Word came to me late yesterday of the deaths of two wonderful people. The Marist Fathers province informed us of the death of our dear Father Thomas Stokes, for many years the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City. Father Stokes retired last summer but remained around until the Fall when he returned to Ireland for the final time. I wrote lovingly about this man and his time among us last year and you can access that tribute by clicking here. For this moment, Father Tom did not have a long period of restful retirement, but now he rests in peace in that better place to which we all aspire and to which all of us who knew Father Stokes know that he is almost there, for sure.
When I arrived in the diocese in January of 1996, our communications officer was Joseph Mannion. He also died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Joe was one of the first people I heard about after my appointment as bishop became known as he had been a classmate and friend in Rome at the North American College of Cardinal William Keeler, a wonderful friend of mine and mentor to me. He told me that Joe and his wife remained close friends of his and that the diocese was blessed to have a communicator of his talent. Upon arriving, I found that Joe had been an on-air personality of Channel Eight here in the Tampa Bay area for a number of years and was a highly respected journalist in the newer medium of television. Joe was also the lobbyist in Tallahassee for Pasco County which necessitated his presence in the capital during legislative sessions and we were beginning to have the challenge of coming to know and handle the sexual misconduct claims of priests and other diocesan employees. It became almost impossible for Joe to represent both the county before the legislature and the Church before the media and he chose the county. A part of me always thought that because of his lifelong love of the Church and the priesthood, it was just awful for Joe to have to speak to these crimes of unspeakable pain and suffering perpetrated largely on minors. I would see Joe and his wife on occasion, always when his friend Cardinal Keeler was in town, and at the annual Red Mass in Tallahassee once each year when the bishops were in town. He was a great man in every way, a great servant of his Church and his faith, and a witness to both. May he rest in peace and may his wife Elizabeth and his sons be comforted by the memories of a life well lived and a service to the Lord and to humankind of the highest quality.
Finally, this brings me to the Lord’s most recent gifts. On Saturday last, I ordained eleven men to the transitional diaconate (this means simply that they are on their way to priesthood ordination next year and will serve as deacons only during a transitional period of thirteen months).
The ordination took place at our regional seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach where Monsignor David Toups is Rector and Monsignor Michael Muhr, both priests of our diocese, is spiritual director. Three of the eleven men were ordained for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. They are Brian Fabiszewski from St. Catherine parish in Largo, Jonathan Emery from St. Clement parish in Plant City, and Kyle Smith from Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Land O’ Lakes.
The other new deacons were from the Archdiocese of Miami, and the dioceses of Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola-Tallahassee. My opportunity to ordain at the seminary to the diaconate comes once every seven years as the owning bishops of the seminary rotate the privilege. It was a glorious day with a glorious liturgy and I departed confident that six of our dioceses would be getting eleven great priests a year from now. Pictures from the occasion can be found by clicking here, as is my homily (click here to read it) on this occasion.
So indeed with two deaths of friends, colleagues and witnesses to the faith, the Lord has taken from our midst great people, but in the ordination rite, the renewal of ranks continues and he gives us continued hope for the future.