Posts Tagged ‘Miami’

FUTURE NOW

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It has been my custom all these years to visit our two seminaries annually and when I can manage it, our seminarians also studying in Rome at the North American College and outside of Boston at St. John XXIII National Seminary (n.b.: I know, I am anticipating!).

Last year the seminary visitation was not necessary because we were all together for the extraordinary trip to the Holy Land during the New Year’s break from their studies. And, while my presence is needed twice a year at both Florida seminaries for meetings of the Board of Trustees, it is never possible to spend any quality time with the seminarians or those responsible for their formation on those occasions.

So, last week I resumed the custom again and visited St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach where our men spend their last five years of study and formation and St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami where they complete their college studies or pre-theology.

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D'Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D’Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

 

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

Our medium size diocese has been generous for some time in lending both seminaries some great priests for the faculty and for Spiritual Direction. As strapped as we are for priests, it only makes sense to most of us that we invest in the quality, education, spiritual and pastoral formation of our future priests. Currently both the Rector/President of St. Vincent de Paul (Monsignor David Toups) and the Spiritual Director of the same (Monsignor Michael Muhr) are from the St. Petersburg Diocese.

When two years ago, the Archdiocese of Miami was unable to provide a sufficient number of in-house priest spiritual directors, I asked Monsignor John Cippel, who had been retired from administrative duty for a few years, if he would pitch in and help by going to and living at St. John Vianney for two years as Spiritual Director (something he had previously done at St. Vincent de Paul before becoming pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Spring Hill in 1995). He is completing those two years of heroic service and wishes to return to our area to continue his amazing retirement activity.

I mention this because I am aware that last week Father Arthur Proulx, pastor for eleven years at Nativity in Brandon, announced that he would be leaving that parish to begin a term of service as a Spiritual Director at St. John Vianney in Miami. I have already heard about the pain that announcement and the decision which preceded it has brought to many at Nativity. I understand it and acknowledge that it springs from great respect and appreciation which is held for Father Proulx.

But we have fourteen men at St. John Vianney in pre-theology and college and Miami (which owns and operates the seminary and promised when St. Vincent de Paul Seminary became provincially owned by all the Florida dioceses that it would cover the cost and staffing of the college) still has no one to provide at this time. If you sat where I sit, you would not stand idle either and deprive not just our men, but others in the 85 student strong resident college seminary community of spiritual direction during a very important part of their lives. The parishioners of Christ the King understand this, in their heart and from experience. They gave up both Monsignors Muhr and Toups to the seminary with the fond hope that young men being ordained would come back better for having these two guides and examples during their formation.

I have an opportunity on these visits to have some private moments with each seminarian. They share with me their joys as well as their trials and readily provide me with an insight as to how they are doing in their pursuit of understanding better God’s call in terms of their own vocation. Believe me, dear reader, it is not easy in today’s world to give up the love of a potential wife and the attraction of another profession. Some of our pre-theologians hold degrees in engineering from UF or FSU or UCF and USF to name a few. They once dreamed of something else and then felt this calling from the Lord, which they will test out right up until the moment of their ordination. I admire them so deeply and firmly believe that without exception you would be honored to have any of them as your sons and we will be honored, please God, to have them some day as our brothers in the priesthood.

They care for one another very well also. Our men, on their own, make it their personal duty to weekly pray together, share their life experience over the past week with their peers, and fairly regularly to recreate together. They are already a “band of brothers” and this augurs well for the future of ministry in this diocese. Priests today and more so since the sexual abuse crisis of the last decade need to support one another. Almost without exception I find them devoid of clericalism and in the seminary because they feel called by the Lord to serve His people and not themselves. They know how to gently “needle” one another but never in a manner or way that hurts someone else. In fact, at the dinner which I have with them during these visits, they can be quite fun. I don’t remember during my seminary days of ever being as open, unthreatened and casual with my bishop at the time. In the end, however, they are very respectful of authority and genuinely understand its place in the Church.

