Posts Tagged ‘History’


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

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

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

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

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

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

Those motel like wings of which I write/

Those motel like wings of which I write/

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

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

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



Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Heraldry for a Protonotary Apostolic

Heraldry for Prelate of Honor

Heraldry for Chaplains to His Holiness

From time to time, people in the diocese write to me and ask me to make their pastor a “monsignor.” Easier said than done for reasons which I will put forth in a few moments. The title of “Monsignor” is a strictly honorary title (that means no more money or responsibility for the person) which is used for priests who have been recommended by their bishops to the Holy See for the title. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, the word “Monsignor” is also used when addressing bishops or anyone other than Cardinals and Patriarchs but that custom is not present in English speaking countries for bishops (pardon the diversion). Here in the United States, Monsignor is almost exclusively used for those who have received this title from the Holy Father at the request of the bishop.

There are three “ranks” of Monsignors, Protonotary Apostolics (bet you haven’t heard that one before), Prelates of Honor to His Holiness, and Chaplains to His Holiness. The title “Monsignor” is used for all three and only the ecclesiastical dress signifies any difference. Pope Paul VI greatly simplified these honorary recognitions.

So, what is to stop me from making your favorite pastor a “monsignor?” Several things which have changed in the last ten years. First, no diocese is allowed to have more than 10% of its living clergy honored with the title. In other words, there is a ceiling number above which a local bishop may not exceed. When a bishop submits a name to the Holy See for consideration, an examination of files is conducted to make sure that there is nothing in the nominee’s background which might block him from receiving an honorary title. Not every name submitted receives approval and no reason is ever given. Finally, generally monsignors must begin at the “bottom level” (Chaplain to His Holiness), spend five years at that level before they can be advanced to the next level (Prelate of Honor to His Holiness).

Early in my time here as bishop I hoped to award longevity and faithful service to everyone who passed a certain number of years of incardinated service (thirty was the number in my mind at that time) and was able to name ten in the year 2000. Subsequently the new rules were put in place about 10 per cent of the clergy and beginning at the level of Chaplain to His Holiness and working the way up five years at a time.

Does it cost the diocese to make Monsignors? The answer is yes but it is very minimal given the record keeping and parchment issuing that is involved. The “taxa” or tax for Prelates of Honor is $200 and for Chaplains to His Holiness is $150. Should the new monsignor choose to obtain the proper dress which accompanies the honor, more cost is incurred by the priest himself.

Some dioceses simply do not make monsignors. In Florida this would be true for the last ten years for the dioceses of Palm Beach and St. Augustine. It was also true here in this diocese for a brief time. Generally speaking,  priests are uncomfortable with the practice and rarely, very rarely ask. If asked, as many bishops have done, the priests usually vote “no” on the question of whether or not a diocese should ask for one or more of their number to be appointed. But there are not too many ways a bishop can recognize devoted and faithful service over a long period of time. I always said that I would rather be given a sabbatical than be made a monsignor but neither hope was realized. I was made a Monsignor because of holding the position of General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference in 1989 and never really had a sabbatical. Certain positions in a diocese (such as Vicar General) often can be better served (usually outside of the territory) with the occupant having the title. Rectors of seminaries are often bequeathed the title as sometimes is their Spiritual Director counterpart. So if you ask me to do something nice for your pastor, it might be easier to find another way of expressing admiration and appreciation. Here are a list of the Monsignors in this diocese according to the rank:


Reverend Monsignor Laurence Higgins, P.A.


Reverend Monsignor Norman Balthazar

Reverend Monsignor Harold Bumpus

Reverend Monsignor J. Bernard Caverly

Reverend Monsignor John Cippel

Reverend Monsignor Diego Conesa

Reverend Monsignor Colman Cooke

Reverend Monsignor George Cummings

Reverend Monsignor Desmond Daly

Reverend Monsignor Anton Dechering

Reverend Monsignor Dacian Dee

Reverend Monsignor Michael Devine

Reverend Monsignor Antonio Diez

Reverend Monsignor William DuBois

Reverend Monsignor Thomas Earner

Reverend Monsignor Aidan Foynes

Reverend Monsignor James Lara

Reverend Monsignor Joseph McCahon

Reverend Monsignor Robert F. Morris, VG

Reverend Monsignor Brendan Muldoon

Reverend Monsignor Edward Mulligan

Reverend Monsignor John Neff


Reverend Monsignor Avelino Garcia

Reverend Monsignor Robert Gibbons

Reverend Monsignor Patrick Irwin

Reverend Monsignor Michael Muhr

Reverend Monsignor Austin Mullen

Certain readers who have read this far will note that there is some news contained in the list above. More about that later.


