Posts Tagged ‘Seminarians’

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEMS

Friday, October 28th, 2016

I spent a few days in Rome this week, attempting to take care of a couple of matters as well as claim some personal belongings which I have stored there for twenty one years, viz., a cassock which I only wear when I am in the presence of the Holy Father.

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L'Osservatore Romano

From the General Audience on October 26. Photo credit: L’Osservatore Romano

We also have four men studying in Rome at the present time, Joshua Bertrand and Ralph D’Elia, III at the North American College (preparing for ordination to the priesthood) and Fathers Victor Amorose and Alex Padilla, who are working on advanced degrees. Last Saturday was a “quiet day”, free of other obligations, and the two seminarians and I spent about eleven hours together, mostly just talking.

Seminarians Ralph D'Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

Seminarians Ralph D’Elia III on left and Josh Bertrand on right.

At one point I mentioned that an American bishop had delivered a talk within the last two days in which he publicly embraced a position that it might be good for the Church to clear its membership rolls of many people and perhaps start to rebuild the Church from a smaller core of a more orthodox, committed few.  I told the men that this was a largely unspoken and unpublished concept that had silently and secretly emerged in the late eighties and nineties, emanating from some US bishops serving in Rome. Now it seemed to me that the strategy was finally publicly articulated. I also told them that I was appalled then when  I first heard of it decades ago and am even more so now because it would seem to me to be  a rejection of the pastoral vision of Pope Francis which I find so challenging and exciting.

For the next hour, these two “yearlings” led me on a journey through constructing an approach to guiding the Church through the coming epoch of its existence. “Epoch” was an important word for them because they felt that the world, not just the world but also including the Church, was at the end of one cultural epoch and beginning another.

One asked me if I had read the Holy Father’s talk to the Church of Italy given in Florence on November 14, 2015. He then retraced for me this Pope’s vision for how the Church is to survive this epochal change. At its center must be Jesus, always Jesus, but not only the Jesus of rules, regulations and judgments, but even more so the Jesus of accompaniment, discernment, and discussion.”It can be said that today we do not live in an age of change but in a change of age. Therefore the situations we are living in today pose new challenges which for us at times are difficult to understand. Our times require that we live problems as challenges and not as obstacles: the Lord is active and at work in the world. Therefore you must go out to the streets and to the crossroads; call all those you find; exclude no one. (Cf Matthew 22.9) Above all, accompany the one who remained at the side of the street. The lame, the maimed, the blind, the dumb (Matthew 15.30). Where ever you are, never build walls or borders, but squares and field hospitals.” Pope Francis, Florence address to leaders of the Italian Church.

I knew the minute the seminarian opened the conversation that here was an answer to the “purity of the Church” protestors within our ecclesial community. If the Church is to sustain membership with the new children of the present, enormous cultural shift, it cannot continue to do so with casting aside those members who may not be perfect, but to present them with a Christ far more loving, patient, kind, supple and flexible when possible. In other words what God has given us are precisely those to whom we must pronounce the Gospel of Joy.  These two men said that they looked forward to the challenge of the new era, they were not afraid, thanks to Pope Francis. Earlier this week, the Holy Father in his morning homilies at daily Mass had positioned a full scale attack on rigidity, especially legalism proposed in some quarters by Church leadership.

So there is little to be gained and lots to be lost by continuing to fight cultural battles in an evolving culture with worn out logic and words that today’s younger Catholic membership does not wish to hear or rejects outright. We will be far more attractive to the future generations by not pursuing a pastoral approach that is angry at those who do not “buy the whole package” but still wish to belong to a community which evinces Christ’s compassion and understanding of the moment. Will we still teach sin and forgiveness? You betcha! But if you are a believer in the inspiration which is Pope Francis, then you do so always with his openness to those who may not get it, in sum or parts, but who also wish to make Christ present in the world. Be glad there is some fruit on the tree still! Read the Holy Father’s full talk in Florence by clicking here.

So as I enter the remaining months of my leadership of the local Church of St. Petersburg I do so with the knowledge that almost all of my seminarians are not pursuing priesthood for respectability, ambition, power and influence but to be comfortable with a pastoral strategy that makes sense in a changing world and culture. The teacher last Saturday sat at the foot of his disciples last and then shared a peek at what most excites them about being a priest in the next epoch. Ralph D’Elia before retiring for the night, found the Florence talk of Pope Francis and I read it substituting the words “United States of America” for “Italy” wherever it appears. Try it, you might like it. Saturday brought me a lot of joy, peace and contentment, not doom and gloom. The very best things I bequeath to my successor are the future priests he will ordain for your service and that of the Lord.

I touch down in Atlanta in five hours now and my thoughts turn again to Father Michael Morris, whom I will bury tomorrow in Dallas. I would love to share with you the comments and responses which people have sent since the previous blog appeared. They are from people who knew him and loved him and in many cases whose lives were changed because of him. May he rest in peace! Finally to the fearsome-less foursome in Rome, thanks for the memories.

