Posts Tagged ‘Seminarians’

DOCTORS, LAWYERS AND COMMITTED CATHOLICS

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

With USF medical students. Photo courtesy of Dana Rozance.

Two events in the recent week remind me of how lucky I am as bishop and this local Church is as diocese. On Saturday night last, I celebrated the Eucharist for about 100 physicians and their spouses in what is called the annual “White Mass.” Added to this group of practicing physicians were seven medical students from the University of South Florida College of Medicine, invited guests of the physicians and their spouses. The beautiful Bethany Center was the site for the annual gathering. They always invite someone to give a talk during the dinner and this year we were pleased to hear from Doctor Peter Morrow, who in 2014 will be the President of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA) of the United States. Dr. Morrow and his wife are from St. Cloud in the Orlando diocese and he is a convert to Catholicism. His presentation was on the identity of the Catholic Physician and the responsibilities in the practice of medicine which accompany the doctors’ Catholic faith. I was impressed with not only his insights into what it means to be a “Catholic physician” but also the medical-moral precepts which should guide that same practice. We had guest physicians from the diocese of Orlando and Venice and they were amazed at the size of the turnout of doctors who came to our White Mass. I suspect we lead the state in this regard and this is due in no small part to the founding physicians who started the event even before I arrived as bishop. Some of them were also present for the night.

With members of the local guild of the CMA. Photo courtesy of Dana Rozance.

On Tuesday night of this week I hosted at Bethany the members of LEGATUS, an association of Catholic professional persons who are deeply committed to their faith and who commit to bring it into their workplace in an appropriate manner. LEGATUS was begun by Thomas Monahan who though raised in a Catholic orphanage went on to found the Dominos Pizza chain, owned for a brief time the Detroit Tigers, and now has founded and funded Ave Maria College near Immacollee in Collier County with its attendant law school. This group of dedicated Catholic business people, physicians and lawyers meet for Mass and dinner once each month and hear impressive speakers raising faith values. There are some fairly stiff requirements to belong to LEGATUS but their membership is gaining and I embrace them because they are a strong core group working for Gospel values in the world of business.

My week finishes with a meeting of the Board of Directors of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami today (Thursday) followed by the same for St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach tomorrow and the Florida Catholic Conference on Saturday morning, also at St. Vincent Seminary. This will be my first opportunity to visit with thirty-three of our thirty-four seminarians (remember one is studying in Rome at the North American College and I will see him in November) since their school year started. At both the White Mass and LEGATUS Mass, the good news of God’s blessings on us in the persons of our young men preparing for priesthood was greeted with sustained applause and clear delight. God is truly good to us – now we must not squander that divine goodness.

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MY UNCLE, THE PRISONER OF THE STATE

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Viet Vu Nguyen, Seminarian for the Diocese of St. Petersburg

Viet Nguyen is a seminarian for this diocese who will, God willing, within nine months be ordained a transitional deacon. His journey to priesthood included a number of years in prison in Vietnam, held as an enemy of the state because of his deep Catholic faith and his thirst for freedom and democracy in the country of his birth. Parishioners of St. Paul parish in St. Petersburg know this young man well as he spent most of the last year there on pastoral assignment prior to completing his two remaining years in the seminary preparing for ordinations. There must be something about courage, audacity, faith, hope and love in Viet’s DNA because his 63-year uncle, a priest in Vietnam, has just been re-arrested by the  government. I will tell you more in a moment but I have purposely delayed writing this blog to first thoroughly check with our seminarian Viet that nothing I write can possibly bring any harm to his uncle or infringe on Viet’s personal ability to return to Vietnam and see his family in any way. Last week at the seminarian convocation, Viet said that I should proceed as it could  not possibly place him in any more “hot water” with the government of Vietnam than he is already in.

Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly was rearrested on July 25th having already spent about three and a half years in prison. His crime – spreading what the government called anti-communist propaganda. His sentence – eight years in prison. The propaganda Father Thadeus was spreading – that the government did not have a right to summarily take property from individuals and religious communities, that the government of Vietnam consistently plays loose with the basic human rights of its citizens, and that the people deserved democracy. Neither Father Thadeus’ ideas nor person was new to the Government of Vietnam this year; they had previously arrested him for the first time in 1977 and he has spent a total of fifteen years since in prison. During his last “trial” he was visibly and forcibly “muzzled” when he began to recite an anti-communist poem during his hearing.

In March of this year, Father Thaddeus was released from prison for a one year medical leave to seek treatment for a brain tumor. He was residing at a residence for retired priests when he was rearrested last month. He had suffered multiple strokes during his most recent imprisonment and 37 US senators sought his release last year to which the government responded with the medical leave. Now it is all bets off.

As for Viet he wrote this about his own experience: From 1975 to 1992, all seminaries in Vietnam had been closed. Until [In]1992, three seminaries were opened but under the control of the communist government in Vietnam, which limited the number of seminarians. Every other year, each diocese would choose only five seminarians at a time to study at the seminary in Saigon (HCM City). All seminarians had to be reported and interviewed by the communist officials before going into the seminary. In 1995, 1997, and 1999, after passing the tests, my bishop chose me continuously three times to study at the seminary, but each time my entry was revoked by the communist officials. The government did not allow me to enter the seminary.

In 2001, while I was going to apply a fourth time, my uncle, Father Thadeus Nguyen Van Ly who has been demanding for religious freedom for a long time was arrested. At the same time when he was arrested in May, his mother (she is my grandmother) passed away. For that reason, some overseas Vietnamese in the U.S. asked me to let them know about his childhood life and about my grandmother’s funeral. I wrote a letter to them and sent it by e-mail. One month later, I was arrested; my sister and my brother were arrested too. They accused us of  “spying for the U.S.”

At first they were supposed to give me a 12-year sentence, life or even to a death sentence. But thanks to many human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, the Human Right Watch, a German bishop, and especially thanks to many American senators and Congressmen, the U.S. State Department and many overseas Vietnamese around the world, who ceaselessly asked for the intervention for my family, all their efforts brought a good result. As a result, the communists changed my verdict from  “spy” to “democratic and religious freedom abuse to harm the nation.” In court, they did not accept my lawyer who voluntarily defended me. For that reason, I remained silent in front of the court. The judges were so angry about my attitude, so they gave me a five-year sentence. After one week, a  high official of the communists visited me in prison. He confessed that the government wanted to free me if I would appeal to the Supreme Court and say something. he said I could say whatever I wanted but not be silent. I accepted his suggestion. At the Supreme Court they gave me a 32-month sentence. It meant that there were about 50 days more for me in prison.

In February 2004, I was released. One month later, a German bishop sent me a letter inviting me to join his diocese, but the communists did not grant me a visa. Some months later the U.S. Embassy asked us to proceed with the Immigration Department in order to leave Vietnam. And we left Vietnam in 2005.

What made me believe that God so loved me when I was facing the harsh reality in prison? After realizing God’s will, I found hopefulness and peacefulness. those were divine graces which I had in prison. My hope and peace were transmitted to some prisoner friends. When the communists let me live with prisoners, three other prisoner friends converted to Catholicism, one of them would be getting the death sentence. Others fouond peace when they heard me singing hymns. From my small experiences, I have learned that through hardship God loves me more and makes me grow up; he leads me into a deeper relationship with him and with his people. . . .

Our seminarian loves his uncle dearly and has often sought my prayers for him during his time in prison and now again. Viet does not know the exact condition of his uncle’s medical situation because when one is in prison in Vietnam, they do their best to see that the world and one’s family have little to no contact. My prayer has always been that this brave priest can be free, well and attend his nephew’s ordination. Now I am not so sure on both of this counts. However, if you read this, pause now and say a prayer for Father Thadeus and Viet, truly members of the Church militant and profiles in courage. During his imprisonment, Viet Vu Nguyen composed in Vietnamese first and since has translated this prayer into English:

Lord, thank you for my hunger, so that I can truly experience the hunger of beggars.