Images from Wikipedia,


Sunday, January 9th, 2011

Florida generally is not too big on antiquity. There is, of course, the elusive fountain of youth allegedly found by Ponce de Leon and a few other major historical places but for the Church, antiquity is even more rare and more so on Florida’s West Coast. Thus it was stunning to me today to help Sacred Heart parish in downtown Tampa celebrate its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary. We just don’t have in this diocese or south of us too many Churches or structures which date to the turn of the last century must less the sixth decade of the nineteenth century (the Civil War had not yet begun). Sacred Heart, Tampa, however is a beautiful exception – majestic, inspiring, beautiful in so many ways. True the parish begun in 1860 for about forty Catholic families, the only Catholic families living in Hillsborough county at the time, began at a slightly different site (Twiggs and Ashley) and with a different initial title, “St. Louis parish” but soon land was donated at the present site, the name was changed with the coming of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) to Sacred Heart and by any name it remains the historical mother parish of the diocese. I will attach here some parts of my homily yesterday which relate to its history, present and future [please keep in mind that liturgically we were celebrating the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus]:

At the heart of its history, Sacred Heart has been baptizing for a century and a half. God alone probably knows the number of children and adults who have been baptized in this parish. The horrible Civil War in the colonies was not yet being fought when Bishop Verot sent Father C.S. Malley as first pastor of Saint Louis parish, the original name for Sacred Heart. There were only forty-one Catholic families in Tampa at that time.

Through the last century and a half with its wars, economic depression and countless recessions, the plague which practically obliterated Tampa and innumerable challenges those baptized here formed a strong community of faith, witnessing to the city and county that being Catholic meant imitating Christ, caring for one another, educating children. As you well know, most of the history of this parish is associated with the Society of Jesus. Only this week came the sad news of the death of a much loved and revered pastor, Father Michael Kennelly for whom we will celebrate a Memorial Mass at Tampa Jesuit High School which he founded this coming Thursday night.

Figuratively baptized in fire on many occasions, this great parish has been the spiritual home to the baptized now for a century and a half. The Franciscan Friars who now grace us with their ministry and presence witness to this area that being baptized does not mean being isolated from the environment in which the parish prays and worships, but makes Christ present in the core city of Tampa to those who live in the greatest dungeons of darkness and cold. Their life is one of humble witness and service.

Presently the Franciscans serve the parish, its school Sacred Heart Academy, Tampa General Hospital, the University of Tampa Campus Ministry program, and the convent of the Allegany Franciscan Sisters along the Hillsborough River. Active in serving the homeless, Sacred Heart has a significant outreach program into the downtown community and the daily Mass at 12:10 p.m. serves the business people of the center city as well as those working in the state and federal courts. Many of the priests and sisters serving at Sacred Heart during the 0utbreak of the Yellow Fever epidemic of the end of the 19th century died in service to the Tampa community but enough lived to courageously continue the ministry in this significant parish. The parish has  a great past, a powerful present, and a glorious future.

Here, then, are some wonderful pictures of beautiful Sacred Heart Church as it exists today:

The beautiful main altar (Photo by Michael Pruchnik)

The Rose Window on the left side of the Church (Photo by Michael Pruchnik)

Photo by Michael Pruchnik

Photo by Michael Pruchnik



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!



Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Sacred Heart Basilica on the Campus of the University of Notre Dame on October 10, 2010

I am celebrating and preaching this morning at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart on the campus of the University of Notre Dame. It is always an awesome privilege for me to be provided this opportunity as the Basilica will be filled to over-flowing and the music is provided by Notre Dame’s awesome Folk Choir under the direction of Steve Warner (we sing his beautiful “Our Father” in many Churches throughout the diocese). The Irish won yesterday but that really is not the reason I am present on campus as soon we will be announcing a new form of partnership in education between our Diocese and this very Catholic University.

