Posts Tagged ‘Notre Dame’


Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

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

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

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

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

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

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

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



Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I have had a great week in so many ways which I wish to share with the readers of this blog. My Thanksgiving began with a Liturgy of Thanksgiving last Wednesday on the night before the great American holiday. With the Cathedral church closed for remodeling, the Mass was celebrated in the parish hall where a very lovely temporary worship space has been created and the children’s choir reminded all in attendance of innocence, spirit, gratitude and joy. My brother came down from Buffalo to be with my nephew (his son) and we had Thanksgiving dinner together for the first time in a long time. Brother Tim, whom many of you met only rhetorically from the train trip across America in June, was unable to come up from South Florida not because, for once, of any physical limitation he has at the moment, but the need to care for a very special person in his life who is suffering from very severe back pain. Nephew Chris and his wife, Julie, and their two year old daughter Brinleah plus their 8/9th second daughter (due January 3, 2013) hosted not just myself but several others who had no place to go to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.

On Friday, I celebrated Mass at St. Clement’s Church in Plant City which is beginning to celebrate the centennial (100 years) of the celebration of the first Mass in that small city. About 300 people gathered to thank the good Lord for 100 years of blessings and faith and it was a lovely Eucharistic celebration.

On Saturday, I hosted about twenty people to watch the Notre Dame-Southern California game at my residence. The rule was that hamburgers and hot dogs would be served between 7 and 8pm after which the cook/chef (moi) would retire to concentrate on the game. Ninety minutes prior to the beginning of the game, my cable box blew out and I was certain that tragedy had struck. But a second cable box in the bedroom was moved to the Florida room and none of my guests were even aware of the trauma that preceded their arrival. The outcome of the game, of course, made rest come easy that night but it was one a.m. before the mess was cleaned up and the bishop could retire.

Sunday began with a Mass during which I installed Father Damian, T.O.R. as pastor of old St. Mary’s in downtown St. Petersburg. A full Church and a magnificent choir contributed to the spirit of thankfulness the people held in their hearts for both Father Cletus Watson who had to retire from being pastor (he still lives there and assists) and for Father Damian whom they had come to know well in the last year. Prior to coming to St. Mary’s he had been pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bradenton and lots of his old parishioners were present to pray him well.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

One of the nicest things I do each year occurs on the Solemnity of Christ the King when I present the diocesan medal struck in honor of our patron saint, the apostle Jude, to nominees from each parish and mission in the diocese (view photos by clicking here). Accompanied in almost every instance by their pastor or occasionally their assistant pastor, these people who have given years of quiet and humble service approach the altar and receive their medal and a picture taken with me of that moment. Many are weeping tears of joy and humility as they come forward. None of them do for God and His Church anything to eventually cop this recognition. In fact, I always say that if you think you deserved this moment and medal, you probably don’t, but if you think you are unworthy and should not be receiving it, then you are exactly who it was meant for. Great people receive this medal annually, and before them I am humbled.

On Monday, I met with the Presbyteral Council and they talked about many things. It was one of those meetings where I could sit back and enjoy the conversation as they wrestled with giving me advice on issues of some moment and consequence. There was a great, lively and honest discussion and progress was made on several fronts. After lunch I reviewed the results of a number of studies about the Church in the US at this precise moment and said that the statistics needed to help us develop a pastoral plan for the short-term future. For instance, there are 75 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic but only 17 million are in Church every Sunday. 68% of those who identify themselves indicate that they would not advise a young person to consider a vocation to the priestly or religious life. I’ll be sharing more of these realities with you in the coming months here as we discuss them in the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council. They are important for the future.

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Tyler website.

Finally, yesterday (Wednesday) I was in Tyler, Texas for the ordination of a young new bishop whom I have known for some time through a mutual friend, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe (instrumental in both of our priestly vocations and who preached both of our first Masses as priests). Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is a priest of the same diocese he is now called to serve as bishop which is rare in episcopal appointments in the United States. But the priests and people of Tyler loved him and yesterday they showed it many times during the ordination ceremony. Tyler is in east Texas, about 150 miles east of Dallas from which it was mostly cut off in 1986. It has 89,000 Catholics now and is one of the more missionary of the Texas dioceses. Tyler is the “Rose Capitol” of the world, or so it claims and so does the Papal Bull of appointment (Father Reginald Foster in Rome or whomever must have had fun writing that one for the Holy Father to approve). Fall is just now beginning to arrive in East Texas so I will end by quoting those lovely lines from Louis Armstrong, “I SEE LEAVES OF GREEN, RED ROSES TOO, …WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.”



Wednesday, November 21st, 2012
With Sr. Gladys Sharkey, OSF, who celebrates her 60 years of consecrated life and service to the people of God! Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

With Sr. Gladys Sharkey, OSF, who celebrates 60 years of consecrated life and service to the people of God! Photo kindness of Dana Rozance.

Within forty-nine hours of each other, I had the wonderful occasion to spend time with sixteen sisters (view photos by clicking here) who will or have celebrated major anniversaries of their life in religion and with the retired priests of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as well as elsewhere in North America. Both are annual occasions but what made them very enjoyable this year is that both occasions occured within the penumbra of Thanksgiving.

Regular readers of this blog should already know of my love and fondness for our sisters and the few brothers who are either active or retired and living in the diocese. The sisters have a hard time with the Church at times when it seems that they only arouse interest when someone or some part of the ecclesial bureaucracy is angry or frustrated with them. They often do not hear or do not hear often enough words of thanksgiving and gratitude from the likes of myself and would have reason to wonder if anyone even cares any more.

