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Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Last night (October 21, 2015) at the invitation of my great friend, Rabbi Jacob Luski, I had the privilege of joining with our Jewish sisters and brothers at Temple B’Nai Israel in St. Petersburg a reflection on the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council’s document on Catholic/Jewish relations entitled Nostra Aetate.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

Giving my presentation. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.


With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

With my good friend Rabbi Jacob Luski. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.



A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

A wonderful evening. Photo kindness of Dr. Michael Tkacik.

I have invited Rabbi Luski to present his reflections, fifty years out, next Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Jude at seven p.m. and I hope you might think of attending his presentation as he reflects on that moment five decades ago from his, Jewish perspective. Below is my presentation as delivered:

The 50th Anniversary of the Promulgation of The Second Vatican Council’s Nostra Aetate: Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions—Highlights and Ongoing Contemporary Challenges presented by Bishop Robert N. Lynch, Roman Catholic Bishop of St. Petersburg, at Temple B’Nai Israel, October 21, 2015 

Among the many gifts that Pope John XXIII, now a saint,  provided the Church via his call for aggiornamento, i.e., “renewal”, when he announced the convening of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) was his guidance in seeking a new disposition on the part of the Church towards our Jewish brothers and sisters.  Pope John’s personal experiences as an apostolic delegate in Turkey from 1935-1944 informed his commitment to the Council’s statement on the

Church’s relationship with Judaism articulated in section 4 of Nostra Aetate, i.e., The Declaration on the Church’s Relationship with Non-Christian Religions, as did his visit with the noted Jewish historian Jules Isaac during the Council’s preparatory phase in 1960. Isaac’s presentation to the Pope regarding Christianity’s history of Anti-Semitism via its perpetuation of a “teaching of contempt” which suggested Providential punishment of the Jews for the crucifixion of Jesus—with the accompanying charge of deicide—as well as Christianity’s supersessionistic tendencies (suggestions that Judaism had been eclipsed as God’s promises were diverted unto Jesus and as Jesus’ teachings replaced/fulfilled the teachings and prophecies of Judaism) had a transformational effect upon the Pope who, in turn, utilized the Council as a means to move the Church beyond a teaching of contempt into to a teaching of respect.

Producing a Conciliar text on Jews and Judaism was a priority of Pope John XXIII and he utilized the leadership genius of Cardinal Augustin Bea, S.J. (one of whose main advisors was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel) and the Council’s Committee on Christian Unity to ensure that the question of the Church’s relationship with Judaism remained a focal point throughout the various stages and draft documents of the Council.  Their efforts gave us Nostra Aetate #4 which, in turn, ushered in an attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism within Catholicism.

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).

This new attitude of respect towards Jews and Judaism outlined in the seminal document we recall this evening outlined for we Catholics a new appreciation for Judaism which can be said to be nothing short of a conversion of heart, mind, theology and Church. Pope Francis recently stated that the document represents a definitive “yes” to the Jewish roots of Christianity and an irrevocable “no” to Anti-Semitism. Nostra Aetate, in contrast to the historical attitude of contempt mentioned moments ago, acknowledged and affirmed that Judaism:

  1. Provides Christians the beginnings of our understanding of God’s revelation and Providential designs for the redemption and salvation of all people via the promises and word God spoke through the Jewish patriarchs, matriarchs and prophets


  1. Is the root from which Christianity derives its sustenance for from Judaism comes God’s promises and covenant…and for Christians it also yielded Jesus, Mary, the disciples and the apostles


  1. Has not been deprived of the call and gifts God issued to its people


  1. Ought not be charged with Jesus’ Passion nor attributed guilt associated thereunto


  1. Has not been rejected nor cursed by God in light of the Jesus Event


Additionally, these few paragraphs of such significance called upon Catholics to:


  1. Ensure that our teaching and preaching convey this new attitude of respect


  1. Oppose any and all forms of persecution and expressions of Anti-Semitism


  1. Engage in dialogues such as this very one tonight which seek to advance mutual understanding and respect between our two great faiths

With Nostra Aetate and its inspired renewal of our relations with one another as our springboard, may we now consider some of the advances that the Catholic Church has made towards a teaching of respect toward Judaism in the 50 years since its promulgation. These focal points are by no means exhaustive of the great work towards greater respect, understanding and reconciliation between our two faith traditions that has been made over the past 50 years but, rather, highlights which not only illuminate the progress we have made but also shed light on the challenges we still face:

Vatican Commission for Catholic-Jewish Relations (CCJR) and International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC)

1974 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Guidelines for Implementing Nostra Aetate

1985 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Notes on the Correct Way to Present Jews and Judaism in Preaching and Catechesis

1998 Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews Reflections on the Shoah

Each of these three documents produced by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews continues and expands upon the positive trajectory towards Jews and Judaism introduced by Nostra Aetate.

Each of the documents:

  1. Increasingly emphasize that Jesus, Mary, the disciples and majority of the early

apostles were Jewish so as to accentuate the Jewish origins of Christianity…

  1. Therefore, call for expanded dialogue and joint theological undertakings between the two faiths
  1. Repudiate characterizations of the Jewish people as Christ-killers with accompanying charges of deicide and/or suggestions that Jews are cursed by God
  1. Affirm that the Jewish people remain dear to God for the sake of the patriarchs/matriarchs and maintain that God has not taken back the gifts He bestowed upon the Jewish people nor His choice of them as His people
  1. Call for an appreciation of the liturgical links between the two traditions and cautions Catholics against liturgical aspects which might present the Jewish people in an unfavorable light
  1. Affirm the theocentric anthropology and commitment to social justice shared by the two faiths
  1. Consistently reject Anti-Semitism of any kind

The ILC has met regularly since 1970, drawing together the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations (including participants from the World Jewish Congress, Synagogue Council of America and American Jewish Committee) together with the Vatican’s Committee on Catholic-Jewish Relations in order to improve mutual understanding between the two religious communities and to exchange information pertinent to greater collaboration. A most significant outcome of the work of the ILC is a renewed understanding of the Church’s missionary and evangelization efforts which precludes seeking to proselytize/convert Jews.


Pope John Paul II

From his 1979 prayers at Auschwitz…to his 1986 visit to the chief synagogue in Rome (the first pope in history to do so and which spawned a life-long friendship between John Paul and the Chief Rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff)…to the establishment of diplomatic ties between the Holy See and Israel in 1993…to his prayers for forgiveness offered at Yad Vashem and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem in 2000, the late Pope utilized his papacy to help build a new relationship between the Church and the Jewish people. John Paul II frequently referred to the Jewish people as the elder siblings of Christians, noting that the Christian relationship with Judaism is unlike its relationship with any other religion—Judaism is intrinsic to Christianity and to be ignorant of Judaism is to be ignorant of Jesus, Mary, and the disciples. Perhaps most powerfully, John Paul II consistently insisted on the eternal validity of God’s covenant with the Jewish people—a covenant, the pope maintained, never revoked! The pope consistently affirmed the ongoing validity of the divine election of the Jewish people—an existence he attributed to a supernatural commitment.

Additionally, under John Paul’s leadership, the Bilateral Commission of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and the Holy See was established has met annually since 2002.