Before I leave both seminaries we celebrate the Eucharist together and it is then when I see their deep commitment to prayer. I pray that the men are learning that it is what they do after ordination as priests at Eucharist and not what they wear that is important. I pray that they will come to appreciate that the greatest privilege that can be accorded any priest is to be truly and genuinely called “Father” and not to worry about other honors, privileges and distinctions. I pray that they will understand that if they have truly become whom they have received in the Eucharist, they will yearn to walk out of that chapel or any Church like Jesus would and serve the poor, battle societal injustice, call to serve both women and men in our parishes, embrace the great gifts of women to serve in any and all ministries and offices open to them, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Yes, it is a tall order but something tells me that the men I spent time with last week will not repeat the mistakes of my generation and will serve the Lord with genuine gladness, sacrifice and dedication.

They are the future, now!

+RNL

FIFTY YEARS AND COUNTING

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.”

+RNL

TRAVELS WITH TIM – CERTAINLY NOT SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

My brother Tim.

The long awaited and much anticipated reunion of two of the three Lynch boys took place on Friday at Gate D11 at the Miami airport. I flew from Tampa to meet Tim and accompany him the rest of the way to Seattle, a trip of eight hours duration. He was so excited that we were finally on our way, having navigated by wheelchair from the curbside check-in counter through security to the gate. I had “cashed in” enough American frequent flyer miles and moved early enough to secure two first class seats on the flights from Miami to O’Hare and then on to Seattle. Tim said that the Miami to Chicago flight was on the largest and quietest jet he had ever flown on and then with something approaching “gallows humor” said that the next time he would be so far forward in an airplane would likely be when his casket was in the forward hold beneath where he was sitting. American did a great job of having wheelchair assistance waiting for him with his name specifically on it for transferring from gate to gate in Chicago and from gate to baggage claim in Seattle. It was, however, precisely at baggage claim that I began to really appreciate the challenges facing people with disabilities. Delivered to baggage claim and receiving her “tip” for the service, we were abandoned by the wheelchair person. At first I did not think that would be a problem because arrival pick up was taking place just a few steps from the carrousel. Then, struck with fear, I noticed no cabs nor any signs for taxis anywhere. I approached the American Airlines agent in the baggage claim are and she said, “Oh, the taxi’s are on the third level of the parking garage.” She then said you need to walk to an elevator, walk across and bridge over the roadways, walk through the fourth level of the garage and then take an elevator to the third level where the taxis could be found. I knew it would be too much for Tim and I could not manage his luggage and mine as well. It took two people to accomplish the transfer from baggage claim to taxi: someone handling the bags and a second person pushing a wheelchair. But we did it. Then out of the garage and right smack into Seattle’s signature climate: rain!

Arriving at the hotel at 1000pm EDT, our sole goal in life was no longer heaven, but something to eat and then sleep. We attempted to “dine” at the Pike Pub and Brewery across from the hotel but the wait time was 45 to 60 minutes so it was back to the hotel. I had two “sliders” evoking our memory of White Castles in Columbus, Ohio and Skyline Chili parlors in Cincinnati. Tim loved the day, the attention he received on the plane from various flight attendants who were drawn to him by his sunny disposition, paying little attention to the sour puss next to him.

Conversation was mostly about trains and our youth. Tim has very clear memories of his trip to and from Seattle for his service in Vietnam in the army – the troop ship out of Fort Lewis and the return from there. I do not pursue and he has always volunteered very little about his time in the war zone. My brother Jim and I surmise that those memories are just too painful. Every one is suspicious that Tim’s COPD situation results from a combination of smoking and, we think, Agent Orange exposure which the Veterans Administration is finally acknowledging is a source of veteran disability after years of denial by there VA officialdom. He does have a hard time breathing and even experienced some stress on the plane where the cabin is pressurized to 8000 feet. But we made it.

At dinner we talked a lot about railroads and about our Dad. Perhaps the most poignant moment of this special Friday for me will be when Tim said, with a tear in his eye about our father, “I still miss him terribly. . . I love him. . . I talk to him daily.” Later today a ferry ride on Puget Sound to Bremerton will be followed by the start of our eastbound transcontinental rail journey at 440pm on AMTRAK’s Train No. 8, THE EMPIRE BUILDER.