+RNL

SUNDAY, SUNDAY

Monday, October 5th, 2015

IMG_1872I left Rome on Saturday to return to the diocese, mostly without interruption at least until the Christmas holidays. The “Roman Holiday” was not much of a holiday as I arrived in the Eternal City at 900 am on Wednesday and left at noon on Saturday – three days and three hours. The purpose of the trip was wonderful in that for the second year in a row one of our seminarians was ordained to the transitional diaconate, meaning that I will have the privilege of ordaining him to the priesthood this coming May. Alex Padilla, like Father Ryan Boyle who was ordained last year, has attended the Pontifical North American College for three years. During that time his studies have been at the Gregorian University (the Jesuits) and his formation at the North American College (NAC hereafter). He is among 270 seminarians enrolled this year at this seminary.

Alex is one of two early vocations coming from the diocese’s newest high school, Bishop McLaughlin in Spring Hill (well, really Hudson for everyone except the Post Office). Rajeev Phillip is the second vocation and he also is studying in Rome but for the Syro-Malabar Rite whose origin and strength is to be found in Southern India. His diocesan headquarters is in Chicago and there are two Syro-Malabar parishes located in Tampa so perhaps good fortune will bring Rajeev back to minister in his home area. Both McLaughlin graduates are outstanding candidates for the priesthood.

Alex was ordained a deacon on Thursday morning at the Altar of the Chair in St. Peter’s Basilica by Timothy Cardinal Dolan along with thirty-eight other men. Twelve of his classmates were ordained deacons during the summer months in their own dioceses and by their own bishops. While his mother and father and brother were able to be present, only one other cousin who lives in Germany, and one other classmate from his days as a college seminarian at St. John Vianney were able to be present as well.

His rector from his days at St. John Vianney in Miami, Monsignor Roberto Garza, vested him in his diaconal robes during the ceremony, and his coach and mentor from Bishop McLaughin, Michael Zelenka, now principal at Incarnation Elementary School in Tampa, and I were able to be present.

Cardinal Dolan gave one of the finest homilies prior to the actual ordination ceremony itself I have ever heard. The ordination was lovely and the opportunity  to spend time with an ordinand and his family was special for myself as well.

On Friday and Saturday, the nine U.S. bishops who will be participating in the Synod on the Family, which began with a prayer service on Saturday night, arrived for their three hard weeks of work on a church event which, save for the Second Vatican Council, has captured the attention of the Catholic world. You may recall that almost two years ago I invited all of my diocesan family to complete a questionnaire on marriage and family life in the Church and world today.

More than 9,000 of you responded with a large majority asking for some type of relief for the divorced and remarried while maintaining the essential teaching on the indissolubility of marriage. You also spoke your minds and hearts in that survey about same-sex marriage, welcoming gay and lesbian Catholics back into the family if they felt estranged, cohabitation and many other matters.

I shared the results of the survey with all of you, even though I think I was not supposed to do that. That survey and its findings were sent to the Synod Office in Rome which prepared the working structure for both last year’s extraordinary Synod which led up to what starts tonight with a prayer vigil with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square and a Mass tomorrow morning. Then the “rubber will hit the road”. My suspicion is that there is sufficient division among the attending Synod members to bring about major change, but the Holy Father might well. He listens carefully and intently to what he hears, both the majority opinions and the minority opinions. If the minority has a point, whereas in the past it would never see the light of day at the conclusion of the Synod, he has minority opinions noted publicly and occasionally as he sees pastorally fit, useful and or necessary he implements some of the things he hears.

This man is not afraid of conflict. He has asked the Synod Fathers to speak the truth of their hearts and minds in love and to bear in mind that there is always “Peter” to make the final decisions. It is going to be an interesting and invigorating three weeks as the Francis wind continues to breeze through the Church and it could get seemingly ugly but I ask you “be not afraid” as the Holy Spirit is guiding us now as we seek to speak to the modern world. Keep your eye on this space during these three weeks for thoughts.

Congratulations Deacon Alex. As wonderful as Thursday was, May 21, 2016 will be even more joyous as a grateful church of St. Petersburg welcomes you, Bradley Reed, Jonathan Stephanz, Kevin Yarnell, and Felipe Gonzalez to the sacred priesthood.

Also, please pray for all your priests who will be spending three days together this week in a special, mandatory convocation to reflect on what we have accomplished as a local church in the last two decades and what we would like to see shape a vision that we can share with the next shepherd of this great diocese.

+RNL

PRIESTS FOR THE FLORIDA FUTURE

Friday, December 12th, 2014

On Sunday evening, the bishops of Florida joined St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary for a major moment, the dedication of two new residence buildings and the major remodeling of fifty year old existing buildings.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

The other FL bishops and myself ready to cut the ribbon in front of the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

Catholics in the St. Petersburg diocese know that we have been raising monies in the FORWARD IN FAITH campaign to pay our diocesan share of the construction and furnishing costs of these new and remodeled buildings.

Two years ago, the Board of Trustees, consisting of the state’s bishops and other lay and ordained representatives from the seven dioceses made a major commitment of twenty-eight million dollars for construction and and endowment to guarantee St. Vincent’s as our choice for priestly formation for the next fifty years, at least.