A challenge moving forward entails significant theological inquiry regarding soteriology— theology of redemption and salvation—in light of covenantal theology and Christology and understandings of God’s Word (Logos/dabar)…While the enduring nature of the Jewish covenant has been consistently affirmed by the Church, the Magisterium nonetheless rejects theological explanations which suggest that there are two distinct covenants—Jewish and Christian—which serve as equally viable means of salvation. Therefore the contemporary theological challenge is one confronted with the challenge of considering how Jews and Christians are united in a single covenantal relationship with God which is meaningful and salvific to both traditions from their respective experiences and convictions (Cardinal Kasper).

Moving forward there can be no place for any trace of former supersessionist, replacement or fulfillment theologies and the Christ Event cannot be used in any way which devalues Judaism.

Exclusivist covenant language cannot be placed in opposition to God’s creative and redeeming love which is universal in scope.]

(See Elena Procario-Foley’s, Heir or Orphan? Theological Evolution and Devolution before and after Nostra Aetate in Vatican II Forty Years Later edited by William Madges).


Pontifical Biblical Commission

The Pontifical Biblical Commission’s The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scripture  (2002) challenges Christian readers to appreciate the dignity of a Jewish reading and understanding of the Bible as well as addresses how Christians ought to address certain New Testament passages which convey anti-Jewish sentiments. This text expands upon Nostra  Aetate’s directives regarding Church teaching and preaching to encompass each and every Christian’s responsible reading of Scripture thereby rendering an attitude of respect and understanding a duty incumbent upon every Christian to be assimilated into one’s own reading of Scripture and personal piety. Additionally, the document offers an appraisal of messianic expectations within Judaism acknowledging that the messianic character of Jesus was a possible interpretation but not the sole nor necessary interpretation of messianic prophecies, therefore suggesting that Jesus is not the only possible fulfillment of messianic expectations.

The challenge moving forward is empowering each and every person with the wherewithal to critically read, interpret and understand Scripture sensitive to issues such as context, climate, culture, respect for respective religious sensitivities, etc. Institutionally, greater sensitivity to potentially anti-Jewish sentiments in preaching (stereotypes of Scribes and Pharisees; Lenten devotions which may depict Jews as hypocritical; characterizations/presentations in the Liturgy of the Hours which are suggestive of Jews lacking faith), liturgical art, etc. is also warranted for what the Church prays is an expression of what the Church believes (Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi).  On the theological level there is much to consider in terms of messianism and eschatology, i.e., as God draws us all proleptically to His consummating designs for humanity might we all be drawn unto Him in ways yet made known? .

(See James M. Barrens’ In Our Time (Nostra Aetate): How Catholics and Jews Built a New Relationship; The Catholic and Church and The Jewish People: Recent Reflections from Rome edited by Philip A. Cunningham, Norbert J. Hofmann and Joseph Sievers and Ecumenism and Interreligious Dialogue by Edward Cardinal Cassidy).

Local Steps Toward Mutual Respect

Walking God’s Path

Closer to home we, too, have experienced the fruits of what Nostra Aetate began.  Within the Diocese which I shepherd we have partnered with numerous Jewish communities to advance mutual respect and understanding by teaming with one another in parish/synagogue hosted considerations of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Walking God’s Paths  (2004) series which draws us together in order to realize Nostra Aetate’s instruction to dialogue and learn from one another. Walking God’s Paths is a six-session process to stimulate candid conversation between Jewish and Christian congregations. Produced by the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College on behalf and with the oversight of the National Council of Synagogues and the Bishops’ Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the series enables participants to experience each tradition’s understanding of how it walks God’s path and how the two faith communities could relate to one another in positive ways (See Walking God’s Path website).

The Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs Committee of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops together with The National Council of Synagogues USA and other Jewish bodies have worked together to produce over a dozen documents over the past 35 years alone—Uniting our faith traditions in efforts to promote peace, protect children and the environment, combat religious intolerance, end the death penalty and promote moral education within schools. (See the USCCB website).

A challenge moving forward is maintaining such grassroots efforts as the zeal and fervor of the Vatican II generation wanes. How do we continue to foster and promote continued dialogue whereby we authentically strive to enter into the experience of the other?  How do we accentuate our commonly shared commitment to preparing for God’s Kingdom?

We must also broaden our dialogue to include other faiths and people of good will.

A Blessing to One Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People

In 2008 the Diocese of St. Petersburg helped to sponsor the exhibit: A Blessing to One  Another: Pope John Paul II and the Jewish People at the Florida Holocaust Museum. The exhibit illustrated the steps Pope Saint John Paul II took to improve the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish people noted above, and reflected the continuing relevance of Nostra Aetate.

Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies

Together with my fellow Bishop from the Diocese of Venice, the late Bishop John J. Nevins, the American Jewish Committee and the Catholic University within our Diocese, Saint Leo University, the Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies was established in 1999 with the mission of building mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation between Jews, Catholics, and all  people of good will by providing opportunities for interfaith education and dialogue. The objectives of the Center are to educate the public on issues germane to both religions and to foster intellectual discussion, as seen from both points of view. Together in the spirit of the Hebrew Tikkun Olam (trying to repair/improve the world), the Center models and promotes tolerance, justice, and compassion in a world torn by strife and prejudice among religions and nations. These objectives are met through conferences, town hall meetings, interreligious dialogue, and gatherings of young Jews and Catholics sharing their faith together.

Over the course of the next 8 weeks the Center is sponsoring a series of events much like this one devoted to understanding contemporary interfaith challenges in light of the seminal teachings of Nostra  Aetate. (See Center for Catholic-Jewish Studies website). Over 40 such centers now exist in the United States.

As the sun more rapidly sets on my privilege of serving my church in the five counties, I see God’s hand in my presence among you this evening. Twenty years ago this coming January 26th, Jacob Luski patiently set among an overflow crowd at St. Jude’s Cathedral for my ordination as bishop. He was among the first I greeted. He and JoAnn have had me as a guest in their home and at the one child’s wedding I was able to attend. When the moment arrived two years ago for the rededication of the remodeled Cathedral of St. Jude, I came here to learn from the master how to interpret the scripture passage from Nehemiah about the Temple and he taught me well enough that citing my source, I used his material for part of my homily that evening. I learned from him that one never answers a direct question if one can first tell a story.

Above all, he taught me how to be reflective, reconciling, and renewed in understanding contemporary Judaism in America. Little wonder that at my invitation he spent a morning with seventy-five per cent of my priests which they still remember with fondness and gratitude. For myself, he has been my Rabbi Skorka. Though our schedules often preclude many opportunities to meet and share, I will walk into retirement and eternity forever grateful to my personal rabbi and friend, his wife and family.

