passover, and their family life. His synagogue is hundreds of feet from my Cathedral and he was present for my ordination, on a Friday and almost stretching into his own sacred time. Jacob has educated me to the intense feelings which our Jewish brothers and sisters feel when they feel slighted or worse by people who they identify as Catholics. And I have shared with Jacob and his congregants my uneasiness that they of all people should be more with us as we decry abortion-on-request in the United States and attempt, like they, an increasingly expensive private, religious school system. At the personal and ministerial level, I have come to a deeper understand and love of my Jewish sisters and brothers through my meetings and dialogues with religious leaders in this area. But it is not always easy when dealing with the Jewish faith to calculate and understand the differences in their three distinct representations. They probably find it significantly easier to deal with one Catholic bishop than I do on occasion with reformed, conservative and orthodox. I have learned not to be daunted by the challenges of the dialogue but to embrace them.

On Wednesday night, the Center gave their “Eternal Light” award to two parishioners of Christ the King parish in Tampa and to Doctor Kirk. Paul and Gail Whiting give much back to the community in which they live and Gail was one of the first Catholic directors on the Board of the Center when it began, at my “ask.” Paul, when he had retired from his very successful business life came to see me to ask what he might do to help me and I recommended that a new initiative seeking grounding in Tampa which I had a hand in establishing in Pinellas could use his wisdom and insight. He remains today as the first and only Chairman of the Board of Academy Prep in Tampa which takes in at-risk African-American children and works educational wonders with them. Whether it is their work in their parish, their community, or the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies, this couple allows the light of their faith to illuminate the faith, fate and hope of others.

The same can be said of Dr. Kirk who made a home for the center at St. Leo, now on firmer ground under his leadership as an educational institution of higher learning. Commitment counts and Art Kirk has remained committed to this interreligious center for dialogue and greater understanding. Dr. Kirk and Deacon William Dietweg noted that this year’s awards were being given on the exact 45th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s incredible document entitled Nostra Aetate which moved our Church to recognize the fundamental reality that all religions which lead to God have a role and place to play in the salvation story.

Congratulations Gail, Paul and Art and to you, Rabbi Rudin and to those who participate in this worthy endeavor. May eternal light always shine upon you.



Friday, October 29th, 2010

A second of our beloved priests entered Eternal Life on Monday of this week. Father William J. Kearney went home to the Lord at the wonderful age of eighty-six. Father Kearney never married but rather presented himself for ordination on May 21, 1983 at the age of fifty-nine. Prior to his death, Father Kearney was an associate pastor at Christ the King in Tampa, St. Patrick parish in Largo, and Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center. Incredibly well educated (AB from Case Western Reserve, MA in Social Work from the University of Pittsburgh), he also did graduate work at one time or another at Notre Dame, Catholic University, Niagara and John Carroll.Prior to ordination he was a counselor and social worker. He retired shortly after I arrived (I hope there was no cause and effect) and in the end was cared for by a loving nephew in Evansville, Indiana. I will celebrate his funeral Mass in his home town of Nanticoke, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, joined only by his good friend, Father Raymond Lettre and his pastor at Christ the King, Father  Michael Muhr.

When we opened Father Kearney;’s instructions for his funeral we found that he asked that Monsignor John Scully preach. Father Kearney wrote this: I ask Monsignor Scully preach my funeral Mass as he was the source and inspiration of my becoming a priest.” This twosome entered eternal life within days of one another, keeping each other company I am sure. Rest in peace, dear Father Bill.



Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

In all my sixty-nine years, I would  never have guessed that I would be leading prayer in a Cathedral Church, anywhere, in the presence of the human remains of a great saint but today that was indeed the case. My diocesan family knows that for twenty-six hours beginning last night at 7 p.m. we had the incredible privilege of having the relics of Saint John Bosco in our midst. The local media, and particularly the ST. PETERSBURG TIMES in articles written by Waveney Ann Moore (all linked on the diocesan web site’s relic visit page) have been most generous in providing coverage of this historic moment. For those of you reading this and not living in our five counties, in preparation for the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Salesian order of religious women, brothers, priests and lay cooperators, a casket containing a wax image of the famous saint of the youth and a major portion of the bone structure of his arm is making the rounds of Salesian places throughout the world. Last night and today are our turn because we have been blessed to have the community here in the diocese for a long, long time (Mary, Help of Christians, St. Joseph’s Tampa, Villa Madonna, St. Petersburg Catholic High School and until a few years ago at Christ the King).

