Posts Tagged ‘Rest in Peace’

THINGS WILL NOT BE EASY IN THE “BIG EASY”

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.

+RNL

MAY FATHER VLADIMIR DZIADEK REST IN THE PEACE HE DID NOT HAVE IN THIS LIFE

Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
2014 Remembering the Faithful Departed

Father Vladimir Dziadek

FUNERAL HOMILY FOR FATHER VLADIMIR DZIADEK
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Tampa, FL
Monday, May 18, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            There are three things that are for certain in every human life: birth, death and taxes. While we ourselves are responsible for the third, our taxes, our staunchly pro-life teaching has always held and argued that God alone is the author of all human life and God alone is to be the determiner of when life begins and when it ends. Our Father Vladimir, however, a week ago chose both the time and the manner of his departure from our midst and the end of his life. This morning we may think we know of the contributing factors of his decision, but none of us is gifted with the power to see into his mind, his thinking, and his decision-making last Sunday night and Monday morning a week ago. No amount of money is worth the taking of a human life, no amount of shame can ever completely erase the good a person has done, no sin is truly unpardonable, no potential embarrassment even approaches the shame, anger, guilt which befalls those left behind to deal with the unforeseen reality occasioned by suicide. I want everyone here present this morning, the children of the parish and in the school to know that the single act which brings us together this morning is wrong.

            The act, however, can at times be severable from the person. For all of his priestly life, Father Vladimir put himself at the service of the Lord Jesus, serving in missionary territory in Venezuela prior to coming to the United States and to our local Church. In the years he was here, he endeared himself to God’s people. At Most Holy Name of Jesus parish, they cared for him enough that they gave him time to improve his English and when the Church became vacant they asked that he be made their shepherd. He was happy there, serving God’s people and loving in a special way the Hispanic population he was linguistically better prepared to minister to.

            When I asked him three years ago to come to St. Joseph’s to succeed the beloved Father Felix, he did not hesitate. He came. It was not easy for him. There was the school which had been losing money and enrollment for many years and a whole new effort begun by the University of Notre Dame to not just save the school but to build it up. He lived to see that happen. There were walls to be painted in the Church and at times he was more difficult and demanding of the artist painting than Pope Julius was of Michelangelo applying fresco to the Sistine Chapel. Through it all, mostly alone, he heard your confessions, celebrated Mass for you in two languages, baptized your children, and anointed your sick. On two occasions he told Monsignor Morris and I how much he loved St. Joseph parish and that it was an honor to be your pastor. Publicly all seemed well. Internally what some of us knew to be true was that dear Father Vladimir suffered bouts of depression although in recent years he showed signs of improvement and greater control.

            However, little known to most and unknown to me, there was an affliction within him called an addiction, which first came to light less than two weeks ago.  Addictions are not always sinful. To be sinful, in classic moral theology, three things are necessary: grave matter (taking a loaf of bread from the super market to feed one’s starving family, though I do not recommend it, is not grave matter but taking large sums of money is); second, one must know and understand the gravity of the act (since addictive behavior is often repetitive behavior, this requirement for serious sin can sometimes be missing); third and finally, in performing the sinful act one must willfully and knowingly intend  to break God’s law and the harmonious relationship between ourselves and our God and fellow women and men.

            Neither you nor I this morning are in a position to judge Father’s actions. He did not give us a chance to do so. But all three readings from Scripture remind us that our God is merciful, loving, compassionate and forgiving. The task of judgment passes from our minds and hands to Our Lord’s. Less than fifty years ago, a funeral Mass for a victim of suicide was not allowed by our Church and priests were not even allowed to pray over the caskets of the dead. The Church and society have embraced the notion that mental illness often causes people to do the unexplainable and what was once considered a capital sin remains wrong but can be an occasion for mercy, a call to pardon, a sign of love. We gather this morning not as investigative reporters but people of faith.