+RNL

ELEGY IN A CITY CHURCHYARD

Monday, April 16th, 2012

If you read my previous entry on the death of Bishop Agustín Román, Auxilary Bishop of Miami last Wednesday evening, you will likely not be surprised that I still carry the image of that loving and deeply caring bishop with me. On Saturday, the Church and the people whom he loved and served said good-bye to him in a style and manner which would have clearly been an embarrassment for him. After long hours of people passing by his body which laid in rest at his beloved Ermita de la Neustra Señora de la Caridad (Shrine of Our Lady of Charity), his body was driven through the streets of Little Havana to the Cathedral of St. Mary for the funeral Mass and hundreds lined the streets throughout the procession route.

I was able to be present only by deeply disappointing the parents of and confirmandi at the first county-wide celebration of Confirmation in Citrus county history. Since I had asked for the favor of a combined ceremony, it was deeply embarrassing to miss it and I apologize to the parents, sponsors, confirmandi and priests of the county. But I felt I needed to be in Miami to prayerfully say farewell to a great man, priest and bishop. The liturgy was lovely, totally in Spanish, and the Cathedral full to overflowing. The relatively newly appointed Papal Nuncio to the United States of American, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò was also present representing the Holy Father which is unusual for anyone other than cardinals and archbishops of larger sees who die.

When the casket was carried into the Cathedral, the congregation welcomed it with vigorous applause. Several times during the homily of Archbishop Thomas Wenski, the congregation responded with sustained, prolonged applause for their dear bishop. I gazed at the body lieing on the floor of the sanctuary and thought to myself, +Agustín, your legacy is guaranteed and your love will not soon be forgotten.

In the earlier blog, I wrote one of many stories in my mind about the bishop being out very late at night. There was another time when the Spanish Cursillo group would hold large Masses in the Chapel of St. John Vianney College Seminary where I was Rector on Sunday nights. They filled the place every time and when it rained as it often does in South Florida, they thought nothing of driving their cars straight up the lawn from the front entrance to let off or pick up their family members leaving deep tire tracks embedded in the lawn carefully manicured and cared for by the seminarians on their work-list days. One night I had had quite enough and with umbrella in hand I was out scolding those driving on “my” lawn. I knew it would make little behavioral difference but I sure felt better. Bishop Román, the celebrant that evening watched me rant at the cars turning my lawn into a mudpit and when they had left he searched me out in my room to first apologize and then said, “but Bob, remember that grass grows anytime here but the faith was being cultivated tonight and it might not last past your upset.” He was right, as always, and gently chided I took to heart his words and never again thought about whatever they might or might not do when they came to clausura on their (not mine) seminary property. In a quiet moment, I looked down at his casket before the altar and on the floor and quietly said, +Agustín, come to rest whereever you wish.

I needed to be back in St. Petersburg by 6:30pm so a four o’clock return flight was essential. I could not stay with him through the final commendation and transfer to Mercy Cemetary. I shall always regret that in my remaining years. In the first year I was ordained a priest (1978), the crusty old Rector of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Miami, Monsignor John Donnelly, said to me once, “young man, you really find out who your friends are if they come to the cemetary. The funeral Mass is easy but the cemetary – there your true friends gather.”

Bishop Román was a saint. He likely will never be officially declared this by the Church but everyone who knew him, was around him, was ministered to by him – we all know it. He sets a standard for episcopal ministry so high that most of us do not have even a chance. I shall always be grateful that even if only for a short while in my priestly life, in Miami, he and I walked the same aisles, myself unworthy even to tie his shoe. Rest in peace, +Agustín.

+RNL

DEATH COMES TO BISHOP ROMAN

Saturday, April 14th, 2012
 
*This blog was first posted on the diocesan website on Thursday, April 12, 2012*

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Agustín Román in front of the Shrine of Our Lady of Charity in Miami, Florida. Photo provided by the Archdiocese of Miami.