In the first reading from 2 Kings today, Naaman finds healing in an alien land and the population allows an alien to come and benefit from a miracle, a grace. I feel that this Old Testament story has relevance to today’s debate in the nation about immigration reform so I wish to share the homily with you here and hope you will read it and reflect on it.

The Liturgy of the Word this morning places us right smack in the face of “outcasts.” Outcasts at the time of the writing and I would suggest outcasts even in our midst today. The Gospel is familiar enough and easy enough, especially for those who attend Mass on Thanksgiving Day when it is always heard. Ten Lepers were cured but only one came back to say “thanks.” It is, hoever,  the first reading this morning which captures my attention: the curing of Naaman, his restoration to wholeness, to relationships and to religious faith.

Naaman was a senior officer, a general in the pagan Syrian army, which had both defeated and devastated the Jews. He suddenly comes down with something which woefully sets him apart – in Scripture it is called “leprosy” but it is somewhat unlikely that it truly was what today we call Hansen’s disease. For in Old Testament times as well as the time of Jesus, almost any disease causing blemish, acne, skin cancer, or any disfigurement, Down’s syndrome or any neuro-muscular disorder such as Parkinson’s disease was thought to be leprosy. Who of us personally has not personally seen a person so poor that their emaciated and weakened presence, their deep-set, recessed eyes and hunger induced bone structure made us look away in horror even at the sight?

So, Naaman, conquering military hero, comes down with something inexplicable and equally inexplicably his friends say to him: you defeated these Jews but they have some kind of cure for what you have, go see their priests. Naaman was not a man with any faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. However, his lot in life has turned for the worst and he is just desperate enough to try anything. He goes to Israel where the prophet Elisha tells him to wash in the River Jordan seven times [think baptism] and he will be cleansed. Naaman thinks the notion stupid but he is desperate. Naaman thinks the River Jordan is a filthy place to take a swim and he would rather take his plunge in a cleaner, safer Syrian River, but he is desperate. Seven times he does what the prophet commands and he is cured. Astounded he pronounces his new faith in the God of Israel and embraces Him. The Jews are in wonderment; this dreadful, despicable and despised man who leveled our homes, our fields, our husbands and sons, unwanted in our land now embraces our God. What gives? And why does God heal this outcast of our society when there are so many of our own in need of His help? In the end they embrace this stranger, set aside their fears, because he has become one with them in faith.

That’s the Old Testament story, worthy on its face of a few moments of quiet reflection, but there is more to God’s word this morning. Who are the Naaman’s in our midst today – scorned, scoffed and often sacrificed on an altar of political expediency? What are the forms of “leprosy” today, which our moment in history has created to be set apart, feared, and kept always at arm’s length? Make no mistake about it, every generation has its own modern forms of “leprosy”.

Perhaps, immigrants? No sector of American society has handled immigration better than the Catholic Church. This very basilica stands on ground purchased by an immigrant priest who understood a century and a half ago that from the many would come the one, the unity – e pluribus unum. Until 1924 the Catholic Church in the United States was the immigrant Church, all were welcome no matter their language, their country or origin, the color of their skin. In certain segments of society, we Irish, Italian, German, Polish Catholics were not welcomed; rather we were often feared – in eternal life I intend to ask my Boston Irish great-grandparents about their life in the land of the Cabots and Lodges. We were feared, seen as a threat, religious rabbits who given enough time would out-populate everyone else. But our forebearers were told, just like Naaman was told to visit the land of Israel, go to America, a land of opportunity, religious freedom, hope. We Catholics tend to forget our own roots, so fully have we become assimilated into the American culture.

If Naaman the Syrian could be an example of the diversity of God’s people in Old Testament Israel, what then is the reason for the fear and loathing today accorded our mostly Catholic brothers and sisters seeking the same opportunity for freedom and cleansing from economic and sometimes political oppression? Who among us today would encourage an undocumented to go and show themselves to the priests, to the Church, perhaps only there to find sanctuary, hope and help.