Pope Francis

I think it appropriate that we gather this evening—not only to celebrate the gift that Nostra Aetate has been to our two faiths over the past 50 years and to consider the contemporary challenges which still confront us– but also as we look ahead in the midst of new leadership within the Catholic Church under Pope Francis on the eve of what he has called to be an upcoming year of mercy! Like both Pope John XXIII and John Paul II before him, Pope Francis is truly a people’s pope—a pope pastorally inspired to discover new ways and means to convey the love, mercy and joy of our God unto greater inclusivity and solidarity among all peoples. A jubilee year reminds us all of God’s ultimate sovereignty over all and calls upon us to surrender anew unto Him and His Providential designs.  It is a call for forgiveness, new beginnings and humility before God and one another.  It is a call to discover how we are to understand our relationship with one another through the lens of our relationship with the one and same God whom we serve.  Towards that end, allow me to close with the words of Pope Francis voiced in his first apostolic letter which summarizes succinctly and well the attitude of respect that Nostra Aetate inspired 50 years ago:

  1. We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
  2. Dialogue and friendship with the children of Israel are part of the life of Jesus’ disciples. The friendship which has grown between us makes us bitterly and sincerely regret the terrible persecutions which they have endured, and continue to endure, especially those that have involved Christians.
  3. God continues to work among the people of the Old Covenant and to bring forth treasures of wisdom which flow from their encounter with his word. For this reason, the Church also is enriched when she receives the values of Judaism. While it is true that certain Christian beliefs are unacceptable to Judaism, and that the Church cannot refrain from proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Messiah, there exists as well a rich complementarity which allows us to read the texts of the Hebrew Scriptures together and to help one another to mine the riches of God’s word. We can also share many ethical convictions and a common concern for justice and the development of peoples.

Evangelium Gaudium


Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Father Carl Melchior, Father William "Bill" Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Carl Melchior, Father William “Bill” Santhouse, Father Ryan Boyle, Father Steven “Chuck” Dornquast, myself, Father Anthony Ustick and Father Curtis Carro. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens. See more photos from the ordination here.

Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
St. Petersburg, FL
Saturday, May 16, 2015

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop

Hebrews 5:1-10
2 Corinthians 5:14-20
John 15: 9-17

The entire Church of St. Petersburg rejoices this morning that these five young men, Curtis, Ryan, Chuck, Anthony and Bill are offering their lives to Christ and his Church in priestly ministry. It is worth noting  that this morning’s ordination is of the largest class since 1991. God is good and these men are incredibly generous.

They chose the readings for their ordination Mass and their choices they reveal to me, and I hope to all of you as well, their hopes and aspirations for their priesthood beginning in just a few minutes.. For a few moments then, I wish to reflect on what we might expect from our new priests based on the readings they have chosen (five points): from Hebrews: deal patiently with the ignorant and the erring, reverence, and obedience. From 2 Corinthians: being an ambassador for Christ; and from the Fourth Gospel: love without limit.

Earlier this week, research from the Pew Foundation revealed two things that I suspect we all knew but were reluctant to admit. First, Pew said, for every new convert to Catholicism, six people leave our Church. Second, Catholicism in this country would be in deep decline numerically were it not for the Hispanic immigrants we currently enjoy and even there thirty-five percent of all Hispanic Catholics are leaving the Church of their baptism for other religions. In fairness I have to admit that we are not alone in the loss category and we know that America is becoming less Christian.  Nonetheless, we as Church have a Gospel challenge to face, meet and defeat.

We don’t teach what we believe as well as we should. We rely perhaps too heavily on old methods of communication and put too much reliance on traditional vestige, hierarchy of orders and judgment. We often hide in the clothes of the past as well as some of the ideas of the past, disregarding the fact that to today’s younger generation not only are these things devoid of meaning and anachronistic but also some can suggest tendencies that may not otherwise be present.

Dear brothers, we can basically only choose two paths to our ministry: to cling to a notion of priesthood and ministry and see our older Catholics and ourselves off to eternity, or adapt when possible and stop fighting some of these the new realities. Your generation will never be content with simply embracing a religion that they feel helped their moms and dads but has little meaning and relevance to their own lived experience. They are there, this younger generation of the baptized Catholic,  ripe for the picking, when approached with a reasoned, kind, patient, welcoming ministry, which includes not only we who are ordained, but people like themselves as well, the people of God.

Reverence is a two-way street, not one way. God so loved the world that even Jesus’ “prayers and supplications with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death” to many seemed unanswered. The Son was forever and always reverent to the Father, BUT he continually showed reverence to those to whom he ministered. If we are indeed made in the image and likeness of God, then every person you meet expects to be treated with reverence. And that is not an easy task, especially when someone is mad at you, frustrated with you or with the Church and to them the Church is nothing more than a  seemingly endless list of do’s and don’ts. Allow me Just a hint from a thirty-seven year old veteran: cry out and cry to the Lord, not to the person in front of you remembering that God still asked his Son, the great high priest, to die for us.

Obedience today is elusive. It may mean something to you today when you already know where you are being assigned and are happy with it and it will mean something else to you when you are asked to go somewhere, do something, which you really do not want to do. Obedience this morning is easy, tomorrow it might be difficult. But here the writer of Hebrews points out something I hope none of we priests ever forget: Jesus “learned obedience from what he suffered.” If you wish to act in persona Christi then like Christ himself, accept the tough, the unattractive, the taunts and taints, yes, even the sufferings as he did. He could have exempted himself from this passion but he did not and why should we? Understand well the deep meaning of the promise of obedience and respect and make it a part of your regular prayer.

In Paul’s words to the Church in Corinth, all of us are to be ambassadors for Christ. When the President of the United States appoints a “fat cat” who contributed millions to his or her campaign to serve as the United States Ambassador to the Court of St. James (Great Britain) that person surrenders their personal agenda, their personal ideas of defense and finance, their personal likes and don’t likes, part of their intellectual independence to the will and person of the President who appointed them. They carry both the message and agenda of their President and his ideas, his mission in service, his goals and objectives to the government and people where they serve, and not their own. In other words, apart from their personal and private lives, ambassadors become more than merely a representative but they take on the persona of the person who sent them. If we are to be ambassadors for Christ, we should never be content with just being his emissary but rather we should strive to present his persona: kind, compassionate, loving, forgiving, merciful, healing, non-judgmental except and unless all else has failed.

Style your ministry after Pope Francis. Ever the teacher, he is a master of the use of the gesture which captures the hearts of the world. Why, because he acts like most of us think Christ would act. He speaks with authority only when he has to but with wisdom and understanding and openness. He doesn’t hide behind rich vestments and vestiges of power and privilege but leads by example using words only when absolutely necessary. When Raul Castro can suggest that this Pope is truly an ambassador for God, we least of all,  should never take him for granted.

Deacons Ryan, Bill, Anthony, Curtis and Chuck – for God’s sake and the people’s good, be the first of the Church’s Francis priests. It means you will always make yourselves  open to vulnerability, ever in search of the lost, truly satisfied with little material things, consistently a lover of the poor, forever a true promoter of justice –  in other words, ambassadors for Christ.

Finally, try to remember the motto of the man who in moments will lay hands on you and anoint your hands for God’s work. Love one another and stay close to each other as friends in the priesthood, which for a few years will be tricky given Ryan’s ministry. You have chosen the chapter and verse of John’s Gospel from which nineteen and a half years ago I chose the words by which I would try to live out my ministry in this great diocese.  God chose you, I did not. Others have formed you, I did not. Love God, love one another, and join me in loving and working tirelessly for our friends. Priesthood is a privilege but not a privileged place. Like the master, choose always to serve and not to be served. Love one another as he has loved us.