The seminary was built and opened by the Vincentian Fathers in the early sixties and when it was no longer possible for them to run it, the Archdiocese of Miami purchased it for about two million dollars, if I remember right. It became an Archdiocesan seminary opened to students from Florida and elsewhere and the faculty were largely, though not entirely, Miami priests.

In 1981, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, the second Archbishop of Miami, and Bishops Larkin, Snyder, and Gracida agreed to change its status from an archdiocesan seminary to a provincial seminary, thereby incurring the financial and staffing responsibilities. The Orlando diocese, then shepherded by Bishop Thomas Grady, declined participation in the regional seminary concept, but around 1999, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, then of Orlando, agreed to “buy into” the agreement and the two dioceses of Palm Beach and Venice, established in 1984, were also a part from their establishment. So, St. Vincent’s is a truly provincial seminary for all the dioceses of Florida and it’s open to any other diocese that wishes to send their candidates there.

In the history of the seminary since its regionalization, our St. Petersburg diocese has provided priest personnel in the persons of Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups (the current Rector-President), and Father Robert Young ,who is an extern professor of Church History. All of this is to say that financially and with precious priest personnel, we have done our share and I am proud of that.

Currently the seminary enrollment stands at about 90 students and is reasonably projected to touch the magic 100 mark soon. The original design and buildings were horrible. The Albany based architect chosen by the Vincentians never came to Florida and designed the seminary residence buildings like they were motels along highway A1A. Students had to go outside to use the bathrooms and the showers in the residence area. Air-conditioning was challenging to say the least and the number of classrooms was and remained severely limited. But, there is a beautiful seminary chapel which came a little later and a large library/media center which was opened in the nineties.

Now, when the seminarians return to school in January following the Christmas recess, they will find larger rooms opening off an interior hallway with private bath and shower in every room. The design and space is comfortable, but far from extravagant.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

View of inside the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

And those old buildings with the central showers and bathrooms are and will be remodeled in such a way as the double the size of the rooms and include a private bath and shower where one previously did not exist. All things made new! The seminary will soon be capable, if necessary, of accommodating something like 125 seminarians. They will be comfortable, but not spoiled. See more photos of the new residence hall here.

At the conclusion of the Dedication and Mass, the eight bishops gathered together for a meal and to begin our quarterly meetings of the Florida Catholic Conference. I proposed a toast to my brother bishops for two years ago taking a deep breath and making a sizeable commitment to the future of priestly formation in our state and elsewhere throughout the Southeast and Caribbean. They had the same courage as those who began the seminary originally and our forebears as bishops who spread the responsibility among all seven dioceses. I was proud of them and proud to be one of them.

To our own Monsignor David Toups, the President Rector, who now has in three years given birth to a new school building at Christ the King in Tampa and 12 million dollars of new building in Boynton Beach, I offer congratulations as “father” of the project and to the architects and Herman Construction Services who built it. I said when I came, soon to be nineteen years ago, that Vocations and Priestly Formation would be one of my highest priorities and the ordination of five men in May of 2015 and six in May of 2016 should be proof positive that we in St. Petersburg, ordained, religious and lay, are doing all in our power to provide priests for the future. Nine men are in the application process for the seminary next year to replace the five being ordained and then some. God is good.

+RNL

HOPE IN ABUNDANCE

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

One of the surest signs that it is Fall finds me visiting both of our seminaries, the college program, St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and the Theological program, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. At conclusion of the second, each September, the bishops of the province of Miami meet for several hours as the corporate members of the Catholic Conference of Florida. Thursday, September 25 was the meeting in Miami, Friday, September 26 was the meeting for the Board in Boynton Beach, and Saturday morning, September 27, saw me exit the Florida Catholic Conference meeting to catch a plane to Rome to meet with our two seminarians at the Pontifical North American College and to attend the ordination to the diaconate of one.

I almost always take AMTRAK to Miami and Monsignor Robert Gibbons who is on the board of the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary usually accompanies me as far as West Palm Beach. I had hoped to take sixteen seminarians at the college in Miami out for a light dinner but AMTRAK’s tardiness killed that good idea. We have sixteen men studying in six different years of the program. In recent weeks, Father Art Proulx has moved in as a house Spiritual Director and he is doing just great. So are our sixteen fine seminarians who come from three cultures with four native languages.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The men attending St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami with Father Arthur Proulx, Monsignor Toups and myself.

The seminary has plans for expansion, as they are too full this year with 97 seminarians living in space maximally designed for 72. The Miami Archdiocese has monies to fund these projects whole and in entirety so we will see what happens. They were in great form and fun to be with when I was not otherwise occupied in a meeting.

Thursday night we left St. John Vianney College Seminary for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary (about eighty minutes north) where all the seminarians were waiting for dinner and received sad news. One of their brothers, second year theologian Tim Williford’s mother lost her valiant battle against cancer. Here was to be found a group of men so close to one another that the pain and loss of one affected the others. We immediately prayed for Lisa Williford and had a special, second Mass the next morning for her and her family. Our meetings were properly sober and when she was buried on Friday at St. Paul’s St. Petersburg, all of his fellow diocesan seminarians (34) and nine (9) others were present at the Mass to pray and sing.

Our own Monsignor Toups has a mostly new faculty at St. Vincent’s this year and is in the in finishing stage of his twelve plus million construction project which will be ready for occupancy in late November. He has some 87 seminarians on campus and about fourteen in Pastoral Year programs in the dioceses, which send men to St, Vincent’s. They seemed a happy lot and Friday night was devoted to their major fundraiser, FRIENDS OF THE SEMINARY.

With the understandable and lovely exception of Lisa Willifords’ death, the men at St. Vincent de Paul seminary were enthusiastically well into their school year. Please remember that in God’s grace and assuming no departures, our diocese will ordain five men to priesthood in May 2015, seven men to priesthood in May 2016, two in May of 2017, and four in May of 2018. At no time in its fifty year history will this diocese see so many ordained in a four year window – something to be proud of, thank God and these young men and their families for, and continue to encourage others to think of a life of service to God and neighbor in religious life or priesthood. I also with to mention that another seminarian is studying at Pope St. John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, and will, God willing, be ordained a deacon this coming Spring. Kevin Yarnell previously was on the faculty of Tampa Catholic.

Earlier I mentioned that I was in Rome for the diaconate ordination of Ryan Christopher Boyle. Home grown in the Diocese (attended Bloomingdale High School), Ryan graduated from the Air Force Academy and began flying the air forces’ version of the Boeing 767 which serves as a “gas truck in the air to refuel” air force jets as they fly their missions. Along, among and in the “wild blue wonder” Ryan began to see the call to life as a priest, made the decision with the encouragement of his military superiors and with my permission entered that could be called a “co-sponsorship” between our diocese for which he would be ordained and the Military Archdiocese as an Air Force Chaplain. He loves our diocese and its parish work but he knows he must meet his promise to the Air Force for at least seven years.

Thursday morning last (October 2) dawned absolutely beautiful in Rome and several thousand people crowded the area known as the Altar of the Chair behind the Main Altar of St. Peter’s Basilica. Cardinal Donald Wuerl was the ordaining prelate for the occasion and gave a magnificent homily.

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.  Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

The “laying on of hands” by Cardinal Wuerl on Ryan Boyle with a proud bishop looking on.

Photo credit: Daniel Hart, PNAC Photo Service

See more photos from Deacon Ryan’s ordination here. Later the same day, Deacon Ryan assembled his family and friends for a Mass of Thanksgiving at Santa Maria in Trestevere, one of Rome’s oldest and in some ways loveliest Churches and the parish of the Saint Egidio community in Rome, which is quite active for social justice.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

At the Mass of Thanksgiving, the new deacon and Archbishop Timothy Broglio of the Military Archdiocese and myself.

It was a great day and week for our still young seminarian and this morning he put his family and us into cars and buses for the airport breathing a great sigh of relief and likely climbing into bed for a long and well deserved Fall nap. Tanti auguri, Ryan!

So I am back and have Father Chris Fitzgerald’s funeral tomorrow (Monday, October 6) followed by our annual priests convocation at the Bethany Center.

+RNL

*Note: This blog was originally written on Sunday, October 5.

COMINGS AND GOINGS

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

I can see the light at the end of the annual “spring” tunnel and so can many of our priests, educators, parish personnel and others engaged in the enterprise of spreading the Gospel in the five counties of the diocese. As I write this, I have four more confirmations scheduled, one cook-out tomorrow night with those few seminarians remaining in the diocese for the summer and the graduation exercise next Monday night for this year’s participants in the Lay Pastoral Ministry effort. I have two commitments outside of the diocese in the next three weeks including a meeting in New York of the Catholic Medical Mission Board on which I serve and an invitation to give the first Bishop Joseph Sullivan lecture as the keynoter at the annual Catholic Health Association Assembly in Chicago. I think I’ll make it! So allow me a few paragraphs to do some summing up of the year in review.

First, I wish to express my profound gratitude to many of you who through comments, e-mails, and letters, etc., shared with me your sorrow for Father Vladimir Dziadek and your concern for myself. No blog entry has achieved the number of comments as did the last posted here and with a single exception of one person who utilized two comment opportunities, all have embraced the twin themes of forgiveness and mercy. Father’s funeral in Poland is today (June 3, 2014) and my Mass this evening will attempt to connect spiritually with those with whom he had familial ties as they grieve his loss. St. Joseph parish under their new administrator, Father Carlos Rojas, is recovering very well with renewed energy and commitment from everyone and that is reassuring.

My annual rounds of the high school baccalaureate Masses (Jesuit, Clearwater Central and Tampa Catholic) and graduations (St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, and Bishop McLaughlin High School) are now history. I have listened to four salutatorian addresses (St. Petersburg Catholic had a tie for this honor), three valedictorian addresses, five lengthy remarks from school principals, and way too many acknowledgments of my presence at the events which reminded me too much of the old days when the bishop was treated like royalty.  I have been impressed with the seriousness of the graduates this year in particular, with the love and admiration they hold both for their sacrificing parents as well as their teachers (quite often mentioned by name) and their references to their basic faith in God. At times it has seemed like a long desert had to be plowed through, arid and with little water of refreshment and regeneration as neither God nor faith nor Catholic nor thanks were extended to those who really deserved the recognition. Don’t know what is currently in the air, but it is refreshing!

There is not much left of summer vacation, even though it has yet to begin. Our seminarians are either in Guatemala or Honduras studying intensive Spanish, in Omaha at Creighton’s Institute for Priestly Formation studying how to be holier, at Tampa General Hospital in Clinical Pastoral Education learning how to listen, or working in parishes with everything from youth ministry to painting. By my count they have only nine weeks until they are back in the seminary, scratching their heads and wondering where the time as gone. Teachers and school administrators are closer to reporting for the new school year today than recalling Easter Sunday and their Spring break. Such is the rhythm of life these days. When I recall that my summer vacation started a day or two prior to Memorial Day and ended a day or two after Labor Day, that was a real summer vacation.

Priests too used to take a month (or if you were from Ireland where there are six weeks in a month) off but now they are lucky to grab a few weeks. There are less of us which means less priests to cover and the shortened summer has shortened most summer vacations for your priests. We seem to all have become prisoners of a new reality which is more occasions of shorter times off. My men work hard for the most part and it is generally acknowledged that few of them take care of themselves in the manner in which they should. Sad really but something of a sign of the times. I wish them the best and begrudge them little. Understandable when a trip home means lengthy and challenging travel such as to Ireland, Poland, India and Africa, the time away should be a little longer as there is no home for these men to go to recover from Christmas and Easter and the mad and merry month of May.

Despite it all, the wonderful work of sharing the “Joy of the Gospel” continues unabated throughout the summer months. Where there was once a full choir at a Mass, there may now be only a cantor and organist; where there once may have been a youth group, there may now be only trips to Cove Crest. The Church, like nature, abhors a vacuum and the Spirit whose coming we recall this coming Sunday leads and guides us. I intend to continue posting from time to time throughout the summer because my mind never shuts down but my episcopal clock is still working its way toward ecclesial midnight. Like Robert Frost, I feel “I have miles to go before I sleep” and with you, to continue to choose “the road less travelled by.” Have a great summer.

+RNL

 

 

FUTURE NOW

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It has been my custom all these years to visit our two seminaries annually and when I can manage it, our seminarians also studying in Rome at the North American College and outside of Boston at St. John XXIII National Seminary (n.b.: I know, I am anticipating!).

Last year the seminary visitation was not necessary because we were all together for the extraordinary trip to the Holy Land during the New Year’s break from their studies. And, while my presence is needed twice a year at both Florida seminaries for meetings of the Board of Trustees, it is never possible to spend any quality time with the seminarians or those responsible for their formation on those occasions.

So, last week I resumed the custom again and visited St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach where our men spend their last five years of study and formation and St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami where they complete their college studies or pre-theology.

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D'Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D’Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

 

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

Our medium size diocese has been generous for some time in lending both seminaries some great priests for the faculty and for Spiritual Direction. As strapped as we are for priests, it only makes sense to most of us that we invest in the quality, education, spiritual and pastoral formation of our future priests. Currently both the Rector/President of St. Vincent de Paul (Monsignor David Toups) and the Spiritual Director of the same (Monsignor Michael Muhr) are from the St. Petersburg Diocese.

When two years ago, the Archdiocese of Miami was unable to provide a sufficient number of in-house priest spiritual directors, I asked Monsignor John Cippel, who had been retired from administrative duty for a few years, if he would pitch in and help by going to and living at St. John Vianney for two years as Spiritual Director (something he had previously done at St. Vincent de Paul before becoming pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Spring Hill in 1995). He is completing those two years of heroic service and wishes to return to our area to continue his amazing retirement activity.

I mention this because I am aware that last week Father Arthur Proulx, pastor for eleven years at Nativity in Brandon, announced that he would be leaving that parish to begin a term of service as a Spiritual Director at St. John Vianney in Miami. I have already heard about the pain that announcement and the decision which preceded it has brought to many at Nativity. I understand it and acknowledge that it springs from great respect and appreciation which is held for Father Proulx.

But we have fourteen men at St. John Vianney in pre-theology and college and Miami (which owns and operates the seminary and promised when St. Vincent de Paul Seminary became provincially owned by all the Florida dioceses that it would cover the cost and staffing of the college) still has no one to provide at this time. If you sat where I sit, you would not stand idle either and deprive not just our men, but others in the 85 student strong resident college seminary community of spiritual direction during a very important part of their lives. The parishioners of Christ the King understand this, in their heart and from experience. They gave up both Monsignors Muhr and Toups to the seminary with the fond hope that young men being ordained would come back better for having these two guides and examples during their formation.

I have an opportunity on these visits to have some private moments with each seminarian. They share with me their joys as well as their trials and readily provide me with an insight as to how they are doing in their pursuit of understanding better God’s call in terms of their own vocation. Believe me, dear reader, it is not easy in today’s world to give up the love of a potential wife and the attraction of another profession. Some of our pre-theologians hold degrees in engineering from UF or FSU or UCF and USF to name a few. They once dreamed of something else and then felt this calling from the Lord, which they will test out right up until the moment of their ordination. I admire them so deeply and firmly believe that without exception you would be honored to have any of them as your sons and we will be honored, please God, to have them some day as our brothers in the priesthood.

They care for one another very well also. Our men, on their own, make it their personal duty to weekly pray together, share their life experience over the past week with their peers, and fairly regularly to recreate together. They are already a “band of brothers” and this augurs well for the future of ministry in this diocese. Priests today and more so since the sexual abuse crisis of the last decade need to support one another. Almost without exception I find them devoid of clericalism and in the seminary because they feel called by the Lord to serve His people and not themselves. They know how to gently “needle” one another but never in a manner or way that hurts someone else. In fact, at the dinner which I have with them during these visits, they can be quite fun. I don’t remember during my seminary days of ever being as open, unthreatened and casual with my bishop at the time. In the end, however, they are very respectful of authority and genuinely understand its place in the Church.

Before I leave both seminaries we celebrate the Eucharist together and it is then when I see their deep commitment to prayer. I pray that the men are learning that it is what they do after ordination as priests at Eucharist and not what they wear that is important. I pray that they will come to appreciate that the greatest privilege that can be accorded any priest is to be truly and genuinely called “Father” and not to worry about other honors, privileges and distinctions. I pray that they will understand that if they have truly become whom they have received in the Eucharist, they will yearn to walk out of that chapel or any Church like Jesus would and serve the poor, battle societal injustice, call to serve both women and men in our parishes, embrace the great gifts of women to serve in any and all ministries and offices open to them, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Yes, it is a tall order but something tells me that the men I spent time with last week will not repeat the mistakes of my generation and will serve the Lord with genuine gladness, sacrifice and dedication.

They are the future, now!

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FIFTY YEARS AND COUNTING

Saturday, September 28th, 2013
Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Most of the St.Petersburg diocese seminarians in the chapel following the anniversary Mass. Remember we have two men studying in Rome and one outside of Boston and we were unable to locate several other men for the picture.

Recently Pope Francis in speaking to what we old-timer bishops call the “baby bishops gathering” (translated that means all new bishops created in the previous twelve months who gather in September in Rome for a week of instruction on how to be a bishop) suggested to them that they spend more time in their dioceses and less time at the airport. Good pastoral advice which I especially need to take to heart.

But, for the next three days no one will find me at the airport but rather on AMTRAK once again heading to South Florida for the twice a year meetings of the seminary board of trustees for both St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach. To save time and travel money, we also add a half day meeting of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. This leaves practically no time to visit with our diocesan seminarians so I make a third trip to each seminary later in the year to interview, encourage, and hopefully assist each of our seminarians individually. All trips to south Florida are on AMTRAK which is cheap, comfortable, usually always late, and different.

This week, however, there is an additional reason to be proud of one of our seminaries, St. Vincent de Paul, which is celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of its founding. It has an interesting history for a still young institution. It was built originally as a seminary for the Congregation of Missions or as they are better known, the Vincentian fathers. St. Vincent de Paul whose name is appropriately assigned to magnificent works of charity throughout the US also had as a priority of his nascent religious order the formation and education of priests. In 1959, one year after the establishment and creation of the Diocese of Miami, they responded in the affirmative to a request from Miami’s first bishop, Coleman F. Carroll to begin a six year seminary program on property in southwest Miami, part of a 95 acre track of land purchased years previously by Archbishop Joseph P. Hurley, bishop of St. Augustine. As soon as three buildings and a swimming pool were completed, the Vincentians opened a high school and first two years of college seminary program .

At roughly the same time, this same province of Vincentian Fathers was given by Bishop Carroll a larger tract of land in Palm Beach county (also purchased by Archbishop Hurley of St. Augustine), over 100 acres in Boynton Beach, so far west in the county that at the time it seemed to many to be in the middle of the Everglades. Here they were to open what they envisioned as a Philosophy/ Theology seminary for their own seminarians as well as those of any other diocese which might choose to send their men there. The Vincentians were already running seminaries of this nature in St. Louis, Seattle, Denver, near Allentown, PA, Los Angeles and in the post war period there were more than enough vocations to consider opening new houses of formation. So in 1963 St. Vincent de Paul Seminary opened its doors on Military Trail in Boynton Beach and welcomed its first class. The Vincentians used an architect from Albany, New York (their provincial headquarters was near Albany) who designed a series of buildings having never been to Florida. All he knew was that it was hot in Florida and he had a collection of postcards of motels along A1A on our state’s east coast to guide him in his design. Thus the student and faculty wings all looked like motel units BUT the bathrooms could only be accessed by walking outside to a common area and no one told this poor architect that even in Florida it can get quite cold at night from December through March.

