Posts Tagged ‘Our Lady of Perpetual Help-Ybor City’


Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

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).

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

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.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

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.



Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

With Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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