Wednesday, October 15th, 2014
Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. conducts Benediction service at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

Father Chris Fitzgerald, I.C. at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Seffner. Photo kindness of Ed Foster, Jr.

I am woefully late in posting this tribute to a great priest of the diocese who recently went home to the “house of the Father”. Father Christopher Fitzgerald, IC a priest for fifty-six years died just as I was leaving for Rome and the ordination to the diaconate of Rev. Mr. Ryan Boyle. It is interesting to me that on the very day I was ordained to the diaconate at St. Clement’s parish church in Fort Lauderdale by the late Archbishop Edward McCarthy, a wonderful Lithuanian priest with whom I lived at St. James parish in North Miami, suffered a major and eventually fatal heart attack (Father George Razutis) and I went right to his hospital room after the ordination and I have not forgotten what he said to me then: “It is all right, Bob, today God gives his Church a new priest and takes to Himself an old one.” When I arrived in Rome and learned of Father Fitz’s death, I immediately thought of that moment thirty-seven years ago.

Father Chris’ final years were spent in the loving care of his long-time Associate Pastor at St. Francis of Assisi parish in Seffner, Father Michael O’Neill. Aided by a staff which clearly loved their founding pastor, they were all able to take care of him until skilled nursing care was required but they never abandoned him to the loneliness of a nursing home but were present to him as often as they could be. Father Fitzgerald was ordained a priest in 1958 having been born in Ballyporeen in County Tipperary, Ireland on January 3, 1932. He was ordained as a member of a religious order called the “Institute of Charity” in Tanzania and served his first two years there before having to leave because of serious health issues. His order sent him to Florida where he first served for eleven years at Blessed Sacrament in Seminole and then briefly in Port Charlotte and then St. Paul, St. Petersburg.

In 1973, he became pastor of St. Anne Church in Ruskin where he served for fourteen years. While there he fell in love with the growing Hispanic population, mostly Mexican and strove not just to minister to them but to learn their language as much as he could. He was a faithful son of Anthony Rosmini who founded the Institute of Charity to serve the poor and needy in a diocesan priest-like formation and ministry program. Rosmini was ahead of his times in many ways and irritated the established clerical system of the time and found himself condemned in a way by the Holy Office (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith). The fathers of his order, however, continued to pursue the charism of their founder despite the “cloud” under which Rosmini stood. Father Fitz gave me a copy of a biography of Rosmini when I first came and I found it fascinating. The I.C.’s staff the parishes of Blessed Sacrament Seminole, St. Theresa in Spring Hill, and St. Francis of Assisi in Seffner and they have been great priests in this diocese and we are indebted to them.

In 1987, Father Fitzgerald was made the first pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish, newly abuilding in Seffner with parishioners “cut off” from the then gigantic Nativity parish in Brandon (much to the chagrin of the Brandon pastor at that time, Monsignor Jaime Lara, who was still complaining about the “theft” in 1996 when I came here as bishop in 1996). St. Francis under Father Chris’ leadership became quite a faith community and the turn-out for this funeral (nine days after his death) attested to the love which they had for him. During his time there, his order chose him as Provincial of the Province in the United States and he had to travel more than he would have liked because he missed the parish so much. His contribution to Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg as my personal delegate placed him right where he and Rosmini would have liked him to be – on the front lines of charity. Father Fitzgerald would live to see the total rehabilitation by no less a person than Josef Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which once had condemned Anthony Rosmini and he was able to attend his beatification in Rome. Now Pope Benedict XVI would beatify Anthony Rosmini in November, 2007.

Every bishop when he buries a priest buries a brother in the priestly ministry and I am finding it increasingly difficult to preside over these moments because I am saying good-bye to my contemporaries who in so many ways have served the Church better than perhaps I have. Father Fitz and I had a special relationship and he asked that I both celebrate his funeral Mass and preach at it as well. Twelve hours after getting off the plane from Rome, I did as asked and I wish to share with you my homily for this great priest which you can read by clicking here.



Saturday, September 20th, 2014
Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane's website.

Bishop Blase Cupich. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Spokane’s website.

Many of you may not be all that aware of Simeon and Anna in the New Testament. Simeon was an official at the temple in Jerusalem at the time of the Lord’s birth. When Mary and Joseph brought the infant child Jesus to the Temple for the Presentation, Simeon exclaimed with great personal joy, “Now, Master, you have kept your word. You can dismiss your servant (meaning himself) in peace (meaning Simeon was ready to go to his death), your word has been fulfilled.”

That’s is somewhat how I felt last night as word began to spread that this morning Pope Francis would be announcing that a wonderful friend of mine of many years and a great bishop was being named to the great Archdiocese of Chicago. That person is Bishop Blase Cupich about whom I have written previously in this space.

He worked at the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington while I was working at the National Conference of Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and shortly after I came to St. Petersburg as bishop, he was made Bishop of the Diocese of Rapid City in South Dakota. More recently he was transferred to Spokane, Washington where he has spent the last four years.

He has addressed the priests of the St. Petersburg diocese twice at my invitation, first as Spiritual Director for our annual October convocation and then at the time of the implementation of the new translation of the Roman Missal. He is 65 years old but with the energy of a much younger person. He will need it in Chicago which has had a succession in recent decades of very fine archbishops (Joseph Cardinal Bernardin and Francis Cardinal George). The former preached at my episcopal ordination in 1996 at St. Jude Cathedral and the latter has been in the diocese on several occasions, including more recently, four years ago as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops when they held their Spring Assembly in our fair city.

Cardinal George reached the mandatory retirement age of 75 two years ago and is currently quite publicly dealing with an aggressive form of cancer. Through it all, gallantly like his predecessor Cardinal Bernardin, he has witnessed beautiful Christian faith and hope as  one experimental cancer drug after another has been tried out on him. Let us pray for Cardinal George, that the Lord’s will be done for him and that he be spared every suffering possible. Tonight, I suspect, that Canticle of Simeon which I quoted above will be recited with added meaning by Cardinal George.

Bishop Cupich has shown wonderful leadership skills in so many areas but his appointment to Chicago will be quite a test. It is a large and culturally and linguistically diverse city consisting of just two counties and two million Catholics. The last two Archbishops of Chicago have also been tapped for national leadership positions as well as international congregational and council assignments within the purview of the Holy See.

It is much like New York, where Cardinal Timothy Dolan has either been called to national leadership (President of the USCCB) or chosen to accept a time-consuming outside the Archdiocese of New York responsibility (Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services) or papal appointments which require his presence in Rome on a regular basis. These duties often lead the local churches they serve to complain that their archbishop is always away which is one way of looking at it but I prefer that the particular talent of the Archbishop is a gift to be shared with the larger church. New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be full-time responsibilities for any human, but the burdens of these places are larger.