Thank you ffor my nakedness, so that I can share the poverty with those who do n not have enough clothes to wear.

Thank you for my illness, so that I can feel sorry for those who have to bear their critical illness without any medicine.

Thank you for my loneliness, so that I can sympathize with those who are lonely and desolate.

Thank you for my sufferings, so that I can empathize with those who are in misery and despair.

Thank you for my imprisonment so that I can truly share with those who are imprisoned unjustly.

Thank you for the persecution, so that I can proudly share with your disciples’ hardship and their fears.

Lord, finally, I want to give you thanks because of this situation, this room, this prison. I do believe that you lead me here and you want me to be here with you. I do not know where I will go,what I will do, and when I will go home, but I trust in your everlasting love and unboken promise: you always love me and reveal to me your love for me in this special seminary. Amen.

Prison Camp B34, R12  – 2002 – Vietnam

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HOPE FOR THE FUTURE

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Tomorrow our entering college seminarians are expected to arrive at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami for several weeks of orientation, testing and introduction to the spiritual life. Last night I celebrated the Eucharist with all of our seminarians save two (Ryan Boyle, a first theologian has already arrived in Rome to begin an intensive study of Italian prior to beginning the seminary at the North American College in Rome in October and Daniel Angel continues for one more week with Catholic Relief Services in Liberia, Africa). I am happy to report to you that we will have thirty-four seminarians beginning or resuming their studies this month in four seminaries. Additionally, three men studying for the diocese last year, all at St. John Vianney in Miami have asked for and received permission to take a year off their studies and continue to discern their vocations. Great praise is due to the Lord of the Harvest for planting the seed of a call to priesthood in the hearts and minds of these courageous young men and all of us should join in thanking our Vocation Team of Fathers John Blum and Carl Melchior for their hard work this past year.

Our seminarians are impressive in many ways. They genuuinely like each other and are supportive of each other, sharing their individual talents and gifts with the larger community and with their colleagues. In the midst of all the scandals which have claimed so much attention, they still feel called to serve and have, precisely because of recent history, endured more psychological testings and analysis than ever in modern history. They understand perhaps better than most that the sins and failings of a very few, horrible as that is, does not define for them the priesthood which they feel called to serve.

At our meeting in Orlando earlier this week the bishops of the state all said that the number of young men entering the seminary this year for all seven dioceses is up over previous years and we know that our college seminary is “over-booked” and filled to the gills, the theologate has its highest enrollment in recent years (about 90 seminarians), the North American College in Rome is expecting somewhere in the neighborhood of 240 seminarians in their program this Fall and Blessed John XXIII in Weston, Massachusetts where we will have two men will also have in excess of seventy students and is either running out of room or is full also.

Our men all said they had good summer experiences and were now looking forward to moving on in their journey and returning to the seminary. Here is a list of our seminarians who will be studying for priestly ministry in our diocese this Fall, their home parishes, and the date when they will likely complete their formation and studies. Everyone should understand that all of these men are in discernment as well as preparation for ministry and while some may decide on marriage or the single life outside of religious ministry, we can and should pray for all these men that they will persevere in their hope and dream.

Rev. Mr. Timothy Corcoran, Sacred Heary Parish, Tampa (2012)

Rev. Mr. Victor Amorose, Light of Christ Parish, Clearwater (2012)

Justin Paskert, St. Anne’s Parish, Ruskin (2013)

Viet Nguyen, Epiphany of Our Lord Parish, Tampa (2013)

Jonathan Emery, St. Clement Parish, Plant City (2014)

Brian Fabiszewski, St. Catherine of Siena Parish, Largo (2014)

William Santhouse, St. Ignatius of Antioch Parish, Tarpon Springs (2014)

Kyle Smith, Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, Land of Lakes (2014)

Steven Dornquast, St. Joseph Parish, Zephyr Hills (2015)