I was enjoying a perfectly wonderful evening tonight when a phone call to a priest friend in Miami brought me the news that one of my episcopal idols had been called home to the Father earlier in the evening. Bishop Agustín Román, for thirty-one years the auxiliary bishop of Miami died tonight, reportedly in his car at the very Shrine to Our Lady of Charity, which he erected, staffed, and called home for over forty-six years. Eighty-three years old last night, he was to Miami’s Cuban community their “bishop.” They loved him, they adored him and they will miss him greatly. And already I feel his loss as well.

Bishop Román was expelled from Cuba after being briefly imprisoned by Fidel Castro shortly after the revolution in the early sixties. Placed by government authorities in the hold of a ship, he was packed off to Spain. Soon he would come to Venezuela to continue his ministry but very shortly thereafter landed in Miami. Accepted into the priestly ministry there by Archbishop Coleman Francis Carroll, Miami’s first bishop and its first archbishop, Father Román’s ministry was immediately to the exile community, the great diaspora. For them he built a shrine to the Ermita de la Caridad, the Blessed Mother and the shrine and its altar faced the direction of Cuba. Thousands would come each week to pray to the Blessed Mother for family and friends back in the homeland. Bishop Román’s arsenal against the army and government of Fidel Castro consisted of only one weapon – prayer. He was tireless in his ministry to the exile community and he became their priest and eventually their bishop.

In 1978, Miami’s second archbishop, Edward A. McCarthy sought the appointment of two priests as auxiliary bishops, John J. Nevins who was to become the first bishop of the diocese of Venice and Agustín A. Román who died last night. The Miami Beach Convention Center was filled that day with thousands of Cuban there to cheer and pray for this nation’s first Cuban-born bishop, their friend and their priest, Agustin Román. Ever humble, the new bishop was embarrassed at first by the trappings and expectations of office. Entrusted with the pastoral care not just of the Cubans who would soon experience a second invasion of people driven from their native country by the Cuban government, Bishop Román spent endless hours at the Krome Avenue detention facility where Cubans and Haitians seeking freedom could be found. For many Cubans and Haitians his was the first face of priestly ministry they would see in this new country, county and city to which they had fled.

One night when I was the Rector of the college seminary in Miami, I took a seminarian to the emergency room of Mercy Hospital on Miami’s Biscayne Bay and next to the Cuban Shrine to Our Lady. When we were discharged at 2:15 in the morning and were driving back to the seminary, a car pulled along side mine at a traffic light and inside was Bishop Román, praying the rosary in one hand and headed out to the Krome Avenue detention facility I was certain. I recall saying to the college seminarian in the car with me, “I wish I could be half the priest as that man is.” His office hours were when ever anyone needed his priestly presence, regardless of the hour or the inconvenience.
He remained a Cuban citizen all his life and never sought, to the best of my knowledge, a US passport because he did not wish to turn his back in any way on the country of his birth. But, he also vowed that he would never personally return to his beloved homeland until Castro was gone and the people once again free. Several pilgrimages were subsequently arranged by the Archdiocese of Miami to Cuba for papal visits and although never publicly critical of the decision to go there, he never went. His public opposition to the Cuban government never reached the decibel level of the exile community who surrounded him, but they knew that in his heart he mourned the absence of religious freedom in Cuba and the ensuing poverty visited upon his beloved people. He was their bishop and they were his people. There are few priests about whom other priests do not have something sometimes unkind and uncharitable to say, but to a person, Miami’s priests acknowledged that Agustín Román was an extraordinary example and witness to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Leaving Miami for me to come to St. Petersburg was hard in many ways when it occurred and a part of that sense of loss was leaving Bishop Román, even though we would now both be brothers in the episcopacy. Holy, Humble, Hard Working were the marks of this rather small of stature man but his witness to the Gospel was outsized. His wisdom, counsel and guidance to me prior to my ordination was simply this: “Bob, make yourself always present to the people as Jesus did.” Bishop Román never failed in that but I have from time to time.

Agustín, you went gently into the night this evening, coming back from an act of service and kindness and our God allowed you to safely park your car at your beloved shrine before calling you to Himself. I will always love you. I will always miss you. Until we are together again, thank you for your incredible example of how a bishop should serve his people. Rest in peace.

+RNL

50/25 – PURE GOLD AND SILVER

Friday, December 9th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL