Posts Tagged ‘Seminary’

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.

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.”

+RNL

ET ALIA #4

Sunday, December 19th, 2010

Many things on my mind today and the week just ended has been one of the most physically taxing in a long time since the normal Advent and pre-Christmas schedule was interrupted by a trip to Baltimore for a meeting at Catholic Relief Services. So, here goes,

Bishop John Noonan was installed as fifth bishop of Orlando on Thursday at the Shrine Basilica of Mary, Queen of the Universe. A congregation in excess of 2,500 warmly welcomed their new shepherd and in his homily, the new shepherd demonstrated the warmth of his love and fondness for his new diocese. The ceremony was quite lovely and lasted less than 105 minutes which is a miracle in itself. Bishop Noonan did a wonderful thing at the end of Mass when in speaking of Advent as the season of hope, he invited all the seminarians present to come forward as witnesses to hope which the faithful should have for their Church. The bishop has spent almost seventeen of his twenty-seven years in the priesthood working in seminary formation at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, as Dean of Men and then for a good number of years as President-Rector. About eighty seminarians came forth to a standing and prolonged ovation from the people at the Shrine and proudly I could identify about twenty-five as being from our diocese.

Last night saw the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families (about 190 persons), their pastors and priest friends, and myself. Following Mass in the St. James Chapel we proceeded to Archbishop Favalora Hall where we had dinner and bade farewell with great gratitude to Father Leonard Plazewski who has held the position of Vocation Director of this diocese for twelve and a half years. An earlier post here indicated the transition and who his replacements would be in that very important position within the diocese. The seminarians are fond of Father Len and so the leave-taking was not that easy for him or for many but the Church of St. Petersburg owes him a debt of thanks for his hard work over the years recruiting and assisting seminarians through to priesthood. It is always wonderful to see our men and their families in a relaxed atmosphere and to begin to acknowledge the coming of Christmas with their return to their homes.

Fr. Len Plazewski

Father Len Plazewski saying his good-by and thanks to those present for the annual Christmas dinner for our seminarians and their families. (Photo courtesy of A. Padilla, seminarian)

The Bethany Center is fast becoming my second home as I seem to be spending many nights there lately. Prior to last night, I held the third of my overnights with our priests, this time being the international priests (born and formed in other countries like Poland, India, African nations, the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Central and South America). Our lengthy conversations about their experiences in coming to minister in the United States and in this diocese were both illuminating and helpful to me. They are a great and generous group of men who understand the challenges of language, culture, accent, etc. and who wish nothing more than to be accepted by me, by you, and by their brother priests as no longer a category (e.g. “international priests”) but just as priests of the diocese.

I have had only one angry over-the-top “comment” to a blog entry here which focused on the lack of a “corpus” (figure of Christ) on the large crucifix at Holy Family Catholic Church and made much of the stained glass window of the “Risen Christ” in the rear of the sanctuary. I regret ruining this readers day then and now as I failed to mention that the wood-carved body of Christ did not arrive on time to be installed on the cross and is due in a few weeks and as for the “stained-glass window”, it was in the church since its first dedication and was a sine qua non for the older parishioners in the renovation. When the figure of Jesus arrives and is placed, I will put a picture here in the profound hope that the reader will calm down but I would bet not. He was from Michigan, anyway, not the parish or the diocese.

This evening a number of the staff of our Pastoral Center gathered at Pinellas Hope to prepare, serve and feed the 262 residents on this cold Florida night. Working without a raise for the last two years, this group paid for the food, prepared it, and served it. I lent them my presence and not my culinary expertise of which I have none.

Pastoral Center staff serving one line at Pinellas Hope on December 19, 2010

Father Bob Morris and his mom also helped out

When the new year begins, forty bishops from the East Coast (the Wilmington diocese down to Miami) will gather for their annual retreat from the 3-7 of January at the Bethany Center. Several Cardinals, four archbishops and the rest bishops will spend their first visit to Bethany being led in our prayer and reflection by Bishop Jaime Soto who is the bishop of Sacramento, California. They are all looking forward to coming back to the Diocese of St. Petersburg after having spent a week here this past summer, hoping for warm weather (a coin toss in early January as we locals know), and ready to enjoy our hospitality and the beauty and comfort of Bethany. So I still have some blogs left in me right up to and including the Feast of the Holy Family a week from today but after that – SILENCE until the 7th of January.