Curtis Carro, St. Jerome Parish, Indian Rocks Beach (2015)

Bradley Reed, Cathedral of St. Jude Parish, St. Petersburg (2015)

Anthony Ustick, St. Matthew Parish, Largo (2015)

Ryan Boyle, Nativity Parish, Brandon (2015)

Robert Angel, St. Raphael Parish, St. Petersburg (2016)

Elbert Ballado, St. Stephen Parish, Valrico (2016)

Felipe Gonzalez, St. Paul Parish, Tampa (2016)

Joseph Plesko, Nativity Parish, Brandon (2016)

Jason Priela, St. Lawrence Parish, Tampa (2016)

Jonathan Stephanz, St. Stephen Parish, Valrico (2016)

Gregory Visca, Nativity Parish Brandon (2016)

Kevin Yarnell, Incarnation Parish, Tampa (2016)

Daniel Angel, St. Raphael Parish, St. Petersburg (2017)

Alexander Padilla II, St. Theresa Parish, Spring Hill (2017)

Jackson Reeves, Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish, Gulfport (2017)

Elixavier Castro, St. Francis of Assisi Parish, Seffner (2017)

Daniel Darmanin, St. Frances Cabrini Parish, Spring Hill (2017)

Kyle Bell, Christ the King Parish, Tampa (2018)

Maximilian Hart, Espiritu Santo Parish, Safety Harbor (2018)

Lou Turcotte, Light of Christ Parish, Clearwater (2018)

Tim Williford, Light of Christ Parish, Clearwater (2018)

Alec DeDios, Cathedral of St. Jude Parish, St. Petersburg, (2019)

Sergio Fernandez, Incarnation Parish, Tampa (2019)

Joshua Hare, St. Anthony the Abbott Parish, Brooksville (2019)

Dylan Holmes, Our Lady of Fatima Parish, Inverness (2020)

+RNL

 

 

MORE ABOUT SEMINARIANS

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In two weeks I will celebrate Mass for our diocesan seminarians prior to their return to their respective seminaries. Then we have dinner and  I give the men an opportunity to dialogue with me about anything which they wish to bring up. Temerity does still somewhat rule the moment but more and more the softball questions are giving way to the curveballs and it is a give and take which I enjoy and look forward to. I think the latest count stands somewhere around thirty-three for the seminary this year with two at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, one at the North American College in Rome and the rest at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

However, often lost in these reflections are the men who are studying for priesthood within religious orders and congregations. Perhaps overlooked because we often are not informed of those who choose religious life, they are nonetheless a blessing from God and the diocese to the Church. I know of two men studying for the Society of Jesus (there may be more) and one for the Franciscans. I am sure that by the time of the convocation of seminarians, I will have heard from parents and others of still more.

As often happens in my blog composition, all of this is by way of foreward to another thing I wish to share with you. If any reader has been to a liturgy which I have celebrated the past three years, the odds are 9 to 1 that you noticed a young man assisting me, the servers and the pastor and associates of the parishes. Unflappable, always kind to the servers, and incredibly helpful in celebrating a good liturgy, this young man has also served the diocese as its “webmaster”, the mastermind of the technical details of my blog, and more often than not, my driver (something I resisted for twelve years until one day at lunch I mentioned to my closest collaborators that I noticed that coming back from evening confirmations I would often find myself daydreaming and miss the Fourth Street North exit off the Howard Franklin to my home). That did it and they went on a search for a multi-talented person who could do something in the diocese which was useful, drive and assist me with ceremonies, and be unfailingly helpful to the parishes where we would be going.