I mentioned Cardinal Dolan above and one interesting fact which I can share with you which I have not seen elsewhere is that Cardinal Dolan, Archbishops Cupich, Schnurr (of Cincinnati) and Bishop Cote (of Norwich, CT) were all staff to the late Cardinal Pio Laghi at the Washington nunciature, mostly at the same time. Only one US member of that staff from that time period has not made it to the hierarchy of this country and all of the aforementioned colleagues of his, as well as myself, would say that he would have made a great bishop. Monsignor Bernard Yarrish, a priest of the Scranton diocese, who from his room in a Carmelite Sisters of the Aged and Infirm Assisted Care facility in Wilkes Barre, PA must be smiling at the latest news of one of his friends. Monsignor Yarrish whom I think the world of has been dealing with a debilitating disease for some time, but he especially was a jewel of this quintet. Cardinal Laghi and Cardinal Bernardin must have had some reunion last night and today in heaven.

So why am I so excited about this news? I think it is but one more, albeit very important, sign of the seriousness with which Pope Francis takes his mandate to recapture the spirit, vision and direction of the Second Vatican Council. Though I have never asked him this directly, I know the new Archbishop of Chicago would say that he admires deeply the ecclesiology and vision Archbishops John Raphael Quinn (ex of San Francisco), Archbishop Joseph A Fiorenza (ex of Galveston-Houston), Cardinal William Keeler (ex of Baltimore), Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk (ec of Cincinnati), Archbishop Wilton Gregory of Atlanta, Bishop Anthony Pilla (ex of Cleveland), and Bishop William Skylstad (who on November 18th when Archbishop Cupich is installed in Chicago will share with the new Archbishop the moniker of “ex of Spokane”).

There is a plethora of things to be read and watched about today’s happenings and as always I recommend to you the mother of all ecclesial blogs, Whispers in the Loggia as well as a piece of reflection which I think is spot on written by Michael Sean Winters for the National Catholic Reporter and if you go to the websites of The Chicago Tribune or The Chicago Sun Times you can find almost everything you want to know about this new “breeze” blowing now in the Windy City and soon to visit the places where you live and pray and play. For myself today, the Master has indeed kept his word.



















Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice's website.

Most Reverend John J. Nevins, D.D. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Venice’s website.

Last night around 930pm, Bishop Frank Dewane of Venice called to inform me that Bishop John J. Nevins had just gone home to the Father. Bishop Nevins was the first bishop of Venice when the diocese was  established  in October of 1984. He and I lived on the same property in Miami for five years as I succeeded him as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in 1979, but he remained on property as Auxiliary Bishop of Miami till his appointment to Venice in 1984.

An only child of first generation Irish parents, the bishop grew up in New Rochelle, New York where his education was largely in the hands of the Irish Christian brothers. Graduating from Iona College (also run by the Irish Christian Brothers) he entered the seminary for the Fathers of Mercy, a religious order of men, and studied at the Catholic University of America. Just before his ordination to the diaconate, the Fathers of Mercy were disbanded, leaving young John Nevins with no place to go.

A wonderful Sulpician priest recommended that the “homeless” seminarian contact Bishop Coleman F. Carroll who was in his second year as bishop of the new diocese of  Miami and upon doing that he was accepted as a seminarian for Miami and ordained to the priesthood on D-Day the sixth of June 1959. He held many positions in Miami including pastor of several parishes, director of Catholic Charities, and Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary from 1974 till October 10, 1979. Venice was made a diocese in June of 1984 (along with Palm Beach) and he was installed as the first bishop in October of the same year. He served as active bishop for twenty three years until succeeded in office by Bishop Dewane.

I remember very well the consultation which preceded the decision to erect Venice as a diocese. Many people pointed out that it would be a challenging diocese to administer for a number of reasons, the major being that the population of the expected counties to be included consisted of many seniors and finding enough priests from within the diocese would be unlikely. True to predictions, the diocesan population grew very quickly and the need for priests increased even more exponentially than predicted.

It was also a large diocese. Since Bishop W. Thomas Larkin was a classmate in graduate school of St. John Paul II (he taught the pope his English), he was in the driver’s seat in shaping the size of the new diocese, ninety per cent of which was formerly the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Bishop Nevins, faced with these foreseen challenges and many more unforeseen led the diocese often by sheer force of his wining, loveable, Irish personality. He was always a good priest and a person of the people. He was also at the top his game when a priest was in trouble, caring for them and trying to get them the help they needed. In Miami and in Venice, he will be fondly remembered until we all die off as a “priests’ bishop”. Lay people and religious also responded to him well.

He could occasionally be unpredictable as when presiding at the funeral of Dr. Ben Shepherd, the seminary’s doctor, in the seminary chapel during the homily he walked down placed his hand on the casket and told the grieving widow in these precise words, “you know, the shell is still here but the nut is gone!” She shrieked in grief while the rest of us struggled to control our laughter. On the occasion of his 25th anniversary of his ordination, also in the seminary chapel, he began his homily with this line: “my mother and father were peasants” and I thought his mother, Ann, was going to come right out of the pew and “crown” her son.

John Nevins lived his life for his God and for his mother. He began to change and age and start his own walk to heaven’s gate when his mother died. I accompanied he and the casket on a bitterly cold December 27th to Kilkar, County Donegal, where she is buried. When the two of us climbed in the car to leave for Shannon and the next day’s flight home, it was akin to his spirit dropping like low blood pressure. He was a hoarder, never throwing anything away, but were you to visit his home, you had to be struck by the number of pictures of he and Pope John Paul II and he and his mother. It was like he was in love with both.

His period of declining health was long and drawn out and very sad. Bishop Dewane and the Chancellor, Dr. Volodymyr Smeryk took great care of the bishop. He had no other family than the Church and the Church cared deeply and lovingly for him. Many of us, bishops of Florida and priests, have missed him the last seven years during his declining health and next Wednesday at 11 a.m. when we gather at Epiphany Cathedral for his funeral Mass, everyone will have their own memories and recollections. I have shared only a slither of what I could say about this good man and I thank God for coming for him last night and ending his confinement.

Norman Rockwell once painted a picture of a very young John Nevins for the cover of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST magazine. Young Johnny was a red-head with freckles looking expectantly for something coming which was not there. Now he has seen the Lord and the same broad smile as in the Rockwell painting must be on his face.



Monday, August 11th, 2014

If six hours late last night seemed ominous, I woke up in Sacramento this morning and after consulting my watch discovered that we were now nine hours late. During the night, in Oakland, the Union Pacific Railroad lent us another locomotive which attached on to the one AMTRAK engine that couldn’t and the one that could. In addition, in Oakland we added three more cars to the rear of the train which are “Private Cars” chartered by people with more money than God. Sacramento which was scheduled as a twenty-five minute stop took an hour and we just get later and later. Tim’s flight home tomorrow from Seattle is at 830am and we are to arrive in Seattle, if we are lucky which God knows we  have not been so far, at 300am. I am once again more worried about my brother than the ill locomotives.

There is a good side of what has happened to us in that we are seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the West which normally would be traversed at night and in total darkness. As I type this I am looking at gorgeous Mt. Shasta and there is more awesome scenery to come as we journey through Klamath Falls and the Pacific Cascade mountains.

The Second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

The second day is spent in the Cascade Mountains.

Tim and I slept well in our respective cubicles, oblivious to anything happening to or on the train. At breakfast we sat with a couple who should have boarded the train in Emeryville (San Francisco but across the Bay Bridge) at 954pm last night but instead boarded at 550am this morning. All night long in a train station in Oakland with little information about when their train would arrive. So I guess Tim and I were lucky and he seems to be feeling better each hour which is something of a relief to me because I am now concerned about putting him on the plane tomorrow with no sleep.

He continues to “shine” in the dining car with his stories about the railroads of the past and he is a great story teller. I think our Dad would be proud of him because of his love of trains. He detests Republicans because they want to eliminate AMTRAK (among other things) so I hold my breath when he begins to venture into politics. Sometimes I have to kick him, under the table, of course. When a tablemate mentioned FOX News and their slogan, “fair and balanced”, Tim retorted “We deceive, you decide!” Such are the risks of traveling with Tim.

From what I can tell, the passengers don’t seem too concerned about the delay. Most people just shrug it off and say something like, “It’s AMTRAK, what do you expect?” A long time ago I purchased a scanner which allows me to eavesdrop on conversations on trains between the crew and between the engineer and the dispatcher. On this trip, I have to say that the host railroad, the Union Pacific, has handled this train very well and we have yet to be delayed by pulling into a passing siding to await a freight. The serious part of the delay on this trip is owing to AMTRAK not maintaining their motive power to reliable standards. Because we were so late last night and arrived at major station stops like San Jose, California, Oakland’s two AMTRAK stops, the car attendants have had little time to sleep but they seem to be maintaining their sense of good cheer and that might translate into passenger behavior being more passive. We will see what happens later tonight when they run out of food and beverage.

This morning I read the editorial in THE TAMPA BAY TIMES which picks up on my recent blog about the children of Central America who are being shipped across the border by their parents. I am grateful to the editorial board of the TIMES for their support of my call for a humanitarian response to this situation.

We arrived in Klamath Falls, Oregon at about 445pm and I made my first decision in consultation with Tim. We are going to “bale” on the Coast Starlight in Tacoma rather than ride it all the way into Seattle. The airport lies half way between the two cities so why go all the way into Seattle at 3am only to backtrack halfway. I called the airport hotel where we had reservations and they gave me the number for Yellow Cab who assured me a driver would be awaiting our arrival. Both of us will try to get four hours of sleep on the train prior to arriving in Tacoma and then his plane to Fort Lauderdale is at 830am – poor guy.

At five-thirty, AMTRAK is feeding all the coach passengers with a free “conscience” meal, apologizing in doing so for the incredible tardiness of the train. I must find out what they gave them. They do have a version of the military’s “Ready to Eat” meals but I hope that is not what they are getting. A refund would be much more appreciated!

The on-board crew is slowly beginning to show some times of too much work and too little rest. Amazingly, if they get into Seattle as predicted around 300am, they report back on duty at 700am and work the southbound train back to Los Angeles which is their home base. Tim and I both have an affection for railroad people, since we were both one of them at sometime in our lives.

We bailed in Tacoma where it was 422am when the Sunset Limited came to a stop. The taxi I had ordered to take us to the airport motel for what should have been a full night’s sleep but for Tim ended up being two hours was waiting and by five we were in our rooms. Tim left the  hotel on the 7am shuttle bus and we parted.

Both of us are certain that our long-distance train ride days ended early this morning and neither of us are sad about that. As two brothers who seemed to have grown in love for one another much too late in  life and with Jim who faces back surgery next Friday, we are aware that our final journey looms closer and closer. For that there will be no broken down locomotive, but only our sins and virtues to determine speed and final stop. I did not think Tim and I would ever try a long trip again after the last one and today we are both certain that there will indeed be no more. It’s not AMTRAK’s doing, it is our advancing years and infirmities.

Most of you who read this do not need my advice but don’t take those you love the most for granted. Even a long life is limited. Blessings and thanks, Tim.


P.S.  On Monday afternoon, Tim went to see his primary VA physician who promptly placed him in an ambulance and sent him to Hollywood Memorial Regional Hospital where he is presently in the Emergency Room undergoing tests focusing on his heart. They will likely keep him tonight for observation. It is reported that his spirits are good, the earlier CAT scan revealed non return of the previous lung cancer but his EKG is off the charts. What a week that was, has been and hopefully will be! Prayers, please, for both Tim and Jim.


Monday, August 11th, 2014

When last we left my brother Tim in this space, a few years ago he and I had just completed a transcontinental train trip from Seattle to Chicago to Charlottesville, Virginia, to Hollywood, Florida, spanning five days and nights with one overnight in Chicago. Both of us thought that would mark the end of our train travel, likely for the rest of our lives. Recently, Tim’s medical condition worsened and someone our diversionary conversation switched to trains which we wished we had ridden but had not. I should have known better.

As I write this the two brothers are back on the rails again, having left Los Angeles at 1115am this morning [Thursday] bound for Seattle and hoping beyond hope to arrive there sometime tomorrow night, in time for a good night’s sleep before flying back home on Saturday.

Tim is not feeling at all well this afternoon, but he is so excited by the train trip that it is hard to get him to concentrate on how poorly he is feeling. He had a CAT scan on Tuesday prior to flying to Los Angeles yesterday and thinks the injection may have something to do with his general condition. I am worried as I pen these lines and thinking of alternatives. But I probably should be more worried about a “sick” locomotive.

Back to the train trip, however. We are aboard AMTRAK’s train number 14 which is called the “Coast Starlight”. it is a 1377 mile trip from LA to Sleeplessville and if everything works like it should, it will take thirty-four hours. But this is AMTRAK and not everything is working like it should, or maybe I should say it is working exactly like it does (not should). After flying into LA and meeting at the airport yesterday, we overnighted near Union Station in LA to position ourselves well for our 1010am departure this morning.

LA’s Union Station is now one of the nation’s treasures. After years of desuetude, this monument to the days of the great transcontinental trains like the Santa Fe’s Super Chief, El Capitan and Union Pacific’s City of Los Angeles has come back to life with trains departing at all hours of the day and evening to San Diego, Santa Barbara, myriad LA suburbs and a few AMTRAK name trains to the Bay Area and Seattle, Chicago, and New Orleans. This morning it was full of life and has been magnificently restored. It even has its own Starbucks for heaven’s sake.

The adventure began at LA's majestic Union Station.

The adventure began at LA’s majestic Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

The main concourse at Union Station.

Arriving at 900am for our 1010am departure,we found the special lounge for sleeping car passengers totally full. Tim and I were the youngest people in the assembly by far at 73 and 71. If you are old and want to feel young, just ride an AMTRAK sleeping car!

Anyway, 1010am arrived and there was no train in the station. “We’re having a mechanical issue in the yard and the train has not been cleared yet to back into the station” we were told nicely. At 1035am, good news. “The train has been released and is backing into the station and so please leave for platform 10 and have a nice trip” A delightful Redcap took our luggage, piled us into a golf cart and away we drove to the platform just as the train was arriving. We left LA one hour and five minutes late without moving a wheel – an augur of things to come I suspect.

The very first stop on the journey was twenty minutes outside of Union Station at “Bob Hope Amtrak Station, Burbank where we sat and sat and sat. Eventually the lady conductor came on the PA to announce they hd to summon the police to remove a recalcitrant passenger who was a stow-away without a ticket but still refused to leave the train on his own power. Turns out a night in the Burbank jail might have been better than a night on the Coast Starlight. We are now 95 minutes late and only twenty miles from where we started.

We have two rooms this time because between us we weigh 445 pounds and can generate enough heat in a small space to be comfortable in Fairbanks in the dead of winter. Also, I need to make sure, that one room was on each side of the train because this is the second most scenic train trip in the US (AMTRAK’S “California Zephyr” between the Bay Area and Denver is, in my opinion the most beautiful).

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Brother Tim happy in his sleeping compartment.

Ninety minutes after leaving Union Station travelling north, the train hugs the Pacific Coast for about 145 miles, and I do mean “hugs”. There are moments when you can see the fish in the crystal clear water and when not looking at fish, today we saw one in ten Californians enjoying a  magnificent beach day.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

By the sea, by the sea by the beautiful sea.

At Gaviota, California, our lead locomotive died. Kerplopp!! Would not start, would not work, would not run the air conditioning system or electrical system. Another forty minute delay but it was decided that we could at least get to San Luis Obispo with the one good engine. Now two and one half hours late and 90 miles from where we started.

The most beautiful part is between Mission Santa Barbara and Mission San Luis Obispo, two of Father Junipero Serra’s magnificent California mission churches. The rails are right along the seaside and the beach is sometimes less than thirty feet away. Tim is excited and has his HD videocam and his new Canon Sureshot working hard. Someone is going to have to sit through a long showing of ocean pictures taken from a moving train when we get home.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

You and me, you and me by the beautiful sea.

Lunch was in the Dining Car at noon. There are a lot of people on this train and it is one of AMTRAK’s most profitable long-distance routes. Some will get off tonight when we arrive in Oakland and others will take their place because we are full all the way – four sleeping cars, four coaches, a diner, a lounge and something unique to this train called therr “Pacific Parlor Car” about which I will write tomorrow. Each sleeping car has 43 individual beds and each coach holds 60 people so this journey will find a possible 420 people on board during these very popular summer months.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

The regular Dining Car ready for lunch the first day out.

This is one of four remaining 1950's era "Pacific Parlour" cars which AMTRAK has retained.

This is one of four remaining 1950’s era cars which AMTRAK has retained.

Outside of San Luis Obispo we pass the southbound Coast Starlight also running two hours and a half late. It seems they ran out of green beans and asked if we would stop and lend them some from our larder (I am not kidding – it was akin to passing Grey Poupon from one train to another.

We leave San Luis Obispo two hours and forty minutes late but we borrow a freight engine from the Union Pacific Railroad to help us climb a steep grade leaving town. It worked, we got to the summit of the spectacular climb, said good-bye to the borrowed engine and proceeded about one half mile when the only good AMTRAK engine we had left konked out. Kerploop. Two additional hours of hard work by the engineer and conductor got it fixed but now we were six hours late and we had only just begun.

AMTRAK's Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

AMTRAK’s Coast Starlight at San Luis Obispo, California. Engine 23 is dead!!!!

Off we finally rush to Paso Robles, our next stop, which we should have arrived at 437pm but it was now 1037pm when we pulled in. I counted eight stalwart citizens on the platform but then we are told that there has been a medical emergency on board and an ambulance needed to be called. Lost another thirty minutes. That was enough for Tim and I and we went to bed with almost a full moon illuminating the Salinas Valley, breadbasket of California and home to John Steinbeck’s OF MICE AND MEN and Cesar Chavez.

The Lynches looked at day one and said “it was good!”



Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, RSM. Photo via USCCB blog.

Why does it so often happen that it takes either death or a departure to move humanity to recognize the incredible gifts of a person which have too long been taken for a given. Such is the case with this blog and the person whom I am going to lionize precisely because she will be leaving a position in the Church, which she has so ably occupied and plied for several decades. I am writing about Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a Religious Sister of Mercy who has served in the Communications Department of the United States Catholic Conference for years.

The bishops’ national headquarters and the bishops have had a fine Communications Department for years. Russell Shaw, still an active writer on “things Catholic” was the chief of the Communications staff when I arrived in 1984, followed by a wonderful Albany priest, Father Kenneth Doyle, who was then followed by Monsignor Frank Maniscalco of the Rockville Center diocese. It was, I believe, Father Doyle who brought Sister Mary Ann Walsh onto his staff as a media spokesperson and right-hand-woman.

Quietly, effectively, honestly Sister Mary Ann has tirelessly attempted to make the sometimes-inscrutable decisions of this country’s bishops known and, better still, understood by the religious working media. The media trusted her always. If she could not tell them something they wanted to know, it was because persons like myself told her not to, or she was not privy to it herself. There was no one better in the Conference all those years at giving “background” on what we were up to than Sister Mary Ann. She could have been and probably should have been Director of Communications at some point in her term of service, but loyally and quite capably she soldiered on.

Saint John Paul II came to the United States for a third time on my “watch” and my colleague in the office, now Archbishop Dennis Schnurr of Cincinnati, in charge of planning that visit asked if Sister Mary Ann could run the whole press and media business for World Youth Day 1993. He would say and I would second, she was simply superb. But, more importantly, the media that covered the moment also gave her high marks. That moment for Sister Mary Ann earned her the promotion enthusiastically made by her “Boss”, Monsignor Maniscalco.

I left my eleven-year tenure at the USCCB /NCCB in 1995 but the one constant has been the presence of Sister, during the twice-yearly general meetings. It had to sometimes be very hard for her to represent the bishops. There were moments when we lacked the sensitivity we should have had for women. I think of the doomed Pastoral Letter on Women in the Church and Society. The “Society” part was easy enough but the “Church” part ultimately doomed the project. The debates on inclusive language in the liturgy had to be hard for her to represent at times and the day-after-day assault on sexual misconduct with minors would try and test any woman. I suspect that there were moments when she wished that she represented someone else than the bishops but she hung in there, putting the best face possible on dicey matters – ever loyal to her employer but probably churning inside. In every way, Sister Mary Ann Walsh was a pro and to this moment I would bet the bishops do not fully appreciate the “gem” we had.

So she is leaving now to write for AMERICA magazine, the weekly, Jesuit sponsored journal of Catholic opinion. Sister will now be free to tell her readers what she really thinks and not have to spin what we think. I look forward to her contributions because I know they will be thoughtful, measured, loving of the Church to which she has given her life in religion, but realistic about its warts and wrinkles. Sister Mary Ann had what I would call a “Novocain” face. In the midst of the most heated situations, her visage never changed. In the “winter” of the Church’s experience, she stood tall like a lioness overseeing her cubs, wishing for the world that she could help us escape our prey. And then she just prayed.

Sister Mary Ann, if I failed to say this to you before, you have made a simply amazing contribution to the life of the Church in the United States, albeit in almost anonymity. Mother Catherine McCauley, your foundress, is proud of you and so is a generation of General Secretaries. Thanks, and by the way, please don’t write a book because I am not going to. We know too much.



