Posts Tagged ‘Rest in Peace’

BEYOND THE WILD BLUE YONDER

Monday, October 24th, 2016
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Father Michael Morris

At roughly six-thirty on Sunday night, the Lord’s day, Jesus came and offered his hand to our Father Michael Morris who went home to the God who gave him to us after a long period of battling cancer. From diagnosis to death he carried this cross with faith, with dignity and with resignation without resentment. All who knew him during these days, myself included, could do nothing but marvel at his resilience and trust in the Lord. He was a model for us of trying everything, even if there was little hope of a successful outcome while carrying on his duties as a chaplain on the United States Air Force.

Father Morris lived his life with certainty whereas I tend to live my life in a gray area which stretches from uncertainty more often to certainty ever so occasionally. Already a Captain in the Air Force and working for CENTCOM at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa about fifteen years ago, he walked into my office and said he was certain that God wanted him to be a priest, to be a priest working as an Air Force Chaplain and as a priest of the Diocese of St. Petersburg which would lend him back to the Military Archdiocese for service to God and nation. He was always so certain, assured, confident. When near the end of his seminary training I had doubts about whether or not be could be flexible enough for ministry in the Church, I hurt him by asking the formation faculty at the seminary to revisit their approval of him. Thank God I listen to others because he and they were right. He was capable of very successful ministry after ordination at his beloved Espiritu Santo parish in Safety Harbor. He was and is loved there even to today.

It would not be the only time that he taught me. His last and most perduring lesson taught was dealing with a form of cancer for which there had been practically no cure and submitting to one experimental treatment protocol after another – always with resignation even if it was likely that it would not work. He bore his suffering like one of those badges of honor he wore on his uniform and he continued to serve as White House chaplain liaison with the Defense Department and at Bolling Air Force Base. He was an iron man of iron will and the very thing which once worried me the most became the bulwark for his fight for life.

Monsignor Bob Morris and I  spent an evening with him and with his loving brother, Harry, and sister-in-law Lana in Dallas earlier this month. I went to say good-bye while he could still comprehend the challenge I was having, not he, with his impending death. Grateful for our presence, he ministered to us rather than the other way around. With tears I took my farewell and with tears he shared an embrace that did not wish to seem to have an end. A father, albeit a spiritual father, was saying goodbye to a son, albeit a spiritual son – but it does not hurt any less because it is a “spiritual” and not a blood relationship.

His Chief of Air Force Chaplains, now retired, who pinned his lieutenant colonel’s eagle on his shoulder, came to see him last week to say good-bye as did Bishop Hennesy of the Archdiocese of Military Services, at his bed side and in their home for last three months have been his loving brother and sister-in-law dedicated to taking care of him till it might no longer be possible. He died surrounded by love. I also wish to thank Father Kevin Larsen of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, who offered our Father Mike a home at St. Bernadette’s parish in Springfield, VA.,  when he was no longer able to take full care of himself and offered him a parish to inspire as he carried his cross until his separation for medical reasons from the Air Force in June.

With his funeral in Dallas on Friday I will have buried two of the men whom I ordained to priesthood (Father Thomas Tobin the other). It’s hard, know it hurts. I know my time, if not coming is closer than it ever has been before. I hope I can continue to minister, to love and to serve as did Reverend Michael Morris (Lt. Col., US Air Force retired). May life now far beyond the “wild blue wonder” be perfect and all you ever truly wanted.

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MONSIGNOR LAURENCE HIGGINS

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The Church of St. Petersburg bade a fond farewell to one of its best-known and beloved priests today. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, for forty-nine years the pastor of St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, went home to the Father’s House last week. The feelings of love and gratitude many felt for him was clearly demonstrated by the many who filed past his body at his beloved St. Lawrence.

He was just days shy of his eighty-eighth birthday when God came for him and sixty-three years a priest. I shall not repeat the biographical information here as the Tampa Bay Times did all that last week and they will cover the funeral as well, I am sure. I will try to share some thoughts from my perspective as his bishop for the last twenty-one years and perhaps let you see why he will be missed.

Monsignor Lawrence Higgins loved his faith and gave great credit to his parents for their role in raising him. He also loved Tampa (and disdained St. Petersburg). He loved sports, especially the Bucs, for whom he served as chaplain for as long as his health would allow. He always thought the Tampa Tribune was a great newspaper and the one across the bay was hopelessly liberal and anti-Catholic. He brought Larry Rothschild, the Ray’s first manager into the Church quietly (he did a lot of the sacraments “quietly”) and he adored John Lynch and Tony Dungy for their deep faith in God, Christ and humanity.

He was very proud of his parish, St. Lawrence, that he founded. He often said that the late Archbishop Hurley, when he assigned him to start the parish, told him to stop the invasion of the Jesuits from the South, the Redemptorists from the west and east (and there was no threat at the time from the North). Larry Higgins liked nothing better than a challenge.

St. Lawrence became a successful parish because he knew that if he ran a good school for children, their parents would follow and fill the pews on the weekends. To send your children to St. Lawrence School, one needed to register for the parish (no matter where you lived), attend Mass and support the parish through the Sunday collection, and volunteer on special projects when asked. In return, he guaranteed a first class education, almost automatic admission to Jesuit for the boys, and orthodoxy in religion. He built it and they came and they still come. Amazingly, the 2010 census identified St. Lawrence parish as having the highest concentration of Hispanic families in the whole diocese but the majority of its present worshipping community comes from outside the parish boundaries.

I always admired his ability to reach out to the underdog. He was a friend to those who suffered from many types of addiction and addictive behavior. His final community effort was in starting a program at USF in addiction and its cures. He loved St. Peter Claver, a small and always struggling parish in central Tampa with a school for mostly African-American children. In this he had two great allies whom I also admire deeply, Joe Capitano and Ted Couch. If it were not for the three of them, St. Peter Claver School would likely have closed long ago and to this day, though I have doubts about its long-term sustainability, I regularly ceded my judgments to the troika that believed, supported and sustained that important presence.

Back at St. Lawrence, Monsignor Higgins made his feelings known about a number of things from bishops to women serving Mass (he never allowed it), Eucharist under both species (he never allowed it) and married deacons (nowhere to be seen in his time as pastor). I could have forced him but he would have outwitted me some way so I took the road less travelled by. However, the community who gathered for prayer on weekends filled the Church, coming from all over Hillsborough county if they had children in the school and I would not want to begin to count the number of weddings, baptisms, and funerals the good Monsignor performed. Even after retirement, they still came knocking for his presence at major occasions and he obliged right up to the time his body would no longer allow it. Simply amazing in many ways.

About a year ago I stopped by St. Lawrence unannounced to see Monsignor Muhr, the new pastor, and Father Dornquest, the new associate. I was blocked by the police from entering the parking lot because my name was not on a list. I finally convinced the officer that I was the bishop and owned the property and I found a parking place and went into the Church (it was about four pm). It was full of the biggest men and women I have ever seen and there was Monsignor in his cassock and surplice preaching. Someone recognized me and came to my side. There was a huge coffin in front of the sanctuary. I said, “Whose funeral is it?” “Dusty Rhodes, the wrestler” came the reply and Monsignor was going on and on about the Brisco brothers and Florida Championship Wrestling. All of the WWE constituted the congregation that day. Dusty Rhodes was not a Catholic but he was a friend of Monsignor Higgins. I shook my head in amazement, wonderment and admiration.

But these last few days belonged to the simple people, parishioners of St. Lawrence, who saw Monsignor as the embodiment of the Good Shepherd of which Jesus spoke. They came to say “thanks, for what you did, for what you said, for whom you worked so slavishly.” Except for an annual vacation, like most of the Irish priests of his generation, he was on the job, 24/7, 330. When his friend from his earliest days of priesthood in Miami, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, asked his assistance in managing the diocese as Vicar General he added that to his resume while still managing St. Lawrence. At that time he preached a “Gospel” that everything good in the Church originated in the central offices of the diocese. When he was no longer involved there, he changed the “Gospel” to the Church much be present in the larger community, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, at City Hall in Tampa, at the School Board in Hillsborough.

I will miss his presence. We had our moments but they were mostly minor and in the end, who could do anything but admire the accomplishments even if occasionally they were done, “his way, the Higgins’ way.” Of this I know – there shall never be another like him.

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MY ANTONIN

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

 

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Justice Antonin Scalia

I want to begin by suggesting that every class in homiletics given in the seminary should include as a model approaching perfect that given by Father Paul Scalia at this father’s funeral Mass last Saturday. At the Shrine Basilica of the Immaculate Conception and on national television, Father Scalia gave a textbook homily which combined very sound death/resurrection theology with artful application to his dad and did so with total control of his emotions under what any priest will tell you is a difficult setting and situation – the funeral Mass for one’s parent.

I had two opportunities in my life to be in close proximity with Justice Scalia. The first occurred during my first year as General Secretary of the NCCB/USCC, 1989. The Apostolic Nuncio at the time, Archbishop Pio Laghi had invited Justice Scalia and his wife to lunch at the Nunciature and somehow he also invited myself. When I arrived the Scalia’s were already present and Archbishop Laghi and the judge were engaged in some classic Italian boasting. A simple Irish monsignor could do nothing else but shut up and listen and hope it would end soon.

At the table, somehow the conversation managed to turn around to the pastoral letters on the economy and justice and peace and Justice Scalia articulated clearly and concisely that he was not a fan of either and was not looking forward to the third part of the triptych which was to deal with the role of women in society and the Church. As the rhetoric became a little more heated, the Nuncio, realizing for the first time that I was at table said, “Monsignor Lynch, what do you have to say to the judge?” Before I could answer Scalia piped up and said, “Don’t give me the line that those pastoral letters are really written by bishops. They are the work product of staff.” To which I responded, “and much the same way, Your Honor, as the decisions of the Supreme Court are written start to finish by the nine of you. You too have clerks.” There was muffled laughter from the others at table, including Mrs. Scalia, and the judge simply smiled and said, “touché.”

The second time was in St. Petersburg at the annual Federal Bar dinner. Apparently the Federal Bar dinners had fallen into some desuetude and the Chief Judge of the Federal District Court of Florida, Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich hoped to restore some pizzazz. She called me up one day and asked if I would be willing to write to Judge Scalia and ask if he would be willing to come to Tampa to give the principal address at the annual banquet. He responded affirmatively (I also wrote similar letters to Justices Thomas, Alito and the Chief Justice, William Rehnquist and all accepted the invitations and the number of lawyers attending the bar dinners dramatically increased). Judge Scalia arrived at the table and it was clearly evident that he was not in a good frame of mind. Testy might be a better word. It seemed that he came under the impression that he would be speaking to a mostly Catholic gathering of lawyers and was surprised to find that there was nothing distinctly Catholic about the event. Unhappy, he said that he would not deliver the speech he had come prepared to give but instead gave his stock speech on originalism. It was fine, well-received with a standing ovation, but he could not sit down fast enough. I was not blamed in any way but I wish I had been sitting at another table.

I was mostly an admirer of his intelligence and view of the role of law even if I would occasionally grimace the verbal attack on his colleagues, most often in the majority but occasionally in the minority. I also thought his positions on the framer’s wisdom on the death penalty and some social justice issues was nowhere as intelligent and thoughtful and committed Catholic as he should be. I need not add my insignificant name to the list of those who will miss him on the court, as I know his family will miss him in life. I am not proud at this moment of the Republican majority in the Senate who say they will not even interview any candidate proposed by the President. No one can tell how a person called to serve on the court might ultimately turn out: in my lifetime Justices Brennan, Souter, and Kennedy have been somewhat surprising. The Republicans recall the punches they took on the Bork nomination and they have always wanted to pay the Democrats back for that ugly moment. Imagine the punches they may have to take again after this debacle if they lose control of the Senate. Antonin Scalia was a master of statesman craft and I would hope that those we have elected to advise and consent might rise to this occasion with wisdom, magnanimity, and courage.

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FATHER RAYMOND O’NEILL

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Almost without fail, every year around the same time as ordinations a local church (diocese) will lose at least one priest to death and the same was true of this year. Just before the ordinations, Father Raymond O’Neill who only retired from active ministry last July suffered a heart attack and went home to the Father’s house. On Monday we beautifully bade him farewell at the parish where he had served for well over the last decade. Born in Ireland, Father Ray was …..well, I will share with you my homily at his funeral Mass and perhaps you will come to know this gentle servant of the Gospel better. Three of the five ordained the previous Saturday came to the funeral which gave my heart great joy and the fourth took the Masses at his home parish so his pastor could attend. The bottom line: the Lord gives His Church new priests but he also takes and only a Christian can rejoice in both realities.

It could be said that Father Ray O’Neill ate and drank too much but it was not what caused his death but rather is likely to be what guaranteed his entrance into heaven. “He who feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has life eternal and I will raise him up on the last day. [JO 6:54]. To know Father O’Neill was to know from his personal witness as well as his preaching that hardly a day went by when he did not say Mass, eat the flesh and drink from the cup. He took the words of Jesus literally and spent his life breaking bread and sharing the cup with many of you. So much of our memory of him is painted with this altar as well as in Gulfport, St.Joe, Pinellas Park, Dunedin and St. Petersburg. He was never happier than at the table of the Lord.

And he was a just man. Can anyone who ever went to confession to him suggest that he was never anything but unfailingly kind, quietly but effectively compassionate, and just. Is there a person here who does not think that he is now in the hands of God? And when he was down the street at the funeral home, his quiet presence brought or restored calm to the torment, which touched so many people in their hours of dealing with death.

In his priestly ministry he craved anonymity. When he was at Sacred Heart-St.Joseph, he prayed that we in the Pastoral Center would forget about him, lose his Rolodex card. From Gulfport to Pasco County, he hid from me but not from God. I can still remember the sigh when I called him to ask him to come here in 2001 – he greeted my voice on the phone with that quiet compassionate Irish sigh which translated, “you again, hopefully not me again!” But he was always a good priest, a good soldier, ever reluctant to journey forth into virgin territory but never needing to be dragged while screaming.

The great movie producer John Ford made a movie in 1952 and filmed much of it at Ashford Castle, north of Galway, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara and the quintessential Father O’Neill like Barry Fitzgerald and called it the “Quiet Man.” However I should point out that Fitzgerald did not play the parish priest in the movie, Ward Bond did. And the town is called Innisfree. I don’t to this moment know why this has anything to do with Father O’Neill except he was in every way a quiet man, a gentle man, a kind and loving man. He would be embarrassed to hear my speak of him in this way as he never bragged about his virtues and he didn’t have but one vice – formula one racing.

When he told me of his love for their noise polluting cars, I could not believe my ears – perpetually quiet man in love with racings most expensive, noisiest and most dangerous cars. When my wonderful chancellor Joan Morgan told me of his sudden and unexpected death, my first thought was to call Marie Dupheney and tell her, “let’s delay the funeral Mass until next Monday and I promise to be finished with it before the start of the Indianapolis 500.” He would have been happy. He has a collection of Formula One cars, which he treasured and when asked why, he simply said in his usual understated terms, “I can talk to them and they don’t talk back to me.”

But we commend him back to God just hours and days before Pentecost – this coming weekend. As most of you know, Father O’Neill was born in July of 1966 in Dublin but ordained as a member of and for the Congregation of the Holy Spirit. They sent him to Africa for six years and like most young newly ordained serving in Africa, he taught high school and served as a pastor. I think of yesterday’s Gospel for the Ascension and how Jesus told his disciples that they needed to get off their “duffs”, spread out and bring the kingdom of God to many places. He came to us and auditioned us in 1986. We briefly failed the audition because he left rather soon and went to Australia but that was for a year and then he returned to remain until God came for him last Wednesday.

For vacation he would travel home to Ireland where he is survived by his brother but every year after a short visit, he would take off for the continent and take bus and riverboat tours covering all of Europe. He understood the history and culture of every place he visited and never met a fellow bus traveller again after the final day.

Today we celebrate his goodness and the grace of his presence in our midst. If you are like me, there is a little tinge of anger at God in my mind for not giving me the opportunity to say “farewell” and “thanks” one more time. He was as good to priests as he was to all of you and both Fathers Rebel and Madden felt the loss deeply. But it is hard to be too angry and he would have none of it because Father O’Neill was comforted by Paul’s words to the Romans “If we have died with Christ, we believe that we are also live with him.”

Father Ray ate often of the bread of heaven. He was never better or more of a priest than when he would stand behind that altar and effect the great mystery. We already miss him though there were already signs that his remaining days on earth would most likely be challenging. I think a provident, loving and gracious God afforded a provident, loving and ever gracious priest a happy end to a life of service. A quiet man. A deep and pensive thinker. He has gone home to the Father and in that light and with his faith, we rejoice that on May 13th, God visited his servant Raymond and beckoned him to Himself.

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DEAR BOY

Saturday, April 18th, 2015

They buried a friend of mine Friday in Rome and how I wished to fly over there for just the day to say farewell and thanks. Cardinal Roberto Tucci, SJ was and remains a man I deeply admire. I came to know him from the second (1987) and third (1993 World Youth Day) trips of Pope John Paul II to the United States.