Walter C. Pruchnik III had been an ACE teacher at St. Petersburg Catholic following his graduation from Notre Dame University and a year following the conclusion of his time with us as a teacher, he was looking for something to do as a transition, perhaps to marriage or to religious life.  He applied, was hired and has assisted me for three years. Girl altar servers will remember the handsome young “priest” who helped the fat, balding bishop. Walter leaves the diocese today to begin a year of discernment for the Congregation of Holy Cross at his beloved Notre Dame. If all goes well and God and the community call him, he will enter the Novitiate in Colorado next summer for a year and then theology studies leading to ordination. Most of the priests of this diocese would second my conclusion that the Holy Cross Fathers are lucky to be getting Walter as a candidate. He so loves his alma mater and the community that founded it, that neither the Vocation Directors nor I have put a lot of pressure on him to think about diocesan priesthood but he will always be welcome should he choose to come here. He has been thoroughly private and professional in his time here and with me and I am so incredibly grateful for his dedication to his work, his love of the Church, and his loyalty to me. I think for purpose of our prayers, we should promise to include Walter in them every time we pray for those studying for priesthood and the religious life. Thank you Walter, blessings and happiness to you at Moreau Seminary this year and next, go Irish, and it has been a wonderful ride. May Notre Dame our mother intercede with her son for you and for all of us you leave behind.

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IT’S MIDNIGHT! DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SEMINARIANS ARE?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+RNL

OUT OF AFRICA – 2

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Robert Angel, First Theology, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and currently a summer intern with Catholic Relief Services, Sierra Leone

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here http://african-angels.blogspot.com. Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.

Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.

I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.

What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.

Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.

At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.

After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.

Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.

 

Christopher Mertens and myself outside of Corby Hall on the Notre Dame campus in October 2010

There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.

I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.

+RNL

 

 

 

 

 

 

OUT OF AFRICA (EIGHT WEEKS FROM NOW)

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Daniel Angel, Christopher Mertens, Robert Angel - Off to Africa With CRS

One of the greatest delights of my life as  both a priest and a bishop has been a long association with Catholic Relief Services. For twelve years I served on the Board of Directors of our Church’s overseas development and relief agency and for the last six I was privileged to be its Chairman of the Board and for a time, its President. During all those years I came to deeply appreciate CRS’s work throughout the globe to the poor, disadvantaged and ignored. Its staff, U.S. and international, are both committed and extremely competent. At the present moment I serve on a Search Committee seeking a replacement for Kenneth Hackett who is retiring after eighteen years at the helm of this agency which will approach one billion dollars in program services in the coming year. I was also on the Search Committee when chose Mr. Hackett. So my history, knowledge of and love for CRS runs very deep and is in my DNA.

Two years ago I invited a college Junior at what was then Loyola Baltimore and a graduate of St. Jude the Apostle elementary school and Jesuit High School to consider a summer internship with CRS. At the time I thought he would likely be assigned to Africa or South America, but instead the agency sent him to India for eight weeks. Brendan J. Stack who on Saturday graduated from Loyola Maryland had a great summer watching the Church work in an environment which was not easy and he came away with a deep respect for the work of CRS and a personal commitment to serve the poor as long as he might. This August he leaves for Idaho to spend a year with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps work with the homeless and undocumented in Boise, Idaho.

This summer I have invited two seminarians and one junior at Notre Dame University to take advantage of a similar opportunity and they leave shortly for their eight week assignments on the African Continent. Bob Angel is a graduate of Holy Family elementary in St. Petersburg and Northeast High School where he was a competitive swimmer. After graduating from the University of Florida he worked for one year as a fireman with the Tampa Fire Department where we won an award as the most spirit-filled recruit the department had in 2009. However, he heard the voice of the Lord suggesting to him that he might wish to try priesthood and he has spent the last two years in the pre-theology program at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and will enter St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach for his theology studies this August. Bob has been assigned to Sierra Leone where he will be involved in peace-building efforts in which CRS is engaged in a country that has recently seen the end to a long and bloody civil war. He will also work with children in a Catholic parish.

One year after Bob entered the seminary in Miami, his younger brother Dan who was halfway through  his college studies at the University of Central Florida decided to do the same and he joined his older sibling last Fall and finished his junior year a few weeks ago. Dan, like Bob, attended Holy Family Catholic School and Northeast High School where he also was a competitive swimmer. While attending UCF, Dan worked as a watchman and “friend” of Shamu at Sea World in Orlando. Dan has been assigned to a parish in Liberia, 100 miles outside of Monrovia, the capital. Liberia is also in the midst of reunification of purpose and people following a deadly and long civil war.