That just about empties the file I have in my mind. Enjoy this final week of hope and expectation.

+RNL

THE LORD TAKES AND THE LORD GIVES

Saturday, October 23rd, 2010
The Most Rev. John Noonan, Bishop-designate of Orlando

The Most Rev. John Noonan - Bishop-designate of Orlando

On the day I was ordained a deacon for the Archdiocese of Miami, the final step in my journey to priesthood, as we were preparing to leave St. James Catholic Church in North Miami to drive to St. Clement’s Church in Fort Lauderdale where I would be the first ordination of Miami’s new archbishop, Edward A. McCarthy. one of the senior priests whom I had been living with, Father George Razzutis, was rushed to the local hospital with what appeared to be (and was indeed) a heart attack. From the stretcher on the way from the house to the ambulance, this grand old priest said to me, “It is OK, God today gives us a new priest and takes an old one.” Father Razzutis lived for three more days in the hospital and each day when I would visit him would take my hand and say almost exactly the same phrase. It is a characteristic of our God, He sometimes takes away but then if we wait long enough, we can see His provident hand at work once again as He gives us something unexpected to raise and buoy our spirits. Yesterday was one of those days with the death of our dear Monsignor Scully but I did not have to wait long to witness God’s loving care for his Church at work again.

This morning at noon in Rome (6:00am EDT), it was announced that my brother Miami priest and bishop, John Noonan, was chosen by the Holy Father to become the fifth bishop of Orlando, our neighbor the east, starting in the border counties of Polk, Sumner and Marion. Bishop Noonan was a classmate in the seminary of our Father Michael Muhr and escaped myself as his Rector by several months as he was already in the theology seminary in Boynton Beach in 1979 when I was made Rector of St. John Vianney Seminary. Born in Ireland but with most of his education, certainly in the seminary, in the United States, once ordained he became a priceless, hard-working parish priest. He would later return to St. John Vianney College Seminary as Vice-Rector and Dean of Men as well as Rector. A number of our younger clergy ordained the last twelve years remember him fondly in this capacity. Astute, holy, hard-working, Bishop John Noonan would earn the respect and, I would say, fondness of the priests of Miami during the recent years when he has served as Auxiliary Bishop and touchstone with the priests often in their relationship with their archbishop.

A segment of our diocesan family will remember that last October he came to St. Jude’s Cathedral and ordained nineteen of our permanent deacons, in so doing winning the hearts of all those in the Cathedral that day. Orlando does not yet appreciate how lucky they are in this appointment but it will not take them long. I thank the Lord this morning that a good and dear friend has been chosen to lead the Church adjacent to my own, begun on the same day as my own, now slightly larger than my own. There is a world of difference between being an auxiliary bishop in the Church and an ordinary or bishop-in-charge. Together let us pray between now and his installation on December 16, 2010 for our sister Church in Orlando and for Bishop Noonan. Orlando I hope appreciates that they did not have to wait long when the Lord took their previous bishop and then gave them their new bishop. Vere dignum et justum est (it is truly right and just.)

+RNL

FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO NEXT MONDAY, OCTOBER 4

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

It is not all that easy for me at 69 to recall vividly things which happened to me when I was 24 but there is one, vivid memory of 1965 which I have never consigned to the dead-letter file and that was the visit of Pope Paul VI to the United Nations headquarters in New York for a day that began for him in Rome and finished thirty hours later when his plane touched down in Rome. To b e a Catholic that day was to be especially proud. Popes just did not travel outside of Rome and certainly not by jet plane across the span of an ocean for fourteen hours in one place and then back home again. The triumphant arrival of Pope Paul, his talk at the United Nations General Assembly and then very late in the day at Mass in Yankee Stadium saw most Catholics glued to their black and white televisions, listening to the commentary of Bishop Fulton J. Sheen who told us that “TWA”, the initials of the airline flying the Holy Father back to Rome meant “Travel With Angels” and as his plane took off around midnight from JFK Airport, the good Bishop ended the day with a line from Shakespeare: “Good Night, Sweet Prince.” The Holy Father personally and the Catholic Church in the United States generally gained enormous credibility that day. All of this is by forward to share with you the homily which I gave last Sunday at the seminary for the Eucharistic Liturgy and Installation of Lectors and Acolytes (see the previous blog entry). The Gospel that day was the same as Sunday’s, Lazarus and the rich man.