In 1979 I came to know and become a close friend with the late Archbishop Paul C. Marcinkus, close enough to have been asked to preach his funeral homily at Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. He was the Holy See’s organizer for papal trips outside of Rome from Pope Paul VI to Pope John Paul II. He was succeeded by Father Tucci. He even supported the choice of Father Tucci and his two conferrers, Monsignor Emil Paul Tscherrig (Now Archbishop and Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina) and Doctor Alberto Gasbarri (currently in charge of papal visits for Popes Benedict and Francis.)

There was a seismic shift in approach and personalities between Archbishop Marcinkus and Father Tucci, but the two admired and in a way deeply admired each other. Father Tucci, a Jesuit, born in Naples and baptized an Anglican, converted to Catholicism as a young man. He earned a doctorate in theology and was a peritus at the Second Vatican Council, having helped in the final drafting of two important conciliar documents. After the Council, the Jesuits placed him in charge of the important publication Civilta Catholica and later as manager of Vatican Radio. Even while planning and executing the many travels of John Paul II, he retained his position within the Vatican.

He had the largest set of eyebrows I have ever seen and when perplexed, he utilized them perfectly, non-verbally, to proclaim his bewilderment. When he was certain that something would not work, he would preface his response always with “dear boy”. A good listener always, with his team, they were models of patient endurance with the US Secret Service, all kinds of political leaders, episcopal conferences insisting on things which were impossible and the papal apartment, which meant largely working with Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz.

Father Tucci knew the limits of the Pope’s energy and was protective, particularly in later years. He had little patience for higher-up curial officials who were always pushing for pride of place at the pope’s side and earned occasional enmity for shoving some higher up so that some regular people who could never see the Pope could get close.

Word always had it that he was a runner-up to Father Hans Kolvenbach in the election which followed the resignation of Father Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the famous former Superior General. I remember Pope John Paul II saying to me on one occasion, looking at Father Tucci, “Poor Father Tucci, such a great theologian and now my travel agent.” I also remember Father Tucci at a meeting at the then high school seminary for the Los Angeles Archdiocese when four U.S. bishops addressed the Holy Father with four areas of concern here in the U.S., saying: “dear Archbishop Quinn has just taken the Pope to the theological mountaintop and the Holy Father could barely make it to the basecamp” (a clear comment on the inadequacy of the papal response).

Another great moment in planning the same trip was when Lew Wasserman, the CEO of all of Universal (the studios, the theme parks, the movies and TV) asked Father if the Pope while on the property of Universal in Los Angeles could be seen on the theme park ride which parts the Red Sea into two while one rides through it on a carriage. Father Tucci said to Wasserman, (dear boy, I don’t think so but we will ask him). Two weeks later I was in Rome and Father Tucci and his team and I were invited to pranzo (Lunch) with the Pope, and Father said, “Father Lynch, ask the Pope about Mr. Wasserman’s request.” I then described the “parting of the Red Sea” ride to which the Pope responded, “I don’t think so, Moses has already done that.”

There could be many more stories. Pope Benedict finally relieved him of his duties and made him a Cardinal when he was past eighty years old. He chose not to be ordained a bishop (as did his American Jesuit brother, Avery Dulles). It made no difference to him, he still lived in his small room at the Bellarmino and enjoyed being surrounded by the “company of Jesus” or the Jesuits. I have not seen him in over fifteen years but he and Archbishop Tscherrig and Dr. Gasbarri are ever with me even to today. They held a 50th birthday party for me in Rome on May 27, 1991 and in 1996 when I was made a bishop, the three of them presented me with a silver Council Ring which I still wear every Lent.

Having said all this, however, I loved the man for his elegant, gracious, patient presence in my life through two papal visits (he actually brought the Pope back two more times after I left the General Secretariat of the USCC-NCCB) and those who worked with me and with my successor, Archbishop Schnurr of Cincinnati would embrace without qualification everything which I have written here in his honor upon the news of his death.

If I make it to heaven, I know he will seek me out and say, “dear boy, where have you been?”

 

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FAREWELL FATHER TED

Saturday, February 28th, 2015
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Father “Ted” Hesburgh went home to the Lord on Thursday, having lived 97 years and acting as an agent of change for many of those same years. Theodore Martin Hesburgh or simply “Father Ted” as he was affectionately referred to by thousands of Notre Dame alums was a proud member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious community dedicated to education, higher and secondary, and to parish work. For thirty-five years he led Notre Dame to becoming certainly one of the, if not the, most prestigious Catholic university in the United States. In that role alone he became an icon of Catholic Higher Education.