If it seems like all the CRS interns this year have swimming in their background, it is true but merely an accident. Christopher Mertens will be a junior in pre-med at Notre Dame University this fall as well as a student manager to the football and other varsity sports. He was the St. Petersburg Times “Male Scholar-Athlete” for Pinellas County in 2009, was captain for two years of the Palm Harbor University Swim Team, held a couple of school records and led his team to successful post-season competition in regional and state swimming meets. At Notre Dame, Christopher is one of the leaders in  his dorm’s commitment to Dismas House, a halfway house for convicted felons who have served their prison sentences, have been released and are looking for employment and some future better than what they have just left. Christopher has been assigned to Ghana and will work with a Doctor in an AIDS clinic in the northern small city of Tamale for eight weeks as a medical assistant.

If these three men have a great experience in the universal Church and a new appreciation of the role of Catholic Relief Services, then as long as CRS accepts young people in its program, I will be open to offering the opportunity to other young women and men who might wish to be sent to any where on the globe where there are people in need and suffering. Remember, however, it could be tough like Haiti and all the assignments have a certain amount of low risk and major inconvenience to the standard of living to which we are accustomed.

The Angel brothers are blogging their experiences this summer on http://african-angels.blogspot.com/ The first installment is up and ready for your viewing and I shall throughout the summer be posting from all three things I think you will be interested in reading and/or learning about our “three ambassadors to Africa” from the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

+CRS

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ

Friday, May 13th, 2011

May is the month when most of our priests celebrate the anniversaries of their priestly ordination. Now that I am on the “giving” side of ordinations as opposed to the “receiving” side (as pictured on the left), each year I ordain I  realize even more the grace of God in the moment and the joy and hope each ordination brings not just to the ordinand but to the whole Church. Sadly this year we have no ordinations but I can reasonably assure you that this is the last year for that phenomena. If God gives me the strength of days and good health, there is just the possibility that I will ordain just about as many to the priesthood in my final four years as in the sixteen years since my episcopal ordination. That thought alone is exciting and much of the future joy goes not just to the Holy Spirit but to Father Len Plazewski who worked the vineyard very hard searching for and cultivating vocations both to the priesthood and religious life. I think the Vocation Director(s) get about as amped at ordinations as the ordaining bishop. I know that Fathers Blum and Melchior await that moment with great expectation as do I.

Many priests allow their ordination anniversary to pass generally unnoticed. I realize that many married couples do the same, leaving the feelings, memories, joys and struggles to one another and moving on in their marriage without pausing to pay too much attention to the day they were married. Servant leaders usually take their cue from the Lord Himself who came to serve and not to be served and therefore any major acknowledgement or recognition of an anniversary day is the farthest thing from their mind. Sometimes priests will quietly acknowledge the day with a classmate in ordination, having dinner together and telling robust and raucous stories often centering on or about their bishops (just kidding). But I think every priest I know on the anniversary of their priestly ordination approaches the celebration of Mass on that day with a profound sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of priesthood. Some struggle, some rejoice, some are tired, some are renewed, some are worried, some are serene, some count the years until retirement and some fear the thought of retirement. But at the end of the Eucharist, perhaps in those few moments between communion and the closing prayer most priests thank God for the gift of serving as a priest. In my two rounds of overnights with the priests of this diocese over the last three years, many have in some way or another said, “if I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”

Serving the people of God lies near the heart of our happiness, but making Christ present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments reserved to priestly ordination is the true epicenter of our joy and sense of satisfaction. For a priest, a day goes downhill from the moment he leaves Mass which is understandable in the light of our recent Eucharistic initiative where we clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and life in Christ. That certainly does not mean the day is not without its highlights, it means simply that particular moment of a priest’s life is likely not to be recaptured that day.