Ah, but they are illegal some would say – they are criminals. They are guilty in the law of the same level of misdemeanor as I was yesterday jaywalking across Notre Dame Avenue on my way to the stadium. Crossing a border and entering the United States is, not yet at least, a felony. Perhaps these undocumented are the Naaman’s of our generation, different from him only in that they started their journey, most of them, as our sisters and brothers in faith.

If Israel needed a Naaman to remind it of God’s mercy and generosity, how much more do we need the diversity of the stranger and newcomer? In the diocese in which I am privileged to serve, one third of those who offer the Eucharist this Sunday, priests who preach and preside at Mass, are newcomers, not always sure whether they can remain or not. The central moment of our Catholic faith, the Eucharist, depends more and more in this country on “outsiders”. The football team on the field yesterday in the stadium was a mosaic of diversity – xenophobia today would field few winners in Division I football. This great university has a commitment to diversity and opportunity which makes me proud. The Diocese of St. Petersburg in the winter months likely has more undocumented Catholics than registered Catholics. We depend on them for our food, our creature comforts. Yet we often treat the visitor, the undocumented with fear and loathing and as such the stranger too often today wears the face of political and/or social leprosy. Our country indeed has both a right and responsibility to secure our nation’s borders but our faith must open our hearts to those who today yearn to breathe free and are already in our midst.

In our Church we proudly carry the banner of respect for human life, from conception to natural death. This respect for life is at the heart of who we are and denominates us as Catholic Christians – “catholic” itself means open to all, universal. May we take today as our prayer from this Eucharistic liturgy words something like this:

Allow me, O Lord, to serve as the receiving prophet who welcome the Naaman’s of this time, too often today reviled and scorned as was Your Son. And at the end of the day, may humanity and history say of us as Naaman said, “there is no God greater than the God of Israel.”

Statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus on the Campus of the University of Notre Dame

"Come to me Everyone"


Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

It is not all that easy for me at 69 to recall vividly things which happened to me when I was 24 but there is one, vivid memory of 1965 which I have never consigned to the dead-letter file and that was the visit of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations headquarters in New York for a day that began for him in Rome and finished thirty hours later when his plane touched down in Rome. To b e a Catholic that day was to be especially proud. Popes just did not travel outside of Rome and certainly not by jet plane across the span of an ocean for fourteen hours in one place and then back home again. The triumphant arrival of Pope Paul, his talk at the United Nations General Assembly and then very late in the day at Mass in Yankee Stadium saw most Catholics glued to their black and white televisions, listening to the commentary of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who told us that “TWA”, the initials of the airline flying the Holy Father back to Rome meant “Travel With Angels” and as his plane took off around midnight from JFK Airport, the good Bishop ended the day with a line from Shakespeare: “Good Night, Sweet Prince.” The Holy Father personally and the Catholic Church in the United States generally gained enormous credibility that day. All of this is by forward to share with you the homily which I gave last Sunday at the seminary for the Eucharistic Liturgy and Installation of Lectors and Acolytes (see the previous blog entry). The Gospel that day was the same as Sunday’s, Lazarus and the rich man.

Homily at Mass of Installation of Lectors and Acolytes
Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul
Boynton Beach, FL
Sunday, September 26, 2010
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Celebrant and Homilist

A week from tomorrow, Monday, October 4, 2010 will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of an extraordinary moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States and of the papacy. It was on that very day that the first Pope in history set foot on American soil. He came as an uninvited guest to our country to speak to and at the sole invitation of the United Nations in a speech that was widely praised throughout the world. At the annual meeting of the General Assembly to which he had been invited, speaking in French, he spoke the now famous words, “no more war, war never again. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of all mankind.” He might have easily left this continent at the conclusion of his historic visit to the U.N. but he had one more thing to do prior to departing for Rome. Paul VI took his remaining time to speak to the United States, to we Catholics who were so proud that day, this time at the old Yankee Stadium, late in the day, and the Gospel was today’s, Lazarus and the Rich Man, the poor and the rich, people and nations, all God’s children.

I can not forget that night, transfixed in front of a television set, watching the frail figure of the successor of St. Peter in the house that the non-biblical Ruth built challenge myself and the country I love to do more than merely send the “scraps” of our plenty to the poor in our country and in the world but instead to share of our substance. It was at that precise moment, I recall, that I first began to understand both the power of God’s Word which some of you this morning will be formally allowed to proclaim. There is power to be found even in simply proclaiming the Word of God.