            Allow me to speak just for myself for just a moment. The past week has seen my emotions run the gamut from anger to guilt, from disbelief to compassionate concern for Father’s family in Poland and in West Tampa, from shame to sorrow, and usually back to guilt. On Saturday morning I rejoiced at the ordination of our three new priests, but I could not rid myself of the image of “the one who got away and how I wished I could have taken him back.” And I am sure that many of you have shared the same thoughts and the same feelings. A leader of belief, a shepherd of souls, a model of Christian living and loving, chose to end his life and leave the rest to us.

            Now we must leave the rest to God. There is no reason why we can not remember Father for all the good that he has done but there is no reason why we could or should embrace the manner in which he chose to leave us. Hoping and praying that he died in the Lord, we can embrace the words of the writer of the Book of Revelation, “Yes. . .let [him] find rest from [his] labors, for [his] works accompany [him]. Rev.14.13. As Wisdom says in the first reading: He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported, snatched away, less wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul.  For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right, and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.” Wis.4:11-13.

            It is my duty as your bishop to assure you that we can pray for Father Vladimir confident that God will judge him justly. It is also my duty to draw the distinctions between right and wrong and in a proper time and manner to share with you what I know when I know it about what has and can be done to right the wrong, which was done. But it is also my duty as your bishop to say to Father Vladimir and to his family, despite all this, we are grateful for his better times and better moments among us and we send you our love and sympathy as we commend his soul to God, the most high. Eternal rest grant unto you, Vladimir, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

Father Vladimir Dziadek endeavored to be a good man and a good priest. Prior to coming to the United States, he left his native Poland and served for seven years in the missions of Venezuela.  In 2002, he came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, able to speak perfect Spanish while perfecting his English. After a few years as an Assistant Pastor at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Gulfport, he was named Pastor of the same parish in 2009 with the support of many parishioners. He was loved at that parish and when I asked him to assume the leadership of St. Joseph Parish in West Tampa, he readily agreed, was missed by the community in Gulfport, and began to bring people, mostly Hispanic Catholics back to St. Joseph’s. He was a good shepherd.

Two weeks ago, our Executive Director of Finance visited St. Joseph Parish because there appeared to him to be a significant lessening of support and an interesting, albeit alarming reduction in the balance sheet of the parish. It did not take long for him to discover that the pastor had been using the parish bank debit card to withdraw large sums of money at the local gambling casino over the last fifteen months. Father Vladimir readily acknowledged that he had withdrawn the money for gambling purposes but stated that he had tried to replace some of the funds.

The next day Monsignor Robert Morris, our Vicar General,  and I met with Father Vladimir and it was clear that the situation was far more serious than even thought the day prior. After a preliminary inspection of the accounts of the parish during the three years that Father had been pastor, it appears that  $199,685.00 was taken for the purpose of gambling and  $35,300.00 had been returned to the parish. This otherwise good priest appeared to have a serious addiction to gambling. I assured Father Vladimir that I was ready to help him in any way I or the diocese possibly could. Father Vladimir left my office ashamed of what he had done, sorry for what he had done, but in denial in some ways of the true nature of his actions.  I immediately removed Father Vladimir from anything involving administration of St. Joseph Parish. I assured  him that I was ready to assist him in any way possible, asked him to allow us to find assistance for him for his addiction (which he continued to deny having) and that while I hated the circumstances in which we found ourselves, I still loved him as a bishop should and we would attempt to get through what was coming. Monsignor Morris and I were concerned before his arrival in our office of his emotional stability. He had a history of fighting with deep depression, once which required hospitalization and a lengthy leave of absence in Poland to work on recovery. Both of us asked him not to return to the Rectory that night and be alone but to stay with either of us. He refused, insisting that he would be all right. The next day I ask a brother priest who was also Polish to call him up and ask him to move in with him and again he refused. There were several phone contacts with Father Vladimir which followed.

Concerning the funds taken from St. Joseph Parish, all institutions of the diocese are insured against such losses but the insurance carrier rightly demands that appropriate law enforcement be notified. In cases such as this, priests are not treated differently from lay employees. I met with the Diocesan Finance Council and sought the advice as well of Legal Counsel for the diocese.

Last Monday morning, May 12th, I was terribly saddened to learn that Father Vladimir had taken his own life.  The pain that has been felt by parish staff members, parishioners, friends, family members, fellow priests and myself is immeasurable.  I went immediately to the parish, to speak with staff members and have cooperated with the investigators from the Tampa Police Department.

I have chosen to appoint Father Carlos Rojas as Administrator of St. Joseph Parish.  Father Rojas is an energetic young priest of our diocese with a passionate heart for ministry.  I am confident that he can and will bring much-needed healing to the parish community of St. Joseph’s.

The parish turn-out for his viewing and Wake Service on Sunday was “standing-room only” for three hours. At his funeral on Monday, they were standing in the back half of the Church as there were not enough seats. Sixty-five of his brother priests came for the funeral Mass. The parish community knew everything by the week-end, except the exact amounts I have shown above since the local media had reported the story. They came to forgive, to mourn, and to ask divine mercy on a man whom they loved in life. On Monday night after the funeral I met with about twenty leaders of the parish community and told them everything which I knew, including not just the amounts taken and replaced but the pattern of financially accounting for them as well. All monies missing will be quickly reimbursed to St. Joseph’s parish.  Sadly, the parish did not have an active, fully functioning, fully accountable Finance Council; it met seldom and usually were just used to sign reports required of the diocese. That changed at St. Joseph as of Monday night. This morning I said Mass for the school children and spoke to them at length about “heaven”.

This has been the hardest, most challenging and emotionally draining moment of my time here as bishop. Father Joseph Waters, the Rector of St. Jude Cathedral upon learning of the suicide and reasons texted me this message: “suicide leaves behind many victims.” He was so spot on. I have celebrated the funerals for three suicide victims in my priestly life, all teen-agers. I then had no real sense of the deep feelings of guilt and anger and questioning which those three families experienced, until now. I blame myself and even though everyone who loves me says, “don’t”, to this moment I can’t stop. I feel I could have and should have done more. This all transpired on the Sunday when the Gospel said that the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine to reclaim the one.

I end as I began. Father Vladimir was a good man who made some very serious errors in judgment, yet had a deep love for Christ and the people of his Church. Please join me in praying for his eternal rest and for the people of St. Joseph Parish who will miss him terribly.

+RNL

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pat_gives_Bob_his_Sorin_Award

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

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

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

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

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

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

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

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

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

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

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

+RNL

A GENUINE HERO

Friday, December 6th, 2013
Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Nelson Mandela. Photo courtesy of the News.va Facebook page.

Much has been written in the hours since Nelson Mandela’s death was announced late yesterday afternoon and more will follow. I debated whether or not I could add anything to the strong current of praise and thanksgiving which is attendant upon this good man’s death at the age of 95 and decided to share these few thoughts with you about Mandela.

When I was young I never thought I would live to see two things. The first was the end of communism and the fall of the Berlin wall. It seemed so improbable in the days of Khrushchev, Brezhnev and Andropov. When the outlying states started getting “frisky”, Moscow tightened its grip on them and their puppets in the what was then Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, and East Germany thought nothing of murdering/ imprisoning, torturing countless of their own people yearning to breath free. Russia and the KGB were relentless in seeking out anyone who spoke for any form of genuine democracy and one could see the suffering on the faces of those people. Stalin had established an iron-fist and drawn an iron-curtain and it was impossible for me to think then of any major change in my lifetime. Perhaps it was the foolishness of youth or a lack of faith in the power of God.

The second also  had to do with an “end-game” but this time it was my deeply rooted belief that in my lifetime I would probably never see the end of apartheid in South Africa. I had an occasion to visit South Africa in 1990 during the final years of white domination and while Nelson Mandela was still on Robbin Island, several miles out to sea from Cape Town. I drove through the camps/settlements of the black South Africans and found it rivaling or exceeding sometimes even the enormous poverty of Rio, Sao Paulo, Mexico City, Watts, etc. There was one thing one could count on and that was that by a certain time in the early evening, every black South African needed to be back in the townships and off the streets where the whites lived. I knew it would not last because the rest of the world was waking up to its responsibility to help bring it to an end. I just did not think it would come so quickly.  Then the economic embargo began to make a difference. People throughout the world began to divest themselves from corporations doing business in South Africa, thereby propping up the white government rule. The bishop’s conference for which I worked excluded IBM, Ford, General Motors from our investment portfolios (at some sacrifice of earning) and those great corporations gradually either withdrew or radically downsized their presence in South Africa. The white minority could not ignore the growing disasterous consequences of white supremacy.

Through it all, there were two voices of sanity to  be heard. The Anglican Bishop of Capetown, Desmond Tutu, and from his cell on Robbin Island, Nelson Mandela. The African National Congress began to unify the black South Africans and the tide of the end of white rule in neighboring Zimbabwe began to seep South. First, Mandela was released from prison. With passion, conviction and courage, he preached a message of unification which included reconciliation and forgiveness. F.W. DeKlerk, the last white President of South Africa called for genuine elections knowing that he and his party would lose badly and when they did and Mandela became the nation’s president, there were no words of hatred to be heard from him against those who held the overwhelming number of citizens in bondage but only words of forgiveness and reconciliation and an intelligent, wise call for unity.

Majority rule in South Africa has not solved all the nation’s problems, economic and social. Even in Mandela’s government there was to be found instances of corruption though none ever touched the President. Patiently, steadily, steadfastly with a reliance on the help of God, he forged a nation with the intent to get better for all in time but to live in the present for the future without anger for the past. He acknowledged the role of religion and religions in freeing black South Africans from the grip of near-slavery and certainly desperate poverty but knew he could only start the forward progress and others would have to complete it. When his terms as President were up as a result of the new constitution he never threatened as did others in the nations to his near north, to remain in office but rather he retired from the spotlight and allowed, like the North Star,  a single point of light to accompany him till his death yesterday. He, like Pope Francis, and like this bishop, would readily and publicly admit that he was a sinner but he had tasted redemption in his life on earth and he wanted others to have the opportunity to dine at the same table. What a man! What a leader! What an example to a nation and to a world! I would have loved to have been the proverbial fly on the wall when the Lord came to take him home yesterday and I look forward to hopefully sharing eternity with him.

Nelson Mandela, rest in the peace of the Lord.

+RNL

WHEN HOGE WAS IN VOGUE

Thursday, March 21st, 2013
Father Hoge

Father Hoge. Photo courtesy St. Leo University.

Word has come to me through St. Leo University that God called Father James C. Hoge, O.S.B. to Himself last Saturday afternoon. Father Hoge was 96 years old and had been professed with the Benedictine community of St. Leo Abbey since 1938. Had he lived long enough to come to next Tuesday’s Chrism Mass I would have honored him on the occasion of his 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination. What makes Father Hoge so unique in our diocesan history was his service to this local Church in its northern counties (Pasco, Hernando and Citus). Instrumental in the establishment and founding of all six parishes in Citrus country, he became known and beloved by almost all Catholics living in our northernmost county. He also was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of Pope John Paul II elementary school which began its life as “Citrus County Catholic Elementary School.”

St. Benedict, in founding the religious community which bears his name, told his monks in their “way of life” that two things were absolutely essential: “ora et labora” or “Prayer and work.” Tireless in spreading the Gospel in the church, first as a teacher at St. Leo Prep School in Pasco County, and then for many years as a parish priest and pastor, this man was truly a builder. He was a model of Benedict’s view of the perfect monk, working hard and praying harder. It was painful for him when retirement finally came and he did not take to it well. Ever ready to help out in parishes on weekends, especially in those he founded and where he left such great friends, returning to the routine of monastery life was hard for him.

So many people were the beneficiaries of his priestly presence, diocesan priests, religious women, lay men and women, children. He was there for them all. To be cut off from his pastoral life-blood was very hard and he suffered physically and emotionally in his final years. I, too, dread the time when my medical-surrogate, a long time priest friend, comes and says to me , “Bob, I need the car keys.” I hope I will be more at peace in that moment than dear Father Hoge was for most of the time it is a moment of “tough love” of those who care for us in our old age. When he was a the “top of his game” the priesthood was very much in vogue for Father Hoge and he gave it his all, and wished to do so until his last breath.

In addition to being a great pastor of souls, Father Hoge was born in Charleston, West Virginia, as I was, and he loved railroads, as I do. He would bring me books about the railroads of west central Florida, where they went and what they carried. It was great fun for me when I first came to the diocese to learn the history of the “northern exposure” of the Church of St. Petersburg. What he did not share with me, Monsignor George Cummings did, and he would have been sitting right next to Father Jim next Tuesday at the Chrism Mass. See, Monsignor George will be ninety-five this year and will observe very quietly he has warned me, his seventieth anniversary of priestly ordination. These men were truly priestly pioneers, giants of their time, and devoted evangelizers of the Gospel. Father Jim, rest in peace, dear friend, with Benedict and his sister Scholastica, with your parents, the five abbots of St. Leo whom you knew and under whom you served and your many deceased Benedictine brothers. We send our prayers and sentiments of sympathy to the monks of St. Leo Abbey and the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery and members of your family on the occasion of this significant loss.

When Hoge was in vogue, the faith was alive and the love of Christ abounded.

NOTE ADDED 3/22: I will be celebrating a Memorial Mass for Father Hoge at 6:00PM on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at St. Scholastica Parish in Lecanto. All are invited to attend.

+RNL

THE DEATH OF A BROTHER

Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Bishop Norbert Dorsey at his 50th anniversary mass of ordination to priesthood on April 28, 2006. Photo credit: Diocese of Orlando

Bishop Norbert Dorsey at his 50th anniversary mass of ordination to priesthood on April 28, 2006. Photo credit: Diocese of Orlando

Today is the day when the church universal  celebrates what is called “The Chair of Peter”. I intended to use this day to reflect on the papacy of Pope Benedict XVI which will come to an end  next Thursday at 2p.m. EST as the Holy Father vacates the papacy for his remaining years in prayer and solitude. But that reflection will have to wait because last night about 850pm Bishop John Noonan, the Bishop of Orlando notified me of the death of Norbert Dorsey, C.P., third bishop of Orlando, a few minutes earlier. Bishop Norbert was a brother in the episcopacy, a friend, a wise, lovely, cultured, deeply spiritual man. So I have lost a brother, not Tim or Jim, my blood brother, but a brother bishop, a neighbor, and a dear friend.

Norbert M. Dorsey was a passionate Passionist. No one my age who ever thought of being a priest in the ’40’s and ’50’s could possibly forget something called SIGN magazine. In many ways, next to Catholic Digest, it was THE Catholic magazine. My paternal grandparents in Boston, surely worried about that wing of their family living in Protestant West Virginia and Virginia gave my family an annual subscription to SIGN magazine hoping that it would keep the “Catholic” flame of faith alive in the “heathen” lands where their son, daughter-in-law and three children were living. And in many ways SIGN did just that. When old enough I always read it and looked at the advertisements for priests in the back. Passionist priests also preached parish missions in the small churches of my youth. They all seemed to come from the east coast and Boston with their distinct local dialects and to me that seemed especially sent as messengers from God.

I recalled this feeling once in conversation with +Norbert and he told me that I was not far from wrong – they were messengers from God sent to preach the faith and win souls for God. Bishop Norbert was from western Massachusetts (Springfield) and he did not have to travel far to enter the religious community which he loved all his life. A gifted musician, after ordination, his religious superiors sent him to Rome to study sacred music and to teach in their seminary. So loved and admired was he that in time he was called to the Passionist generalate in Rome to be their world-wide orders Assistant to the General Superior for English speaking countries. It was there that he was eventually surprised one day to be called and told that Pope John Paul II wished him to come to Miami as an auxiliary bishop. Shocked at this sudden news and saddened deeply to leave the comfortable climes of his Passionist community of priests and brothers, he consented and started his new life as an Auxiliary to Archbishop Edward A. McCarthy, whom he had never met, in Miami where he had seldom visited except for its airport on his way around the world visiting his community.