The Jesuits also founded many fine universities in the US but it was Father Ted who through faith, grit, and sheer force of personality changed the face of Catholic Higher Education. Within two years of the close of the Second Vatican Council, Father Hesburgh convened a landmark meeting of leaders of Catholic Education at Notre Dame’s Land-o-Lakes, Wisconsin property. Certain that tough days were in store for sectarian higher ed., he outlined a new “idea of the University” in which trustees, not religious orders, would own and control their respective campuses. The canonical term for what he proposed was titled “alienation of church property” and the idea caught on both in academe and in health care. It was not well received by some in the hierarchy who smelled “loss of control” and “loss of Catholic identity.”

There are endless theories about what actually led Father Ted’s thinking. The ‘mid-60’s also were a time when the litigious nature of life in these United States was rearing its sometimes-ugly head and the potential of lawsuits against the university might bankrupt Notre Dame or the Congregation of Holy Cross. But I think he saw that with the close of the Second Vatican Council the Church was wrestling with its  new openness to the modern world and nowhere better should such debates take place than in a Catholic institution of research and education. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman toyed with this notion in his The Idea of a University but it remained for Father Hesburgh and a few other Catholic University presidents to put flesh on Newman’s intellectual bones. Father Hesburgh was also aware that opening governance to the laity would bring to decision making for the future a world of worldly experience and wisdom and he was right.

Today Notre Dame has the largest endowment of all the Catholic schools and is closing in on Harvard and Yale. It has not lost its Catholic identity and I would argue that Father Hesburgh’s foresight strengthened the same and did not weaken it. It makes good sense to me that a university is exactly the right place where ideas are debated, research is pursued, and ideas and ideals are spread throughout the Church. ND has given much back to the larger Church since Father Ted began his presidency and it still does, in programs, which strengthen Catholic education, church life, and leadership in ethics through its business and law schools. If there were not the strong university which exists today precisely because of the Hesburgh vision, our beloved Church would be the worse for wear. It has perhaps the nation’s finest theology and philosophy departments among the major Catholic universities with Boston College in hot pursuit.

There used to be a saying about the difference between God and Father Hesburgh – God is everywhere including on the Notre Dame campus and Father Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame. A tireless traveller on behalf of his beloved university, Father Ted was also an icon in the civil rights movement, thrust into that by appointment of President Lyndon B. Johnson to chair the nation’s new Civil Right’s Commission following Selma and Montgomery and whenever a President needed a mediator for some sticky wicket, they called on him. But coming back to South Bend was ever a joy for him and while away the University was watched over with diligence and care by his longtime priest friend, Father Ned Joyce.

One time Father Hesburgh was in Paris and visited that city’s Cardinal Archbishop, Jean Marie Lustiger, himself a convert from Judaism. Father Ted bragged that his university’s Lourdes grotto was never without at least a hundred students praying the rosary to Our Lady. Lustiger disputed that assertion saying that young people of that era did not have great devotion to the mother of Jesus. Upon returning Hesburgh invited the Cardinal to come to South Bend for an honorary degree or something and on the way from the airport, keeping his fingers crossed or having pre-arranged it, no one knows for sure, the two drove right to the Grotto. There were hundreds of young people kneeling in prayer, lighting candles and Lustiger could not believe his eyes.

In the end, Father Ted’s eyes began to fail him and blindness enveloped him but it did not stop the inquisitive mind, which remained alert, bright and informed till near the end. Father Ted died a humble priest of his beloved Holy Cross. Always approachable, ever faithful to his priesthood and to his Church, he richly deserves the accolades, which are today coming his way. His two successors, Father Edmund “Monk” Malloy and Father John Jenkins know well of their predecessors shoes and they have measured up to the task admirably and the Irish remain a storied past, a very rich present, and a great future. He lived simply and died humbly as many of his contemporary Holy Cross brother priests had done. He knew his stature was high but he maintained a low profile in retirement. Father Ted, you served your Lord, your community and the Church brilliantly, now rest in eternal peace.