Sunday, June 22nd, 2014
Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Auxiliary Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan served the Diocese of Brooklyn, N.Y. (CNS photo courtesy Catholic Charities of Brooklyn/Queens) (May 21, 2003)

Bishop Joseph M. Sullivan of Brooklyn was snatched from us one year and one week ago. He died when a tire blew on his car and he pulled into the emergency lane on one of the big city’s fast and furious expressways only to be hit by an oncoming truck.

For most of his priestly life, Bishop Joe Sullivan worked in his home diocese of Brooklyn in Catholic Charities and in Catholic hospitals. As a result of these engagements, he became known nationally as the “go-to” bishop on social justice and Catholic medical issues.

He served on the board of the Catholic Health Association as the official liaison of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops for many years, served as chairman of Catholic Charities USA’s board and also as a member, served as Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Social Justice and again as chair of the Domestic Social Justice committee. He chaired and supported strongly the Catholic Medical Mission Board which distributes donated medicines to poor countries around the world. He first asked me if I would be willing to take a seat on the board of directors of the Catholic Health Association and then again if I would replace him as a member of the board of directors of the Catholic Medical Mission Board.

The bishop was one of the happiest but most realistic men I have ever met. He played minor league baseball as a pitcher before entering the seminary. He fancied himself as something of an Irish tenor and could easily be coaxed into singing “Danny Boy” at the drop of a zucchetto (that’s the pink beanie we bishops wear). He was never happier when as a member of the episcopal conference he served on the drafting/writing committee of the USCCB’s pastoral letters on the dangers of war and the promise of peace as well as on the economy. His was the mind of a social justice activist and he supported workers in their right to organize into union in the footsteps of Chicago’s Monsignor Jack Egan and George Higgins.

He walked and talked faster than anyone I know. Fast talking with a Brooklyn accent made anyone attempting to listen to listen even closer. He was a man of infinite hope, incredible charity, great faith, and endless love for the poor, the marginalized, the sick and dying, the homeless, the undocumented, and so on. And he was walking contagion. To be near him was to become infected with the joy of the Gospel.

This afternoon [Sunday, June 22nd] I will be delivering the first annual Bishop Joseph Sullivan Lecture, an annual tribute to his memory established by his (and my) beloved Catholic Health Association, as the keynote address for their Annual Assembly beginning today in Chicago, Illinois. You may read my address by clicking here if you wish. Forewarned, however, is to be forearmed – it is a lengthy text. I had great fun drafting it because I love and honor its two principal foci, Bishop Joe and Pope Francis. Let me know what you think, as I know lots of other people will.



Tuesday, June 10th, 2014
Reverend Robert E. Gately.

Reverend Robert E. Gately.

Our United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring meeting begins tomorrow (Wednesday) in New Orleans and ends Friday midday. However, I will be unable to attend. On Saturday night last, the mother of our Monsignor David Toups (Lynn Toups) went home to the Father and her funeral will be at St. Cecilia parish at 130pm on Thursday with a Wake Service tomorrow night (Wednesday).

Additionally, yesterday, Father Robert Gately, a priest of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio, but who spent his entire later years in priestly ministry in this diocese after retiring as a Navy Chaplain with the rank of Captain also went home to the Lord and his wake will also be tomorrow night and his funeral Mass will be on Thursday morning. Father Gately helped for many years at the Cathedral of St. Jude and at Prince of Peace parish in Sun City Center where his services will be held. So for the first time since my long illness I will not be attending a bishops’ conference meeting.

There are several interesting items on the agenda for my brothers during the open or public sessions. Every four years in the year prior to the forthcoming general election, the Conference has issued a statement of principles which might guide a committed Catholic in exercising their important right to vote for a President and Congress. Often called simply “Political Responsibility” in more recent years it has become a focal point for some spirited debate with part of the membership basically wanting mainly to highlight and address the so-called “life issues” of abortion, euthanasia, and more recently contraception and give rather pointed comment on the moral judgments one should make about candidates, their platforms and plans, etc.

Another part of the house of bishops while readily conceding that these issues need to be lifted up hope that the issues for voter concern will include the social justice issues of welfare, the homeless, right to labor opportunity, immigration, health-care access, etc. Two standing committees of the Conference usually come together to hammer out a text to be presented to the assembly in November for use the following year. This year, inexplicably to my way of thinking, an Ad Hoc Committee or “task force” has been given the responsibility. In recent general elections I do not think I would be seriously overstating the case if I said there are not good, or at least uniform feelings among the bishops on the matter. While we may always be “gentlemen” with one another, there are agendas at work which divide the house – not so much on core issues but on the quality and reach of the consistent ethic of life. Since I can not attend, like yourselves I will be waiting and reading the commentaries which come from the media as to which “inclination” is likely to prevail for the 2015 General Elections or will a compromise document emerge once again.

Speaking of public policy issues, I have a great concern that the truly poor of Florida are being denied access to proper health care in this state. The Florida General Assembly has refused to expand Medicaid opportunities in Florida, even though much of the money for the programs will come from the federal government. And, while we are not alone in refusing the Medicaid expansion among the states, we may be at the top of the list when it comes to counting those legitimately denied. When the bishops of Florida have spoken to Governor Scott about this, he has left us with the impression that he at least would sign a Medicaid Expansion bill if the legislature would pass it and send it to him, but the Republican dominated House and Senate refuse. What a human tragedy! I have heard it said that no genuinely poor person in Florida will be denied medical attention in an emergency but they better hit the right hospital or they will find themselves “dumped and dispatched” out the ER doors. More important to my heart and to my sense of distributive justice is the blatant and flat-out denial of medical service to the genuinely poor which might prevent the emergency room visit. A poor pregnant mother has no access without insurance to the obstetrical service which she needs, as an example.

In addition, without the Medicaid Expansion, the for-profit hospitals in our five counties are refusing to treat many of the uninsured and sending them to the non-profits which are carrying more and more of the uncompensated care responsibility. And, as happened in St. Petersburg when the major trauma and service hospital was sold to a for-profit company which promised the proverbial “moon” when making a case for their takeover, St. Anthony Hospital is bearing the burden for this uncompensated care as is Meese Hospital in Dunedin. In the five counties, there are far more for-profits for whom lack of compensation is a recipe for “dumping” than not-for-profits which will continue to shoulder the care needs until they can no longer afford to do so. Our state should be ashamed and so should those legislators who for whatever reason have decided we will not participate in the Medicaid expansion plan of the Affordable Care Act. Let them hear from you, if you care enough.

Finally from my soap box, I wish to briefly highlight the issue of immigration reform. The voices of your episcopal leadership are beginning to be heard and the religious case for immigration reform is beginning to get out there. There is no better spokesperson for this issue than our Archbishop, Thomas G. Wenski of Miami. He appeared before Congress last week and once again clearly and compellingly stated the case: protect the borders, yes; grant legal status to most of those who are already here; and make the cry of Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty once again the mantra of this great nation: “Give me your tired and your poor, your restless masses yearning to breathe free….” On immigration reform and elimination of the death penalty, it is sure lonely out here on this limb but it is what Jesus would wish us to work for, it is precisely what he would do, it is the mind of Pope Francis, it is the work of the Spirit.