About seven hundred people filled the Cathedral last night for the Prayer Service of Welcome, a similar number this morning for Mass in the presence of the relics, and then about 2700 sixth through twelth graders this afternoon who spent the day at St. Petersburg Catholic, had lunch and then processed to the Cathedral to see the relics and pray with me. Throughout the night the Cathedral was open and there was a line last night until eleven and always about thirty praying at a time. Incredible witness to a powerful presence even in our own lifetime. I can not say enough good things about the wonderful cooperation received from the Knights of Columbus who have stood guard, the City of St. Petersburg and its police department [motorcycles led the procession of the youth] and the faculty, students and staff of St. Petersburg Catholic High School.

Relics not unlike indulgences have slipped from our modern Catholic parlance since the Second Vatican Council so I was amazed at both the interest in and the effect of this saint on those who have come to pray and witness. It is an example of the power of “popular piety” which intuits important things which can not always be clearly explained. Going back to early Christian times when believers went to the catecombs not so much for safety but to be in the decomposed presence of their ancestors and other saintly people, a relic is a treasured momento of some person of the past who has been declared officially by the Church to be a saint. Catholic altars usually always contained an “altar stone” which itself was the home of a first class relic of a saint. [“First Class Relic” is a piece of bone or a hair of a canonized saint; “Second Class Relic” is something which the saint most likely wore; etc.] Today, few altars contain either stones or relics. Today relics are usually found only in a glass container in some Churches and even some homes, accompanied by proper papers attesting to their authenticity.

Wikipedia and the Salesian website all have wonderful narratives of the life of this great saint and his total dedication to the education of youth and particularly poor youth, of which he was once one.

Faith-filled Catholics and the inquiring minds of our children turned out in great number today to touch the glass casket, pray at the site of the relic and recall the incredible presence today, one hundred and twenty-five years or so after his death. His legacy which has long outlived him is the similar dedication of his sisters, brothers and priests. If you are reading this and I do not yet have some pictures of the day’s events, come back and look. I will put them up as soon as they are available to me.

Mary, Help of Christians, pray for us!


BIRTHING – Updated 5/11/2009

Saturday, May 9th, 2009

One week from today our local church will have a new priest, Carl Joseph Melchior. He has been in the “pipeline” now for nine years, four as a college seminarian and five in theology which included his pastoral year at St. Paul’s parish in St. Petersburg. Like the arrival of all “newborns”, his ordination will be greeted with rejoicing for him and for us. He wishes there were others who would be alongside of him before me but we will rejoice at each single or multiple birth. (Next year there should be two to be ordained and this morning at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the vast Archdiocese of New York ordained three men). Carl’s  is in his forties and for many years prior to entering the seminary he worked as an Equipment Manager for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Raised and educated at Christ the King in South Tampa, his parents have already gone home to the Lord so next to my own seat, they will have the best seat “out of the house” next Saturday as their son is ordained a priest. He has a brother and sister-in-law who have at least one child for Uncle Carl to love and take pride in.

The birth of a priest is a long and somewhat arduous process. I remember when Carl first appeared before me as a candidate and he was worried that it might take so long to get ordained that the best years of his life would be behind him. He did so well in both of the seminaries and is so appreciated by those who were responsible for his formation. Most of them will join his friends and people from the parishes where he has served in rejoicing, sharing his happiness and thanking God.

I have spent the afternoon working on my homily for his ordination. It will go through another few drafts before I am satisfied that it should see the light of day on Saturday next. Some moments are special and an ordination is the most wonderful ceremony that any bishop is privileged to celebrate. And only the ordaining bishop can or at least should preach on this occasion. There are always a  good number of priests present to welcome their newest brother as well as priest representatives from the seminary and from other dioceses as well. So the proverbial “heat is on.” Usually one week out would be way earlier than I would turn my attention to the homily but I feel the pressure. I must confess that I am more than just a little distracted this afternoon as the Rays are playing the hated Red Sox and I can hear the excitement of the Fox broadcast from my office and occasionally get up to see what is going on and root, root, root the home team. But I digress.

The ordination picture for the future is decidedly better for this diocese but I don’t count on anything until a man’s invitations go out. It is a big decision which needs ratification, by the man himself, by God’s people, by the seminary and also by his peers. On all scores, Carl Melchior is ready and like an obstetrician, I am ready to use my hands to make it happen. We should rejoice and be glad and throughout this week, pray for Carl (a.k.a. “Buster”).


Update: Please note correction in “ERRATA, CORRECTION, OR JUST OOPS!