The first reading from Amos when read with passion puts all of us on notice that too much comfort can lead to complacency and too much complacency can lead to eternal exile. The second reading when read with feeling stirs in the hearts of the listeners Paul’s exhortation to cloth ourselves not in rich purple robes, green vestments, lace garments, for they will amount to little in the final reckoning but rather in righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Paul says, “pomp” doesn’t work; instead we must humbly bring our gifts to the competition for the faith of our human family. To proclaim the word of God is to share one’s faith, one’s belief, and one’s hope.

As that night in Yankee Stadium grew darker and colder and midnight Eastern time approached, Paul VI talked about the table of plenty, filled with the manifest blessings of God, but which in the name of humanity needed to be shared with the Lazarus’ of the world.  Think for a moment how little we know about either Lazarus or Dives, the name history has given to the rich man for the bible fails to name him. What was the source of Lazarus’ poverty? Ninety-five percent of the population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was desperately poor. So he had sores, that much we know. Was he the precursor of the homeless woman or man at the intersection of streets whose sign reads: “hungry, will work for a dollar?” We only know that Dives looked the other way, ignored the poor person before him. And what of Dives? Was he an officer of ENRON or AIG or a man who accumulated his wealth honestly and in a socially responsible manner? All we know is that he was blind and indifferent to the need both in front of and around him.

In the end, in eternity, the rich man’s last words are a plea to warn his brothers [and sisters] so that they [we] do not succumb to the same fate. Paul VI used this Gospel to draw the attention of humanity to its own table of plenty and beg those of us so richly blessed to share with those who have so little. And then, as I shall do, he invited those in the stadium and the world to share at the one table which makes no distinction between rich and poor, between male or female, between gloriously garbed or wrapped in the rags of manual labor. He celebrated the Eucharist. How blessed we are who are ordained to stand close to the altar and Christ eucharistically present. How blessed you are who are to be formally installed as acolytes no matter how many times you have served Mass up to this moment, to have your Church say “draw closer, watch, pray, invite, share.”

Glamour and glitter in priestly ministry leads to spiritual macular degeneration. A bishop friend of mine recently recounted how during the summer he faced an urgent pastoral emergency in one of his parishes, a financially challenged parish of tri-cultural and language reality. He turned to a priest with a doctorate degree who had served for a number of years in a more specialized ministry in the diocese, asked him to drop everything and fill a huge, gaping pastoral hole. While expressing a concern for the needs of the ministry he had been in, this priest immediately said “yes” and reminded his bishop that at his ordination he had promised obedience and respect, so of course he would go. That bishop said to me and to other bishops who heard him tell the story, that he wished there were more like this priest, able to see beyond the comfort of the familiar to the challenge of the desperate.

There are times when I worry that I am too comfortable in this life. Personally, I think God took care of my vanity thirteen months ago. There are no glorious gowns to be found among hospital wear! I now better and more deeply understand humility after sixty-eight years. Unless we are humbled, we can too easily succumb to the comforts that are ours and ignore the discomfort of others.

Let me begin to close with this insight from the absolutely best book I have read in the last decade at least, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by Father James Martin, S.J.:

If we dismiss the insights which come from the poor and reject the invitation to simplicity by saying, “I can’t live like that,” then these insights and invitations will never make any difference in our lives. Making the invitation unattainable also makes it easier to reject. Likewise, when we wallow in guilt and decide that it is impossible to change, we are subtly letting ourselves off the hook, excusing ourselves from change. . . .But it is an invitation to freedom and not to guilt.. . . Ultimately, it moves us closer to the forgotten and outcast, something at the heart of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”[1]

From this Eucharistic table, O Lord, may we always see and respond to the poor and the needy who sit and pray before us.

[1] James Martin, S.J., The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, New York, Harper One, 2009, p. 202-203.


Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Yesterday on my “day-off” I visited a property owned by the Diocese of St. Petersburg on the Rainbow River just outside of Donnellan. It is an interesting piece of property with an interesting story. Many priests know nothing of it because of its specialized use and while there has never been any attempt at secrecy, it is largely a secret for reasons I shall soon explain. The property has been called “Tomahawk Lodge” since its inception and here is the story.