Those motel like wings of which I write/

Those motel like wings of which I write/

The seminary did well from the start with student enrollment and a faculty largely consisting of Vincentian priests and a few diocesan adjunct professors. Note that the seminary opened its doors at precisely the same moment as the universal church opened the Second Vatican Council. Later it was thought by the archbishop that some things had gotten a little out of control at the seminary; the rector and one or two other priests left to get married so by then Archbishop ColemanF. Carroll (Miami was made an archdiocese in  1968) got quite nervous about the seminary and told the Vincentians that they had to give it to him, free, no exchange of money. They rightly refused claiming it was their money that built the seminary in the first place. That did not dissuade Archbishop Carroll (he was a man who did not take “no” to his wishes well) who went to Rome and basically asked for permission to confiscate [the kindest verb I could come up with] the seminary (the Vincentians to this day would say “steal the seminary”), and assume responsibility for its operation and staff. The Vincentians withdrew and a new cadre of priests from the Archdiocese of Miami began to be trained to take their place. A priest from Boston, Monsignor John O’Connor was brought in to be the first non-Vincentian Rector, then a Dominican, Father Urban Voll who is still alive today, then the first Miami priest to serve as Rector/President, Bishop Felipe deJesus Estevez in 1980. Father Joseph Cunningham from Brooklyn, Father Arthur Bendixen from Orlando took over for a short time. He was followed by my classmate, Monsignor Pablo Navarro, then Monsignor Stephen Bosso, then Monsignor Keith R. Brennan and presently from our own diocese, Monsignor David L. Toups.

Fifty years later, the seminary is enjoying a renaissance in enrollment, now with ninety students and more predicted for the next few years based on enrollments from other near-by dioceses and men in the final two years at the college seminary in Miami. It is the nation’s only truly bi-lingual, multi-cultural seminary where a native Spanish speaking seminarian can take all his courses in Spanish and English speaking seminarians pray and study at times in Spanish. In 1981 St. Vincent de Paul was incorporated as a regional seminary when all of the dioceses except one agreed to pay immediately into an endowment fund and assume responsibility not only for funding but also for staffing. Later in the early part of the last decade, that one diocese which had held out initially also joined so the seminary is owned by the seven dioceses of Florida whose bishops sit as members of the Corporation. I have always as bishop supported both of Florida’s seminaries. Transparency requires me to note for the reader’s benefit that I served as Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for five years from 1979-1984. We have in the past shared some of our finest priests with both seminaries and in the seventeen and one-half years I have been bishop of St. Petersburg, not one man ordained from St. Vincent de Paul or who attended St. John Vianney College seminary has left the active ministry – a testimony to great work done by our Vocations Admissions team and the seminary formation programs.

DSCN4132The papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano returned to the sunshine state yesterday (Friday) for the anniversary Mass, joining the bishop owners from around the state, and over 600 people jammed into the beautiful seminary chapel for Mass principally concelebrated by Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami who serves the seminary as its Chancellor. The seminary is now in the Diocese of Palm Beach since 1984 and its local bishop is the Treasurer. Those motel units will soon be renovated and for the first time in fifty years will have bathrooms and showers in each room and a new residence building for the students should begin construction within the next few months. The seminary endowment fund now sits at about 14.5 million dollars but the bishops agreed that over the next decade, we will all raise enough money for seminary formation to increase the endowment to about thirty million. So a very good first five decades give way to another form of Florida’s “bright future” in the decade which began this month with the new school year. Congratulations are due to Monsignor David Toups, his staff, administration, faculty, students but in a special way to those Vincentian and early diocesan pioneers that had the vision to build, sustain and maintain the seminary. Ad multos annos the saying goes, or loosely translated “here’s to many more years.”

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NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

Friday, January 11th, 2013

This common farewell saying among our Jewish sisters and brothers came true this past December 30th for our thirty seminarians, three priests and myself as we made a wonderful pilgrimage to the land of Jesus’ birth. With absolutely idyllic weather for five of our seven days in Israel (cloudless blue skies and daytime averages in the mid-70’s,) we visited all the holy places, prayed at them, took one day at the end for a silent day of recollection, recalling all that we had seen and experienced, and then set our eyes on home. For myself, I believe it was my seventh trip to the Holy Land and in all likelihood will be my last. Many of you will recall that I led a semi-pilgrimage using a cruise ship for our conveyance in the Fall of 2011. It was then that I thought, if at all possible, I would love to bring those who are preparing for the priesthood to experience for themselves the incredible sense of the presence of Christ in the midst of modern day Israel.

We stayed at only two places, the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem (nothing to do with the US university of the same name) and the Hospice of the Franciscan Sisters on the Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the northern part of the country. Both places had chapels where we prayed morning and evening prayer together, but daily Mass was celebrated in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of the Transfiguration on Mt. Tabor, the Church of the Primacy of Peter along the Sea of Galilee and the Church of St. Peter in Capernaum. Additional time was made available for lengthy private prayer in the Church of the Dormition of Mary on Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, and the Church of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel above Haifa. Additionally, every evening during Vespers or “Evening Prayer” I gave the seminarians about a twenty minute reflection which I had worked hard on prior to departure.