You can pretty much go to the bank that at least most of the diocesan priests at your service will be celebrating anniversaries of ordination in the next ten days and a  few in June as well. Except for the major milestones of 25,40 and 50 years of ordination, the day will pass with little notice and no attention. That’s the way we want it – just between us and Christ. But prayers for your priests this month are most welcome. I know each day of this season who was ordained on that date and check the list every morning with the intention of offering Mass for them for a bishop without priests is worse than a day without sunshine. Happy anniversary my brothers in priesthood! God’s people love you and so do I.

+RNL

SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I thought you might be interested in how we look for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are many approaches, which can be taken to vocation recruitment, but the most important ingredient is a happy priesthood and religious life in the diocese. Priesthood can only seem attractive if the men who serve the young are themselves happy. Happiness and contentment in the priesthood is constitutive for recruiting good candidates for the seminary and for religious life.

In this diocese we have been blessed with a great number of vocations, which will in a few years begin to pay off with more ordinations. For almost thirteen years, Father Len Plazewski pursued anyone who showed even the slightest interest, never taking their name from his Rolodex of candidates until they contracted marriage. Using a variety of methods of contact, our Vocation Directors stay in touch with those who seem to be searching for priesthood. They meet them in their schools, on college campuses, invite them to discernment retreat week-ends, evenings of prayer and discussion throughout the year, and even twice a year take them to the college seminary for a week-end experience.

Once a year we hold something called FOCUS ELEVEN. All of the sixth graders  in our elementary schools are invited to come to one spot for an entire day which focuses on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Using skits, games, and many other ways to connect with eleven year olds, the matter of a possible religious vocation is brought up. Why eleven year olds, one may ask? Sociologists and child psychologists agree that it is about age eleven when children begin to think about what they want to be with they grow up so the moment is right in the maturing process and we take advantage of it. Eleventh grade is also an important moment when the sixteen or seventeen year old is beginning to think about where to continue their education after high school. We used to bring all the eleventh graders together as well.

Priests, Sisters, Brothers all hold signs of their former occupations. Eleven year olds are challenged to match the job with the right person.

On Thursday, I hosted what are called Project Andrew dinners, after the Apostle who first followed Jesus and then invited his brothers and friends to do likewise. On these occasions, young men in junior year of high school and older, are invited to dinner with the bishop accompanied by their pastors or associate pastors. We don’t do a “hard sell” on these occasions but each priest present and I share our own vocation stories. We offer to receive and answer any questions, which they have and then send them forth with the promise that to the extent they wish, we will stay in touch with them during their discernment experience. This year we will have had four of these dinners and I personally have met about twenty-five or thirty young men who express an interest.

While we have a good number of seminarians (thirty-one at the beginning of the present school year) I also wish to acknowledge that religious communities in the diocese also have sought and received vocations from our young men and women. There are, I think, about an additional six men studying for priesthood in religious communities such as the Jesuits, Salesians, etc.

Finally, when a candidate decides to apply to the diocese, a rigorous assessment process is begun which includes interviews with at least three members of the Diocesan Vocations Admission Board, myself, a full battery of psychological tests and interviews, and recommendations from teachers and friends, including always the vote of the man’s pastor.

Eventually the nomination comes before the full Admissions Board containing lay women and men, religious women, and diocesan priests. So what may have begun with a chicken dinner at the house of the bishop ends with ordination to the priesthood or profession of vows in religious life. At the time of this writing, we have nine men in the application process for the coming year which almost guarantees a total of thirty-five for the seminary next Fall. But I will close with this thought. This is not a numbers game which we are playing but a search for fine candidates for the priesthood. We know that not all we accept will make it to the altar.