Of the sixteen of twenty-four who are celebrating anniversaries this year, there were two Benedictine sisters (blood sisters as well as sisters in religious life) who are celebrating eighty years of professed life. Imagine, they left their homes in Texas in 1932 to travel to San Antonio, Florida, and begin eight decades of witness to their Lord according to the rule of Benedict and Scholastica. The great depression was just getting rolling when they committed themselves and Hitler and his evil empire had not yet begun to make its presence known in Germany or Europe. Both taught school for years and years.

There were no twenty-five year or silver anniversary jubilarians this year (they are getting less and less) but there were a good number of golden (50) and diamond (60). One can’t help but love them. Their stories which are briefly summarized as they get a $25 gift certificate to Barnes and Noble (am I cheap, or what?) are always amazing. We would not be where we are were it not for the great work of these great women over the years. They know I both admire and love them and I suspect every reader of this post does as well. Health, happiness and holiness are my prayers for Brother Chris of Tampa Catholic and the sisters with whom we shared both the Eucharistic table on Saturday as well as a nice, simple meal. One requirement last Saturday, however, smacking of my memory of sisters of previous decades – we had to be through and back in place for the kick-off of Notre Dame’s amazing eleventh win against no losses. No losses in these jubilarians either – they are precious before the eyes of the Lord.

On Monday, I celebrated Mass (view photos by clicking here) at the Bethany Center for about sixty-two of the retired priests who reside within the five counties of the Diocese. We have about thirty-four retired priests of the diocese and another forty or fifty from other dioceses in the U.S. and Canada who spend either part of or the whole year here with us.

With our retired priests at the St. James Chapel at the Bethany Retreat Center. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

With our retired priests at the St. James Chapel at the Bethany Retreat Center. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Many of them have no place to go for Thanksgiving and were it not for our annual Mass and outing, there might be no turkey and all the trimmings for them. They are always so appreciative and those from other dioceses are amazed that they are invited and welcomed to this event. Unable to be present this year but in 2013 to be celebrating their seventieth anniversaries of ordination are Monsignor George Cummings and Benedictine Father James Hoge. Both are approaching or have reached their ninety-fifth birthday and there is a Franciscan Father who is also at or soon to reach this threshold.

I often suggest to our priests that we do not reflect enough on the “shoulders of the giants” on which we walk and among our retired diocesan priests, there are to be found outstanding examples of priestly zeal, courage, fidelity and effective ministry.

With both groups I reflected on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council which we are beginning to observe. More about that in forthcoming reflections here. For the meantime, even though my brother from Buffalo is arriving to spend Thanksgiving with his son and wife who live here and his grandaughter of two and his 8/9s of grandchild number two, a great part of my Thanksgiving has already been observed with my friends.

Finally, I would be a real ingrate if I did not thank God for all of you whom it is my privilege to serve, and I will tonight and tomorrow, at Mass and throughout the day. HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO ALL.



Monday, March 19th, 2012

Former CRS president Ken Hackett. Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent each year marks the occasion for the annual collection for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) throughout our country. Our church takes justifiable pride in this highly acclaimed and recognized organ of the Catholic Church in the United States which responds quickly and effectively to major disasters throughout the world and leads development efforts in many underdeveloped or at risk countries. While US Catholics contribute about 15 million each year to the CRS collection, the agency’s program expenses and outreach will this year for the first time exceed one billion dollars. The balance comes from agency fund-raising efforts and grants from the US government and other international agencies. CRS serves all of humankind, without favor to religion, race or sex. What makes its so highly effective are two things: its low cost administration (less than $10 for every $100 is spent on fundraising and administrative costs and when I left the Board chairmanship four years ago, the actual cost audited and accounted for was in the neighborhood of $7.00 for the one hundred given) and its partners throughout the world. What other organization has the network of Catholic Charities and parish structures for the delivery of services?

But yesterday’s major gift to Catholic Relief Services was the announcement that the University of Notre Dame had chosen its recently retired (three months ago) President and CEO, Kenneth Hackett for its prestigious “Laetare Medal” at the 2012 commencement ceremony. I would say that given the incredibly distinguished history of its recipients over the years, all Catholics I believe, this award is without parallel for its selectivity and recognition of service to the Church and to the Gospel. I was on the Search Committee, which recommended to the bishops’ only (at that time) Board of Directors that Hackett be appointed its CEO. When chosen, CRS had a program budget of about 200 million a year and, as I noted above, it now should exceed one billion in service to the poor of the world. Still, the administrative costs remain low. Much of this growth and much of its rise in prestige is due to Ken Hackett. He would rightly say that a tremendous staff at CRS backed him up and that is indeed true. But he was the right man at the right time to lead an organization in search of a mission and identity.

In his twenty plus years as CEO, Ken Hackett protected and enhanced its Catholic identity. When USAID balked at giving grants to CRS for anti-HIV retroviral medicines in nine nations in Africa and in Haiti because we did not distribute condoms (our government’s principal answer to stopping the pandemic), he never flinched from Catholic teaching and Catholic identity. And he led the agency in establishing a greater mission than disaster relief and the Thanksgiving Clothing Drive (older Catholics remember that one well) to remain and serve in countries by assisting them in self-help development work (like digging wells and providing for sanitation).

I can’t think of a more worthy recipient than Kenneth Hackett with whom I was privileged both to work side by side with and at the same time learn from about serving the poor. My commitment to and love for Pinellas Hope can be traced to two laymen who have taught me everything: Ken Hackett and Frank Murphy. Congratulations Notre Dame on an outstanding selection and congratulations Ken Hackett on winning this award, which is even more affirming than the honorary doctorate, conferred on you by the same institution a few years ago. And thanks, Notre Dame, for letting CRS woo your Dean of the Mendoza School of Business to succeed Ken Hackett as the person at the helm of the premier relief and development agency in the world.