Homily at Mass of Installation of Lectors and Acolytes
Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul
Boynton Beach, FL
Sunday, September 26, 2010
26th Sunday of Ordinary Time

Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Celebrant and Homilist

A week from tomorrow, Monday, October 4, 2010 will mark the forty-fifth anniversary of an extraordinary moment in the life of the Catholic Church in the United States and of the papacy. It was on that very day that the first Pope in history set foot on American soil. He came as an uninvited guest to our country to speak to and at the sole invitation of the United Nations in a speech that was widely praised throughout the world. At the annual meeting of the General Assembly to which he had been invited, speaking in French, he spoke the now famous words, “no more war, war never again. Peace, it is peace that must guide the destinies of all mankind.” He might have easily left this continent at the conclusion of his historic visit to the U.N. but he had one more thing to do prior to departing for Rome. Paul VI took his remaining time to speak to the United States, to we Catholics who were so proud that day, this time at the old Yankee Stadium, late in the day, and the Gospel was today’s, Lazarus and the Rich Man, the poor and the rich, people and nations, all God’s children.

I can not forget that night, transfixed in front of a television set, watching the frail figure of the successor of St. Peter in the house that the non-biblical Ruth built challenge myself and the country I love to do more than merely send the “scraps” of our plenty to the poor in our country and in the world but instead to share of our substance. It was at that precise moment, I recall, that I first began to understand both the power of God’s Word which some of you this morning will be formally allowed to proclaim. There is power to be found even in simply proclaiming the Word of God.

The first reading from Amos when read with passion puts all of us on notice that too much comfort can lead to complacency and too much complacency can lead to eternal exile. The second reading when read with feeling stirs in the hearts of the listeners Paul’s exhortation to cloth ourselves not in rich purple robes, green vestments, lace garments, for they will amount to little in the final reckoning but rather in righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Paul says, “pomp” doesn’t work; instead we must humbly bring our gifts to the competition for the faith of our human family. To proclaim the word of God is to share one’s faith, one’s belief, and one’s hope.

As that night in Yankee Stadium grew darker and colder and midnight Eastern time approached, Paul VI talked about the table of plenty, filled with the manifest blessings of God, but which in the name of humanity needed to be shared with the Lazarus’ of the world.  Think for a moment how little we know about either Lazarus or Dives, the name history has given to the rich man for the bible fails to name him. What was the source of Lazarus’ poverty? Ninety-five percent of the population of Palestine at the time of Jesus was desperately poor. So he had sores, that much we know. Was he the precursor of the homeless woman or man at the intersection of streets whose sign reads: “hungry, will work for a dollar?” We only know that Dives looked the other way, ignored the poor person before him. And what of Dives? Was he an officer of ENRON or AIG or a man who accumulated his wealth honestly and in a socially responsible manner? All we know is that he was blind and indifferent to the need both in front of and around him.

In the end, in eternity, the rich man’s last words are a plea to warn his brothers [and sisters] so that they [we] do not succumb to the same fate. Paul VI used this Gospel to draw the attention of humanity to its own table of plenty and beg those of us so richly blessed to share with those who have so little. And then, as I shall do, he invited those in the stadium and the world to share at the one table which makes no distinction between rich and poor, between male or female, between gloriously garbed or wrapped in the rags of manual labor. He celebrated the Eucharist. How blessed we are who are ordained to stand close to the altar and Christ eucharistically present. How blessed you are who are to be formally installed as acolytes no matter how many times you have served Mass up to this moment, to have your Church say “draw closer, watch, pray, invite, share.”