“Who is this man?” the Miami priests asked. It did not take them long to discover a kind, holy, loving and sympathetic bishop. Auxiliary bishops in Miami did not do a lot of administration in those days and were used mostly for sacramental purposes like confirmation and show the flag at things the Archbishop either did not wish to attend or could not attend. Bishop Norbert lived in a small two-room apartment at the Cathedral rectory. He “cut his teeth” as a bishop in multicultural and multilingual Miami and the priests came to like him as a person, though they had not known him as a priest or pastor.

When Bishop Thomas Grady reached the retirement age in Orlando, Bishop Norbert was called north to become the third bishop of that diocese. He started new parishes in the rapidly growing area, bought the downtown US Post Office and turned it into the Pastoral Center or Chancery Office for the diocese. Ever the gentleman, ever the kindly priest he was often tested, mostly by testy priests, but he calmly stayed the course and led by humble example. When the time came and he felt his energy diminishing, he asked the Holy Father for help and getting it, retired soon thereafter, turning over this beloved diocese to others. Two bishops have served Orlando since Bishop Norbert’s retirement and he has been in diminishing health for almost all of his retirement. Living with a Passionist brother, Gus, he privately celebrated Mass, prayed, read, and smoked cigarettes.

As his neighbor to the West for a few years prior to his retirement, he was always encouraging to me, ever ready to lend a hand or an ear. He loved priests, even those few who gave him occasional fits and that is what I will always cherish as my memory of him – he loved priests. It hurt him as we all hurt when a priest was credibly accused of misconduct with a minor and it was on his watch when many cases came to light. Each was a crucifixion for him as were their acts for their victims. So last night, after a long period of illness which ended as a result of cancer, he went home to the Father. The church in Florida was blessed by his presence among us, the people of Orlando knew they had a good shepherd, and I lost a brother bishop last night, a friend, a wise counsellor, a genuinely good and holy man. Your own passion is now over, dear +Norbert. May you rest in peace.

+RNL

FATHER MUSHI

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013
Father Evaristus Mushi 1956 - 2013 Photo credit:  Diocese of Zanzibar website

Father Evaristus Mushi
1956 – 2013
Photo credit: Diocese of Zanzibar website

I first learned of the death of Father Evaristus Mushi yesterday while checking my emails from a retired pastor who once enjoyed the presence and priestly service of Father in his parish. The details were astounding to me and crushing. This good priest, whom the people of St. Benedict’s parish in Crystal River and Our Lady of Grace parish in Beverly Hills came to know and love, was murdered at the entrance to his parish church in Zanzibar, an island in the Indian Ocean off of and a part of Tanzania, by at least two men who gunned him down on Sunday morning before Mass. Police investigating the murder think they now have in custody the men who killed Father Mushi but only time will tell. Father is the third clergy victim of such attacks since Christmas including a second priest,  but one of the clerics attacked was an Islamic cleric.

We remember Father Evaristus as an extremely kind, generous and genuinely holy priest who helped us here out for three years before returning to his country of Tanzania. He may well be a martyr for the faith. But for now, his parishioners, family and friends mourn this senseless act of violence and pray for the peaceful repose of his soul.

+RNL

GOODBY TO A LONG TIME FRIEND

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Last Friday a week ago I received a phone call in the morning from the Bishop of Covington, KY informing me of the death at age 91 of the former bishop twice removed, Bishop William A Hughes. Sixty-six years a priest and 29 a bishop, he had spent recent years in Carmel Manor, an assisted living and nursing home in his diocese owned and operated by the Carmelite Sisters. I thought the world of the good bishop and missed him very much in these later years. Amazingly, Bishop Foyes call was to inform me that Bishop Hughes had asked me to preach the homily at his funeral Mass which was yesterday (February 15th) in the beautiful Covington Cathedral. It was a labor of love so I wish to share it with all of you who have the time and patience to read it.

I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback when Bishop Foyes called me on Friday morning to inform me of the death of Bishop Hughes and indicate that in his funeral directions, he had asked that I give the homily this morning. I am honored since I have long held Bishop Hughes in admiration and once had the privilege of working for him.