In the early sixties, I believe, when all we today know as the Diocese of St. Petersburg was still in the original Florida diocese of St. Augustine, Monsignor George Cummins who was director of Good Counsel Camp in Floral City managed to convince the late Archbishop Hurley to buy almost two acres of land along the Rainbow River in Marion County for a lodge for the campers who would, he envisioned, canoe the twenty-two miles from the camp to the Lodge during their stay at Good Counsel. Archbishop Hurley bought the land which had a four room, two-story, two bath house on it. Th downstairs was all one massive room with a small kitchen and a small bath. The second story was one large bedroom and three smaller bedrooms with one bath. The house was largely constructed of Florida pine and its interior walls and floors were of the same unfinished pine. Campers in the sixties returned to Good Counsel just so they could take the two overnight canoe trips to Good Counsel, paddling from its lake to the Withlacoochie River and then to the Rainbow River and upstream to the camp. The journey took two days with an overnight along the Withlacoochie and then another overnight at Tomahawk.

View of Tomahawk Lodge from the Rainbow River

In 1968 the dioceses of Orlando and St. Petersburg were created by Pope Paul VI and lo and behold Citrus County remained in the new diocese of St. Petersburg so Good Counsel Camp continued to be project of the new diocese but Tomahawk Lodge was in Marion County, just four miles inside the boundaries of the Diocese of Orlando so the property transferred to Orlando. No more overnight canoe trips to the camp’s offsite Lodge. It did not take Bishop Borders, the new and first bishop of Orlando, long to realize he had no use for this property along the Rainbow and Monsignor Cummings, still directing the camp wanted it back. But Orlando, who might have said, “take it off our hands” instead said “buy it” which we did. This property holds several distinctions: it is the only property owned by the diocese outside of our territorial boundaries, albeit only barely outside and we had to purchase it not once but twice.

It remains an outpost for campers during the six week camping season and does not get a lot of other use. The property is stunningly beautiful. The Rainbow River is spring fed and the temperature of the water remains at 76 degrees, winter and summer. It is so clear one can watch the fish swimming by and the banks are marked by large hanging cypress trees in many places providing a canopy from the sun’s rays.  So now you know one of the “hidden secrets” of the diocese which is not really a secret at all. The place is a gem. Outside of the camping season it is available for rental and some parishes in the diocese use it for picnics, outings and other brief retreats. Monsignor Cummings had wonderful foresight in many ways. This property was recently appraised in the present real estate market as being worth about $650,000, even with the generally unrepaired solitary lodge building. Father Jim Johnson who currently directs the camp this year invested in a new metal roof and new windows which are a great improvement. I trust you have enjoyed reading about this “gem” and hope sometime you can do as I did yesterday and enjoy the magnificence and beauty of northern Florida and its rivers and lakes.

One amazing view of the Rainbow River from the lawn of Tomahawk Lodge

Pope John Paul II celebrated a large Mass in Canada using the bottom of a canoe for the altar. I thought I might do the same.


Monday, June 29th, 2009

Pope Benedict announced in Rome today that forensic scientists had been able through the use of carbon dating and other techniques to ascertain that the marble sarcophagus under the  main altar at the Basilica of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls in Rome could likely contain the earthly remains of  St. Paul, the great apostle to the Gentiles. This confirmation coming at the end of the Pauline year clearly pleased the Holy Father as it should most Christians, not just Catholics. The Pope stopped short of declaring the remains to truly be those of St. Paul and well he should for there is no way to know with absolute certainty that they are. From the earliest century, however, Christian tradition has held that Paul was indeed buried in that spot and the latest finding tends  to corroborate that reality more than the bones are actually those of Paul. Tradition within the Church also holds that after being crucified upside down outside of the city of Rome on the Vatican Hill, St. Peter was laid to rest in what was likely a mass grave over which the first Christian emperor, Constantine, built the first Basilica in the first Pope’s honor. Having made the trip into the archeological digs under the main altar at St. Peter’s Basilica, I have no difficulty embracing this tradition but our faith is not built on the graves of the dead but on the witness of the living. Every time I visit Rome I believe that I am going to the city where the remains of these two early heroes of the faith rest in death. I tend to be a skeptical person by nature so I am only usually willing to go so far on what seems speculation, even if it is based on some fact. Happily, the Church for twenty-one centuries has assiduously avoided raising speculation to the level of articles of faith. Where the apostles are buried pales in relation to the witness they gave the infant and nascent Church during their lifetime. When  more proof arises as it seems to have recently that the understanding of the early Church about the final resting place of these men seems to have more credibility, then we should all rejoice for they are pillars of faith who despite their earlier weaknesses, grew under the power of the Spirit to be men of courage in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.