Glamour and glitter in priestly ministry leads to spiritual macular degeneration. A bishop friend of mine recently recounted how during the summer he faced an urgent pastoral emergency in one of his parishes, a financially challenged parish of tri-cultural and language reality. He turned to a priest with a doctorate degree who had served for a number of years in a more specialized ministry in the diocese, asked him to drop everything and fill a huge, gaping pastoral hole. While expressing a concern for the needs of the ministry he had been in, this priest immediately said “yes” and reminded his bishop that at his ordination he had promised obedience and respect, so of course he would go. That bishop said to me and to other bishops who heard him tell the story, that he wished there were more like this priest, able to see beyond the comfort of the familiar to the challenge of the desperate.

There are times when I worry that I am too comfortable in this life. Personally, I think God took care of my vanity thirteen months ago. There are no glorious gowns to be found among hospital wear! I now better and more deeply understand humility after sixty-eight years. Unless we are humbled, we can too easily succumb to the comforts that are ours and ignore the discomfort of others.

Let me begin to close with this insight from the absolutely best book I have read in the last decade at least, The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by Father James Martin, S.J.:

If we dismiss the insights which come from the poor and reject the invitation to simplicity by saying, “I can’t live like that,” then these insights and invitations will never make any difference in our lives. Making the invitation unattainable also makes it easier to reject. Likewise, when we wallow in guilt and decide that it is impossible to change, we are subtly letting ourselves off the hook, excusing ourselves from change. . . .But it is an invitation to freedom and not to guilt.. . . Ultimately, it moves us closer to the forgotten and outcast, something at the heart of the ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.”[1]

From this Eucharistic table, O Lord, may we always see and respond to the poor and the needy who sit and pray before us.


[1] James Martin, S.J., The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, New York, Harper One, 2009, p. 202-203.

IS THERE A DOCTOR IN THE HOUSE?

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Last Saturday night I had the privilege of celebrating the Eucharist with about 140 doctors and their spouses in what is called the “White Mass”, obviously taking its name from the color of the coat that many doctors used to and still wear when seeing patients. We have a somewhat embryonic attempt at organizing a local chapter of the Catholic Physicians Guild and Saturday’s gathering gives myself and the organizers great hope for the future. It is not easy to get physicians to take the time and come to an event of this nature given the challenges of their schedules.

Group photo after the White Mass and Dinner at the Bethany Center

Group photo after the White Mass and Dinner at the Bethany Center

A local physician, Dr. Averill  from Clearwater and a member of St. Catherine of Siena parish who has combined his practice with his promises as a Third Order Franciscan was the principal speaker. He commented, and it was the first time I heard this, that many modern day graduates of medical schools either do not take the Hippocratic Oath or take a revised oath which meets the requirements more of political correctness than the traditional oath. Each year at the annual Red Mass for judges and lawyers, I hear these men and women repeat their oaths taken at the time of their admission to the bar and admire their promises to their profession and I have always until now assumed and admired the Hippocratic Oath taken by physicians. It is a sad commentary on our times that this very important foundation of medical practice is falling into disuse.

Bishop Lynch with students from USF Medical School

Bishop Lynch with students and physicians from the USF Medical School after the White Mass & Dinner

The Liturgy was followed by a dinner and brief program at our beautiful Bethany Center and it was wonderful being with these fine Catholic women and men. Also, ten students from USF’s Medical School with one resident and one of their mentors were in attendancee, two of them graduates of the University of Notre Dame, and they have asked for a follow-up retreat at Bethany prior to entering their respective practices and upon completion of their residency programs. That, good people, is a very, very positive sign and a benefit coming from the work of the Guild.

The encounter Saturday evening followed three days of meetings on our Southeast coast of the Board of Trustees of both St. John Vianney College Seminary and St. Vincent de Paul theologate and a third meeting on Saturday morning of the Florida bishops for the Florida Catholic Conference. I am of the mind that when and if I get to heaven’s gate, if there is a meeting board announcing a meeting for newcomers, I think I may wish to go the other direction.