Death allows for no survivors and is one thing which all humanity shares in common. No amount of money or any position of prestige buys a “pass” from death’s embrace. It is a reality which we all must eventually face and for which many of us prepare. Seeking a dwelling place in the Father’s house is our life project for “God shows no partiality.” Kings and Queens, Popes and Presidents, bishops and priests, religious and lay all await that moment when we either will or will not be called to the “mountain top” where we will either have the veil which hides our vision of eternity lifted and are invited to join the elect, or face an eternity doomed to never see the face of God. The person of true faith fears not that moment and often when they pass from this life to the next, few tears are shed because there seems to be a surety of a life well lived.

Ninety-one years was a long time to wait for that moment, but unlike Thomas in the Gospel, when one has a fairly certain instinct where Jesus has gone, where He is to be found among us today, and how we follow the path of holiness by following the one person once on earth who came as “the way, the truth and the life”, then a peace sets in and waiting and watching take second place to reflecting on and thanking God for the manifold blessings which have been at the heart of one’s life. So today we gather not in grief but rather in gratitude, today we lift our voices not in lamentation but in praise, today we celebrate a life well lived according to the Gospel and we rejoice, strangely enough, in Bishop Hughes’ passing to the place for which he longed, one with Jesus, Mary and all the saints, and reunited with James and Anna his parents, and with others among his family, friends, and the faith communities of the dioceses of Youngstown and Covington where he served as priest and bishop.

I first met the bishop in 1969 when he was Superintendent of Schools for the Diocese of Youngstown and I as a young, cocky layman interviewing for a position with the Catholic Conference of Ohio. All of the Ohio superintendents interviewed me that day but there was one who scared the daylights out of me, saying little and staring me down. That was Monsignor Hughes. I was sure I would not get the job and I didn’t. But they created a position for me anyway and in the ensuing months I came to know, appreciate and admire all the Catholic school leadership of Ohio and especially Monsignor Hughes. He believed in Catholic education and with the help of several highly talented religious women and one fine lay man, they ran the best diocesan school program in the state.

After my own ordination as a priest, almost ten years later, and my subsequent involvement as a staff person for the United States Catholic Conference, I came to know Bishop Hughes much better, as a friend, mentor, supporter, and defender. He helped me especially come to understand and deal with his seminary classmate, friend of many years, and eventually his bishop, James Malone, a formidable figure of our Church in this country in the ‘80’s who was capable of striking fear in any other person’s heart. Involved as almost a charter member of the new NCCB Committee on Priestly Life and Ministry, Bishop Hughes was a silent author of many of that committee’s best efforts in defining the post-conciliar hope for the priesthood.

He, like his friend Bishop Malone, were bishops of the Second Vatican Council, the latter an attendee and the former a disciple. Excited by the possibility of preaching the Gospel with new enthusiasm and shepherding the Church in the modern world, Bishop Hughes devoted his truly pastoral years to implementing what he saw as the Council’s spirit and vision. I have reflected the last several days on the first reading of this Mass from Isaiah and truly believe that Bishop Hughes and his contemporaries in the episcopacy saw their roles in the Church in a new and prophetic manner – to reconcile all people to Christ and one another through collegiality, subsidiarity, and liturgy. Those three words, collegiality, subsidiarity and liturgy, led them to long for a more sensitive, loving, caring, inclusive Church, which would be at its best when “the People of God” gathered for Eucharist and the other sacraments. What he may have held sacred, as he was ordained as priest almost 66 years ago gave way to a somewhat albeit slightly different vision of Church when he was ordained a bishop 29 years ago. Those two men, both bishops from Youngstown, OH, could at times be stubborn, but they felt it was Gospel and Council driven stubbornness. And in the face of criticism at times from some who did not share their vision, they stayed their course and led as they believed their Lord would wish of them.

Early in my own life as a bishop, I needed the support of other bishops and through the kindness of the late Archbishop Kelly of Louisville, I was invited to join the bishops of the province of Louisville in their Jesus Caritas support group. I had to fly farther and travel longer but it was a grace to be with these brothers who were also bearing the “heat of the day.” Bill Hughes once again sat opposite and facing me on many occasions but this time there were smiles exchanged, words of comfort and support instead of the sharp questions of our first close encounter. He had retired and Bishop Muench had succeeded him so he seemed freer. He would come to my diocese on the Gulf coast in the winter for a few weeks in the sun and to play golf. And in the Fall, we would often meet in South Bend for a Notre Dame football game. He lived long enough to see the Fighting Irish in a national championship game but its final result may have hastened his death.