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FATHER JOHN O’DONOVAN

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014
Reverend John O'Donovan

Reverend John O’Donovan

On All Souls Day, the Lord came for the soul of another of our priests who will be well known to many, especially in St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo, where he served for many years, and at St. Brendan parish on Island Estates and other parishes in the Clearwater area where he assisted after his retirement from active ministry. Father John O’Donovan battled cancer while living here and ultimately he returned to his native Ireland to finish his treatment and his life among family and friends. At 150pm GMT (Ireland time), the Lord came for him and said “enough, come now to the place prepared by my Father and enter into eternal rest.

A tall man with big heart, he came to our diocese to serve much of his priesthood with Father Michael Finnegan, pastor at the time of St. Catherine. They were both heavy smokers and both confessed to me at one time or another that they fully understood the risks they were taking. Father John had that innate Irish wit which so many of our priests had and a dry sense of humor. He was loved and appreciated by all who heard him preach or to whom he came in the times of their own distress.

I spoke with Father last week as he was leaving a hospital for a last time to enter hospice. He was comfortable knowing that death might be imminent but he never gave up hope for a miracle. Kind, consoling, compassionate, Father John O’Donovan helped us enormously here in the diocese.

If you read this and know or remember him, please keep he and his family in your prayers on Tuesday afternoon when there will be a wake service and on Wednesday morning when his funeral Mass will be celebrated. I had hoped that I might be able to fly to Ireland to celebrate his life and death but it is not possible for me. Perhaps it is just as well because his friend of many years, Bishop William Walsh, Bishop Emeritus of Killaloo will be present. I will offer Mass, however, for the peaceful repose of Father John’s soul.

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ANOTHER GREAT PRIEST OF THE DIOCESE GOES TO THE HOUSE OF THE FATHER

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.

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A FACE WORTHY OF NORMAN ROCKWELL

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.

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DEATH COMES TO CARDINAL SZOKA

Sunday, August 24th, 2014
"Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka takes a moment of prayer in his private chapel. | Photo by Larry A. Peplin". Photo originally in The Michigan Catholic newspaper, August 2011

“Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka takes a moment of prayer in his private chapel. | Photo by Larry A. Peplin”. Photo originally in The Michigan Catholic newspaper, August 2011

Let me begin with a simple declarative sentence. I very much liked Edmund Cardinal Szoka and I lament his passing. As most of my regular readers know, I spent eleven of my early priesthood years in the office of the General Secretary of what was then the National Conference of Catholic Bishops-United States Catholic Conference (from 1984-1995).

Twice during that period of time, Archbishop Szoka of Detroit served as Treasurer and a very good Treasurer at that. He was sharp, incisive, and most of the time fun to serve. He understood the worlds of accounting and investments and he was a great steward of the conference’s resources which ultimately could be tracked back to the offerings of God’s people in many of the dioceses.

He could be intimidating and often would revel in putting someone off guard and in a defensive posture but if you gave it right back to him, he appreciated that and never pulled rank or took offense. If you wish to learn a lot about his life, go to the website of the Archdiocese of Detroit where they have very fine tributes to this Churchman.

I wish to share with you from probably a unique standpoint one of the major moments in my life when dealing with him. Beginning in 1985, the Conferences knew Pope John Paul II wanted to make a second, but this time “pastoral visit”, to the United States of America and my boss, the General Secretary at the time, Monsignor Daniel Hoye remembering that I had organized the first papal visit in 1979 asked me as his Associate to lead the effort in the U.S.

I flew to Rome where I met with now Cardinal Roberto Tucci, S.J., Dr. Alberto Gasbarri who is now still in charge of all arrangements for papal trips, and Monsignor Emil Tscherrig who is now the Apostolic Nuncio to Argentina. The mind of the Holy Father and his collaborators were already fairly clear in that he did not wish to return to any of the places he visited in 1979: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DesMoines, Chicago and Washington.

Additionally, President Reagan had taken the initiative never before undertaken on behalf of the government of the United States (the 1979 trip was at the invitation of the United Nations and the U.S. government under President Carter simply approved) to invite the Pope to make a pastoral visit.