As many people say when they have finished a visit to the land of Jesus’ birth, they can not listen to the Gospels, indeed the whole of Scripture, in the same way again. To understand spatially what it meant to walk from the Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemani, to appreciate the topography for the trip down from Nazareth to Cana or even better, the three trips from Galilee to Jerusalem for the major feasts adds so much more to one’s understanding of the Incarnation and Christ among us in history two thousand plus years ago. We had a superb guide in Hani, an Arab-Christian and former principal of the Christian Brothers High School in the Old City and he, better than I ever could, made the scriptures come alive and he often connected the dots of words and places. We also had, and perhaps even more importantly, a great bus driver who kept us alive along challenging roads.

The two priests whom I ordained last May, Fathers Tim Corcoran and Victor Amorose came along. It did not seem fair to announce while they were in the seminary that I was inviting all the seminarians to come to the Holy Land at Christmas/New Years 2012/13 and leave them at home because they were “unlucky” enough to be ordained just prior to the trip. Along with our Vocation Director, Father Carl Melchior, the four of us were able to lead the community in prayer and provide for them sacramentally. It would be hard to precisely define the major moment for my traveling band of seminarians as each would likely have their own favorite spot. But we left the region of Galilee on Epiphany, right after celebrating the Solemnity in the Chapel at the hospice on the Mount of the Beatitudes and I came across this line from the gifted Father Robert Barren, Rector of Mundeline Seminary in Chicago and author, who quoted Archbishop Fulton Sheen speaking about the part of the Epiphany Gospel where the Magi or wise men disobey Herod’s orders and return to their homes by a different route than that which they came. Archbishop Sheen said, “of course, they went home a different way. No one who comes to Jesus ever returns the same way that they came.” I hope that was true of all of us.

I am exhausted and sleep does not come easily yet. I lost ten pounds in walking and climbing (in the Catholic Church, nothing seems worth seeing without climbing steps) and longed for my McDonald’s sausage biscuit for eight days, but it will be a while before the memory of this final visit of mine dims and the looks on the faces of those who, God willing, will some day serve you as priests as they stood on the Mt. of Olives with their faces toward the West and the place where the Temple once stood and then walked down the steep hill into the Garden where Jesus prayed and met his accusers.

For me now, “next year in Jerusalem” will now mean that moment when someone comes, hopefully, to lead me into the new and heavenly Jerusalem. The men I travelled with have a lot longer journey ahead of them, but they learned much about the cost of discipleship and following Jesus.

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GOINGS AND COMINGS

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

With Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

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

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

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

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

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

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A GREAT WAY TO FINISH 2011

Saturday, December 31st, 2011

Worshipping together - seminarians and family on the Feast of the Holy Family. Photo kindness of Walter C. Pruchnik, III

Last night at the Bethany Center I attended, perhaps even hosted, the annual Christmas dinner for our thirty-four seminarians and their families. If most bishops were to tell the truth, attending banquets and dinners while a part of our job description are not those things which we most like to do. We do them because it is expected and more often than not our presence lends some importance to the event which can be anything from an annual affair of a diocesan organization to a major fundraiser for something important in diocesan life. For myself, the annual Christmas gathering of the seminarians and their families has always been something I both look forward to and enjoy. Usually it occurs just prior to Christmas when the sems have just arrived back from their semester of studies but this year we had to delay it because the major seminary calendar went right up to three days prior to Christmas – thus last night. Everyone was there except for our first year theology student, Ryan Boyle, who is attending the North American College in Rome. However, Ryan’s parents were present.

Deacons Victor Amorose and Timothy Corcoran will be ordained priests in mid-May. Photo by Walter C.Pruchnik III

The dinner is preceded by Mass and occasionally there is a ministry or candidacy to be conferred but last night gave me a rare opportunity to reflect on five of the major figures of our faith who get lost in the days between Christmas and New Years: St. Stephen the first martyr for the faith, John the Apostle, the Holy Innocents, St. Thomas Becket, and because Sunday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of the Church, last night the Feast of the Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph was transferred to Friday this year. Each of these major figures gives to the community of Christ a gift: for Stephen it was courageous proclamation of Christ, for John the Apostle, it was loyalty to the charge given to him by Christ on the cross, for the Holy Innocents it was their unknowing sparing of the life of Jesus, for Becket it was the supremacy of conscience, and for the Holy Family it was bearing the sword of life’s unpredictables with faith and hope.

A good dinner followed the Mass and we adjourned for another year in about three hours. As the photos which accompany this entry show, Bethany is an absolutely beautiful place to gather all together and starting next Tuesday, thirty cardinals, archbishops and bishops of the east coast from Delaware to Miami will gather for their annual retreat, their second here with us. I shall be on that retreat myself.

Almost all of the seminarians were accompanied by their pastors or association pastors. Photo kindness of Walter Pruchnik III

Pray for our seminarians. If you knew them as I know them, you would be very proud of their sacrifice in today’s secular culture, their commitment to pursuing ministry in today’s Church and world, and their hopes for the future of us all. Their hope and enthusiasm is infectious and every once in a while, even a bishop needs to catch the “fever” which today’s candidates for priestly ministry have.

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