+RNL

THERE’S A PONY DOWN HERE SOMEWHERE

Monday, May 31st, 2010

There is an old story which probably most of you know about the kid feverishly shoveling his way through a huge and high pile of compost. When asked what in the world he/she was doing, the child replied, “with all this, there has to be a pony down here somewhere.” Today in Rome, the Holy See announced the expected pontifical visitation to the Church in Ireland in light of the horrendous revelations of sexual abuse of minors by priests, religious brothers and religious sisters which has devastated the faith in that country. Some must ask why now? Is it not too late? Is the horse not already out of the barn? Of course, it is never to late to confess one’s sins, personal and institutional, amend one’s life, personal or institutional , and agree to commit the sin no more, as a person or an institution. The Catholic Church in Ireland has basically asked the Holy Father, send us “good confessors” to whom we can confess our sins and who will guide us on reclaiming moral high ground we seem to have lost. The Apostolic Visitators to the four archdioceses in Ireland and to the dioceses are all from outside of Ireland but all have born the heat of the day in their own dioceses and can be good confessors to a Church seeking healing and redemption. From the United States, Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston has been appointed by the Pope to perhaps the toughest of situations in the Archdiocese of Dublin and its related suffragan sees (ecclesiastical talk for the dioceses outside of Dublin which come under the loose supervision of the Archbishop of the capital city). At the same time as the whole Church in Ireland will be visited, there will also be a visitation to Ireland’s remaining seminaries led  by our Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York. Archbishop Dolan spoke last week at Ireland’s major remaining seminary, St. Patrick’s in Maynooth and I encourage all of you to take the time to read his lecture by clicking here. Quite frankly, I think he has found the pony! It is a great synthesis of how I think my priests have suffered but made it through the last decade here, in St. Petersburg. Archbishop Dolan’s talk is lengthy but illuminating.

The bishops of the United States, some 210 strong, will be assembling in St. Petersburg starting Monday, June 14, 2010 at the Vinoy Hotel. 212 bishops have registered for an “assembly” which we hold every four years. It is not a business meeting so the media and observers will not be attending. It is closed to all but bishops. It is relaxed and informal. It is something like five days of continuing education and this year the general theme is “the bishop and his priests.” Archbishop Dolan will give the keynote address on Monday night to start us off. It has been my special privilege to be a part of every committee planning the agenda and topics for these assemblies since I was made a bishop and I was chair of the committee which planned the Assembly held in Tucson, Arizona, in June of 1998. We always invite a cardinal from outside the United States to spend the days with us and deliver the homilies at morning and evening prayer throughout the days and at daily Mass, lead our Hly Hours, and our Reconciliation and Penance Service. This year, our “spiritual father” will be  Cardinal Peter Turkson who is from Ghana and was recently asked by Pope Benedict XVI to leave his archdiocese and come to Rome to head the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. I look forward to the Cardinal’s wisdom and insights into being a bishop in the Church and world today. He too will help us try and rediscover the “pony.” Our assemblies are  as I mentioned relaxed. Evenings can be spent in informal conversation with others, there are even new or relatively new movies which the Hollywood studios make available for bishops to see in the evening. If you happen to be in downtown St. Petersburg from Monday, June 14 through Saturday, June 19th and see a group of men in the evening walking through Straub or Vinoy Park, it will likely be some of us.

Relationships between bishops and priests is an important topic because it has changed for the worse since the sexual-abuse controversy of 2001 and following. In many places priests don’t trust their bishops any longer and are terrified that they will receive a call and be asked to come and see the bishop for fear it might be a complaint or something of that nature. Priests and bishops need to search together for the “pony” that remains down there somewhere, as it was before.

I ask your prayers for our Assembly which is being held in our diocese in two weeks. May it be five days of grace, wisdom and insight for those of us who have been asked to lead the Church at this moment in history.

+RNL

A SAD THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the phosphate ship slamming into the old Skyway Bridge resulting in the loss of both lives and the bridge. I remember that I was in my first year as Rector/President of St. John Vianney College Seminary and we had a number of students from the old St. Petersburg diocese which stretched at that time from Citrus Springs and Crystal River in the North to Ft. Myers Beach in the South. My first prayer was that none of our seminarians’ families were killed in the tragedy. Slowly but surely the seminarians from this diocese contacted their families and were assured of their safety and well-being. Then we prayed, corporately, collectively, and privately for those who died. May they continue to rest in peace.