From as early as 1985, we knew that the trip would focus on the South, Southwest, and West and we would not be traveling to the East or Midwest. There was an additional wrinkle which I was charged to address: in 1983 when making a pastoral visit to Canada, the Pope had to cancel a visit to native-Americans in Yellowknife in the Yukon Territory because fog prevented his plane from landing at Fort Simpson. Saint John Paul II promised the tribe that he would return and come and see them and he and his handlers wished me to make arrangements with the airline which would fly him back to Rome from the U.S. to divert to Fort Simpson prior to flying him on to Rome. It made good sense to end the trip on the West Coast where the flight to Fort Simpson would be only four hours during which the TWA 747 which I had chartered for the Rome trip would wait on the ground for the Pope to return from Yellowknife prior to making the nonstop journey back to Rome. (p.s., the  Canadian bishops wanted no part of paying for a charter plane to fly the Pope from their country home which until that moment was established protocol).

Archbishop Szoka, then in Detroit, approached the NCCB/USCC and asked for the inclusion of Detroit which he claimed had the highest concentration of Polish American Catholics in the U.S. The Conference’s response to him was negative but I knew in my heart that that would not be the last of it. I then learned that the good Archbishop had made a trip to Rome to personally ask the Holy Father to come and he was given a noncommittal response. When I called my colleagues in Rome, I was told that when they met with the pope after Szoka’s visit, the Pope had somewhat amusingly asked, “how many events did Pope Paul VI schedule in his travels to meet with Italians?” [The answer is zero]. A month or two more passed by before a call from Father Tucci asking me if I would do two things: explore the possibility of including Detroit at the end and then seeing if TWA would agree and could do it? I knew then that we were headed to Detroit come hell or high-water and shared that with my Secret Service head of the papal protection detail, Joseph Petro.

But the story does not end there. In November of 1986, I made my first visit to Detroit with SAIC Petro and my associates to see what we might do and whether or not it could be done logistically. The U.S. portion of the trip was already 9 days long at a cost then to the local Church of about three million dollars a day plus additional cost to the communities, the federal government, the state governments for security and logistical assistance. Some things fell into place almost immediately. The Mass would be at the Pontiac Silverdome. We would not go to SS Cyril and Methodius Seminary in Orchard Lake even though it was the only Polish language seminary in the country. But the Archbishop wanted a pure Polish event in Hamtramck, a largely Polish neighborhood in Detroit.

At dinner at his residence that evening with Agent Petro and his Detroit SAIC Jim Huse, after telling us how much money the crystal stemware and china we were using cost, Archbishop Szoka promised that the next morning we would visit Hamtramack where he, the Archbishop, was a rock star in his own right and could not walk ten feet without being stopped, ring kissed and adored and if that could happen to him, how much more would Poland’s great son be welcomed.

At the far end of the table were to be found the Archbishop’s two priest secretaries: Father (later Bishop) Kevin Britt and, I think, either Father Leonard Blair (now Archbishop of Hartford) or possibly Father John Zenz and they were laughing and joking among themselves. Later Father Britt said to me, “Bob, wait till tomorrow and you’ll see why we were laughing.”

The next day dawned very cold, dreary and rainy. We drove to Hamtramck, got out of the car and started walking and not one person we passed on the sidewalk took any notion to any of us, including the Archbishop. “I don’t understand,” he said, “they are usually falling all over themselves to greet me.” Frustrated he motioned that we should go into a meat market which had Polish sausage hanging from the rafters as well as surrounding a large framed picture of the Archbishop.” A butcher came up and simply asked if he could help us? Archbishop Szoka, now desperate, pointed to the picture of himself surround by the sausage and finally a “connection” was made and the Archbishop recognized. Father Britt was beside himself laughing.

We finished a proposed schedule for the visit which I promptly flew to Rome with, Detroit was included, all went well, and I became a friend of Cardinal Szoka for the rest of his days, including a frequent guest at his table when visiting Rome but only after being reminded of the cost of the table settings which was really something for a “poor boy from Grand Rapids.”

Finally, several years ago I attended the 40th anniversary of the establishment of the Diocese of Gaylord where the Cardinal had been their first bishop. It was a proud, homecoming day for him made more so by the gracious attention showered on him by their fourth bishop, Bishop [now Archbishop] Bernard Hebda. Every time the Cardinal heard his name mentioned he would smile and stand up and the congregation would applaud.

He did very good things in his ministry and please don’t allow my story above to color your sense of what a great churchman he was. I admired him deeply and in my case that is hard to earn too often or easily. He never shied away from anything which he thought was good for the Gospel or the Church and was a real leader and that is what is most important about this once poor son of immigrant parents. May he rest now in the peace of the Kingdom to which he pointed many in his lifetime.

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