Probably one of the more boring moments - "The Bishop's Speech"

A little over 350 children attend each of two days

TREASURE WE KNOW NOT

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

The Boards of Trustees of two of the three seminaries which our students attend met Thursday at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and on Friday at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. Our collegians are formed and educated at the former as are college graduates who lack the credits in philosophy and need also to spend some time acclimating to the spiritual life, spiritual direction and to prayer prior to beginning theology studies. The College Seminary is owned by the Archdiocese of Miami which assumes both the financial and staffing responsibility, a sizable commitment of money each year and priests. It was my special privilege to have served as the fifth Rector of St. John Vianney from 1979 through 1984 so a part of my heart is invested there. The program as it exists today is far superior to what I superintended in those five years and the current Rector, Father Roberto Garza, is doing a fine job. All the students major in philosophy which puts them in good intellectual stead to take on the study of theology. Both disciplines are somewhat abstract with very practical applications to life and belief nonetheless and the faculty at the college is, I believe, second to none in the United States. The interviews and time I spend with our seminarians always seems to return to the same thematic and that is the college has an excellent, demanding academic program but the professors are dedicated to helping all the students comprehend the subject matter. A Board meeting at the college level, however, is reasonably easy for me to attend as I have neither a financial nor priest personnel “dog in the hunt.” I am very grateful to the past and present Archbishops of Miami for their unfailing support of the program at St. John Vianney which is expensive monetarily and priest-personnel wise. In hard times in both instances, critics always take aim at the college seminary and suggest its demise. Instead it has grown stronger with a larger number of students and an even more capable administration and faculty than in my time, myself included.

The Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul, however, and its Board are another matter. Since all seven Florida dioceses own that seminary and must provide the priest personnel, at each Board meeting we always do at least two important things: set and monitor a budget and expenses and plan for priest faculty members. The cost-per-seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Seminary hovers around $55,000 per year depending mostly on the size of the enrollment. More seminarians, the less the per capita expense as one would expect. Each diocese pays for the room, board and tuition of its seminarians which currently is set at approximately $30,000 per year. The balance is made up through a yearly subsidy payment charged to each diocese based on its Catholic population. Additionally, the seminary opened in the early ’60’s and is in constant state of repair and replacement so additional monies are sometimes required for that. When the seminary went “regional” in the early ’80’s, the original six bishops who agreed to join ponied up about 7.3 million dollars for an endowment fund and later in the late ’90’s when the one hold-out Florida diocese decided to join, they made a contribution of an additional $700,000 to that same endowment fund. The funds are invested in equity and fixed market funds and are supervised by a very diligent committee of lay women and men from the Diocese of Palm Beach who meet regularly to gauge the success of our investment managers. We were pleased to learn that after experiencing the same significant drop in value as most of the rest of us endured when the housing market and banking pranks of three to four years ago, the endowment fund now sits at a value of 12.7 million dollars. A covenant in the original agreement of the founding bishops of the regional seminary concept was that the corpus could never be invaded to the point that the fund would be less than the approximately 8 million dollars the owning dioceses have contributed. There have been raids on the endowment fund in the past (a loan subsequently repaid to the trust for 1.2 million dollars for roof replacement, for example) and had we left the endowment fund alone since its inception, it would most likely sit somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 million dollars.

But money is one half of the challenge of maintaining a superior seminary for our men. Providing the faculty is the other part. I have always said any bishop will be more willing to write a check than assign away for special service a gifted priest to form and educate our future priests. The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has given for the last ten years to the seminary one of its greatly gifted priests, Father Michael Muhr, who is a spiritual director to the men and who is loved and admired by faculty, staff and students alike. Additionally, we have two priests currently pursuing graduate studies who will be available to join the faculty in 2012 and 2013. I am deeply committed to giving to the seminary any priest of this diocese who would be an excellent role model for our seminarians as well as a gifted teacher and/or spiritual director. It is probably this diocese’s most important gift or commitment to the vitality of priestly service and ministry here in the years ahead.

So the two seminaries are “treasures we know not” in this state. If any reader has the resources and wishes to make a contribution to the development funds of either place, contact me. In the months ahead, I will try to brush away more of the “sand” which covers the pearls of great price which are St. John Vianney College Seminary and the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul.

+RNL