+RNL

GOOD FRIDAY 2010

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

Processional Cross at the Seminary

Homily for the Good Friday Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion

Having just listened to the proclamation of the Passion of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ according to John, it seems that even the name we apply to this day in the Christian calendar is something of an oxymoron. To call this Friday “Good” is like speaking of “Irish gourmet cooking.” There is much that reeks of needless tragedy in today’s liturgy and we have to wait until tomorrow night before we can even begin to glean the coming triumph. This day seemingly belongs to the forces of evil, which on their face seem to overcome and conquer the forces of good.

Peter resorts to violence and then denial. Caiphas, the High Priest, simply provides the courtyard in this narrative for denial and cowardice. Pilate, a man of considerable power, acts against his conscience and instincts and gives into the unruly, violent and bloodthirsty crowd ultimately leaving history to judge his cowardice. This panoply, this mosaic of weakness and evil is briefly pierced by the courageous women standing at the foot of the cross: Mary and her sister, Jesus’ aunt Mary the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene. Also present was the lone survivor of the twelve with the guts to hang in there with Jesus, John. On its face it seems not to be a great day. Evil seems to have won. Darkness seems to have penetrated the earth. Three years of a ministry of love and service to others in nailed to a crossbar.

I have often asked myself this question on Good Friday: what character in the passion would I most closely imitate if I had been present in Jesus’ life and ministry at the time? As a successor of the apostles would I have saved my own neck like Peter, hidden away in fright and terror in some attic like the other ten of His disciples, or hung in there to the end like the women and John?

And what qualities of character would I have evinced had I been there? Disinterest like Caiphas? Denial like Peter? Crowd-pleaser like Pilate? Believer like John and Mary and the two other Marys? These today must not be simply rhetorical questions. We can take the template of the lives that we lead and place them on our human actions, on our sense of faith, on our belief that Jesus died for us so that we might live for Him and ultimately to be happy with Him in the life that is to come.

If one believes everything about the Church which we read, see or hear today, we too are in the midst of a Good Friday. Just like in the passion and death of Jesus, there are forces in our midst who would be quite happy were we gone. Sensing that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has something to hide, something to bring him down, relentlessly and loose with the facts they surround the Church today like sharks at feeding time. Mine is a small voice compared to those who are speaking out in the defense of the Church and the Pope these days, but I can assure you that, as a person who has had many, many meetings with Cardinal Ratzinger from 1989-1995, he was one of the few people in Rome who “got it”, understood what was happening to the Church and its moral implications. He took action while others hesitated and he was ahead of the learning curve at the Holy See.

Victims of abuse by clergy, employees, relatives and seeming friends, people of trust and total strangers know what the darkness of Good Friday is like. What was done to them is reprehensible and there is likely never to be a personal triumph following the darkness they have known. Words of apology which are appropriate are also insufficient. It is the actions which the Church in the United States has taken since 2001 that offer the first glimmer of dawn’s early light. We have been able to do what is necessary precisely because of Pope Benedict, not inspite of him.

In every life there are more than one Good Friday. There are those moments when we fail to get our way, when we suffer, economically, psychologically, and emotionally. Do we become so disheartened that we doubt God’s continuing presence in our lives? Do we wash our hands of everything that is not perfect as we define perfection? Can we say with Saint Paul that it is at times when we are weakest that God makes us strong?

In a few moments we will reverence the wood of the cross on which hung the savior of the world. Can we see in these pieces of wood as we approach them the instrument of our eternal salvation? Will the events we today recall renew in us our faith in Christ and our love for the Father? Are we open to the Spirit to get us through what we must endure today to enjoy tomorrow?

Today is dark, foreboding, and tragic. It is necessary, however, for tomorrow’s celebration of triumph. Leave this Church today embracing the cross of Christ in whatever format it takes in your lives with the sure and certain belief that sometime soon, maybe even tomorrow, the strength of faith will give way to the bright promise of immortality. Can one appreciate a sunrise without experiencing the darkness of night? Good Friday is the darkest day in the life of Jesus but His total trust and His incredible unselfishness promise a better moment.

The cross of Christ is the best insurance policy humankind has purchased because it guarantees a destiny, a future where every tear will be wiped away and we will see God as God really is. Behold the wood of the cross, on which hung the savior of the world.

You may also download a PDF of this homily.

Update: You can listen to this homily on our podcast.