Friday, June 12th, 2009

We all ought to do everything in our power to guarantee that upon our death, no one will even think of proposing us for sainthood. While it is not even a remote possibility for someone like myself, two recent things that have happened to two people who ought to be saints (declared that is, by the Church to most certainly be in heaven) make me wonder. There are similarities in both cases. In the old “saint-making days” prior to Pope John Paul II, the Church appointed a “devil’s advocate” whose task it essentially was to “dig up dirt” on the candidate which might cast doubts or suspicions about the persons worthiness. Generally this involved pouring through the deceased’s writing, interviewing people that knew him or her in life (if that was still possible) and hunting for the unusual.  I am not sure that the Devil’s Advocate in these cases really worked hard at his task but at least someone was there to see if there was another side to the proposed person’s life.

In the last several years, things have percolated to the top concerning Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Pope John Paul II. In the first case, there was a book which included passages from her diary which indicated that she had occasions of deep and profound doubts in God. In the second case, there is now a growing controversy about one of John Paul’s women friends, sometimes seemingly leading to the conclusion that he should not have had any. Well, I’ll be darned! Both Mother Theresa and John Paul were truly human. Who of us has not at times when under stress or seeing things going very badly wondered where God is in our life? Who of us  has not at times had the gift of friendship of others who supported us in our vocation (to marriage, the single life, or religious/priesthood)? What’s wrong with an occasional doubt? What’s wrong with a good friend?

The answer I suspect is that these questions coming precisely at this moment may delay the ultimate beatification of Pope John Paul II and the canonization of Mother Theresa. For ninety nine and forty four one hundreth percent of Catholics in the world, these revelations make us think even higher of these two people especially, because they reveal a humanity which we all experience in our lives. It is not that we have fundamental doubts from time to time or close and intimate friendships, it is what we do with them and how we respond to them. In both cases, nothing untoward has been suggested beyond the revelation that one was occasionally tormented and the other occasionally visited.  Saints, it seems to me are people who have secured their eternal salvation through a lifetime of dedicated service to the Lord and to His brothers and sisters on earth and who lived each day in love with God, even if he was enveloped occasionally with doubt, and shared their vocation with others for the betterment of all.

With the help of God most of us will live and love as did the saints, just maybe not as totally as they have.



Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has returned from his visit to the countries of Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian state. It was a visit fraught with challenges and difficulties and one on which a great deal of hopes and anticipations rode. I think the Pope’s visit to all three countries was successful as he negotiated some of the deepest tensions, distrust and animosities to be found almost anywhere on planet earth. His first stop in Jordan, friendly in all ways, was to greet the Christian refugees who have fled Iraq. Their number continues to increase and the Holy Father assured them that they were not forgotten. From there he travelled to Israel where the government greeted him with warmth and welcome. As Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II had done on their prior visits, he assured the Israelies that he and Catholics everywhere recognized their need for and right to their own land and nation. He apologized for the sin of the holocaust and repeated the prayer of every person of good will who comes into contact even through history with that horror – never again! He then had the task of assuring the Palestinians that they too should be allowed to live in their own homeland and he prayed and pleaded for peace. All in all, he accomplished his mission and went out of his way to assure the 3% of the population who are Christian and who remain that they are not forgotten and need to remain to maintain the Christian sites and places of pilgrimage. Stalin once brushed the papacy aside by snidely remarking, “and how many legions does the Pope have?” Military power – none. Moral power – awesome. I trust that you were as proud of the Holy Father’s visit to this troubled area of the world as I and many others.