Nonetheless, I know that he felt secure that on the day when death and the Lord would come to claim their servant, he felt that he had served the Lord well enough. Last Friday was that day. We pray that he rests now in peace, having heard the words for which everyone in this beautiful Cathedral longs to hear: well-done, good and faithful servant. . . .come now to the place which the Father and I have prepared for those who love me.”

He was a humble, simple, loving and caring servant of Jesus Christ who like the Lord he served came not to be served but to serve. Rest in peace, dear Bill, and may perpetual light always shine upon you.

+RNL

EVER A SON OF ST. VINCENT DE PAUL

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

Reverend Felix Sanchez

Bishops must love their priests. The priests of a diocese are co-workers with the bishop in the vineyard of the Lord and together they sow the seeds of the Gospel. On the human level, of course, not every priest is always easy for the bishop to deal with and the reverse is equally true but the relation of the two is somewhere between that of father and son and brother and brother. In my time here, I have come to cultivate anew my love for my brothers, to appreciate their different gifts and even when there may be disagreements to be patient. But today I learned of the death of a dear priest, a “bishop’s priest,” I might say and his passing will be mourned by many more than just myself. Father Felix Sanchez, pastor emeritus of St. Joseph parish in West Tampa went home to God today on a park bench in a plaza in Salamanca, Spain on a bright, warm and beautiful morning.  Once again for me, no time to say a final thanks, no time to say good-bye. I mourn his passing and will long remember his presence.

When I came to the diocese, Father Felix was happily ensconsed as pastor of St. Rita parish in  Dade City. I do not think he ever planned or wanted to go anywhere else. He was happy and the people loved him. It was a bilingual and bi-cultural ministry.  A year after my arrival, I upset his life and asked him if he would go to St. Joseph’s parish in West Tampa to replace the Redemptorist Fathers who were leaving the diocese. He said, “Bishop, I will do anything you ask me. I love St. Rita but it would be a privilege to also serve St. Joseph. So off he went in 1997 to serve for fourteen years.

His own priestly ministry began in Spain as a member of the Vincentian Fathers, begun by St. Vincent de Paul, and their charism for the poor and marginalized never left him. He had a heart for the poor, a priestly heart.

A major moment occured soon after arriving at St. Joseph when his doctors recommended amputating his leg. I was at his side at St. Joseph Hospital when they took him on the gurney from the pre-op room to the OR. Peaceful, resigned, placing himself in the hands of the the Lord, he gave up his leg but not his dynamic and active priestly ministry. When the prosthesis was in place and hurting like the devil, he returned to full ministry at St. Joe’s and to the school children who he loved. He would never say no to a funeral home who called him because a family wished a service there or at a graveside. Worried about his health, I asked him to cease and he “yes-ed” me to death and continued to serve. I recently found out that all the gifts he received from these services went to help children attend St. Joseph’s school. St. Vincent de Paul would have been proud of him.

As I write this, we are trying to arrange a memorial Mass for Monday, October 1, at 11:30am at St. Joseph’s. He will be buried, as is the custom in Spain, on Saturday morning in Salamanca with his priest brother saying the Mass. How I wish I could be there. Rest in peace, Felix, you were simply “una linda persona.”

*11:00AM Friday, September 21 Update:  A Memorial Mass for Father Felix will be celebrated at 11:30am on October 1, 2012 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Tampa (3012 Cherry St. Tampa, FL 33607). I will be the main celebrant. A rosary will be said at 11:00am and a reception after the Mass will be held in the parish hall.

+RNL

THOMAS A. HORKAN, RIP

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

At noon today, the Lord came for Thomas A. Horkan, first director of the Florida Catholic Conference, husband, father and friend. Eternal Rest Grant onto Him, O Lord.

Thomas A. Horkan. Photo courtesy of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.