Posts Tagged ‘St. John Vianney College Seminary’

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.

FUTURE NOW

Friday, March 21st, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are the future, now!

+RNL

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

GIVING BIRTH

Sunday, May 20th, 2012

After a blog a day from Rome about the ad limina visit, regular readers may wonder what has happened to me. First, this week I paid for my sin of being gone for a week during the height of the confirmation, graduation and anniversary season. Additionally, it seems I broke a leg in Rome on Friday, the last day there. It was confirmed only on Monday of this week with an X-Ray which revealed a “hairline, stress fracture of the right fibbula.” Happily this type of break does not require either a cast or a boot, and one can continue to safely walk on it while it heals itself. Today (Saturday, May 19th) I had ordinations in the morning and a confirmation in the evening and my right leg was telling me at times it was far from pleased with me.

Deacon Timothy Corcoran and Deacon Victor Amorose at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Ordinations this morning were simply wonderful. Deacons Tim Corcoran and Victor Amorose were rousingly welcomed into the priesthood by an almost full Cathedral. I have always been proud of our diocesan ceremonies since arriving here sixteen plus years ago. The music has always been extraordinarily appropriate and beautiful, made so by a succession of very talented music directors. Our diocesan Office of Worship consistently plans and executes a smooth and beautiful ceremony. Add to that the Cathedral staff who knock themselves out for such occasions, and one has the recipe for a successful liturgical experience. For most major diocesan functions such as ordinations and dedications of Churches, I am ably assisted by Father John Tapp, pastor of Holy Family parish in St. Petersburg, himself a graduate with a master’s degree in liturgy from St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. For Cathedral only functions, a faculty member from St. Petersburg Catholic, John Christian is at my side, anticipating my every move and relieving  me as does Father Tapp from worrying about what I should be doing. Behind every successful bishop on ceremonies, there is usually a very capable Master of Ceremonies and today was no exception. In fact, Father Tapp and John Christian make even those being ordained relaxed (well mostly so).

Fathers Amorose and Corcoran were welcomed into the presbyterate by about eighty of our priests (click here to see photos). Ask those present what were the most moving moments and they would likely reply that it is a toss-up between the silent “laying on of hands by the bishop and attending priests” and the singing of the Litany of the Saints while those to be ordained lie flat on the floor.

The Litany of Saints. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

For myself, there is a moment at the end of the ordination rite itself after all the priests have given the new ordained the “greeting of peace” when I and the President of the Presbyteral Council lead the new fathers to their seats among the presbyters or priests. When seated the congregation without any printed or spoken provocation bursts into long, sustained applause reflecting the joy of this Church that it indeed has now two new priests who have come like the Lord to serve and not to be served. It happens every ordination.

The new fathers at their seats among the presbyters or priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

There are other moments when the assembled signal their joy and approbation as when the bishop accepts the recommendation of those who formed the candidates and the people of God and announces that indeed he will ordain the men to the sacred priesthood.

After announcing that I will ordain the Deacon Victor Amorose and Deacon Timothy Corcoran to the sacred priesthood. Photo kindness of Theresa Mertens.

Again when the new priests receive the greeting of peace at the end of the ordination Rite from the bishop. One is scripted and the other two occasions are simply spontaneous.

Greeting Father Victor Amorose at the end of the ordination Rite. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Greeting Father Timothy Corcoran at the end of the ordination Rite. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

No one should think that homilies for these special occasions come easily. They do not. I began to think about what I wished to say during the trip to Rome. The newly ordained pick the readings they want read on their ordination day. I was working right up to midnight last night on the final draft. Whether successful or not, I leave to your judgment but you may read my homily by clicking here or watch a video of it by clicking here. Ordinations and the Chrism Mass have always been the preaching challenge for me during my episcopal ministry. The latter is much harder because the readings are always the same, never vary and one is preaching to about the same 80 deacons and 150 priests.

Fathers Corcoran and Amorose will be great priests. The former is himself a former federal judge in the Bankruptcy Court of the Middle District of Florida. He attended Blessed Pope John XXIII National Seminary (my alma mater) in Weston, Massachusetts for the last four years and has been assigned to Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Dunedin. Father Amorose started his post-secondary education by spending two years at the University of Central Florida and then finishing his college at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and studying theology as the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach. He has been assigned to St. John Vianney parish on St. Petersburg Beach.

Father Victor Amorose, myself, and Father Timothy Corcoran after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Tonight they are gathering with family and friends and tomorrow they will celebrate their second Masses (their first as principal celebrant) at their home parishes, Sacred Heart, Tampa (Father Corcoran) and Light of Christ parish, Clearwater (Father Amorose). Our beloved Church has today given birth to two new priests with more on the way. God is good.

+RNL

AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – DAY SEVEN – Friday, May 11, 2012

Friday, May 11th, 2012

 

Monsignor Robert Morris and I in the Cortille San Damaso awaiting the audience with the Holy Father

The seventh and final day of our week-long ad limina is now over and this will be the final posting as I will be travelling back to Tampa tomorrow all day. My flight leaves Rome at 655am EDT (1255pm Rome time) and I arrive back home at 1035pm EDT (435am Rome time) if all goes well. The layover in New York’s JFK airport is scheduled for two hours and ten minutes so I should be “at altitude” for thirteen hours approximately.

Our final day in the eternal city seemed to go on eternally. We began with a visit to the Congregation for Catholic Education, which is responsible for Catholic schools and colleges and universities, religious education and the catechism, and all seminaries throughout the world. The presentation by the Prefect, Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski,  in this congregation was quite lengthy filling the whole hour and I had my cassock on throughout the meeting, was dying from the heat, and wishing for air conditioning somewhere, anywhere and soon. It came when we arrived at the Apostolic Palace for our visit with Pope Benedict XVI. More about that later. The bishops from the Atlanta province (Charlotte, Raleigh, Charleston, SC, and Savannah) had the rest of the morning off and were driven back to the North American College while the six bishops and one bishop-elect of the Miami province were driven to the Apostolic Palace.

The Holy Father lives on the top or third floor of a massive building to the right of St. Peter’s Square. His bedroom is a small room on the far right side which is accessed through a small parlor which is itself accessed through his private office where he sees no one officially but writes and works. When one has a private audience with the Pope, you go no higher than the second floor, which is full of formal reception rooms. His private quarters are small so the term “palace” is barely applicable. Also living on the third floor are his two priest secretaries, and the sisters who perform the housekeeping and prepare his meals. His very private chapel is there as well.

For an audience appointment of eleven o’clock which was our appointed time, one usually arrives at least thirty minutes early, passing a number of Swiss Guard who stand impressively tall and still. For the minutes leading up to being led into his presence, you can usually count on remaining for a time in about three reception rooms. As one person or group exits the waiting area and into the presence of the pope, you are moved forward one more reception rooms until you make the turn and are on the side facing St. Peter’s square. When I first started doing this routine in 1979, my knees would knock, my hands would sweat, I would begin to perspire all in anticipation of that final door. Today we were led directly to the final waiting room. Then we were ushered into his presence. The successor of St. Peter was standing this morning with a welcoming smile on his face and each of us was allowed to bring one priest or seminarian in with us to have a quick picture taken and then whomever we chose (Monsignor Bob Morris this morning) were ushered out and we were asked to take seats close to the Pope.

The pectoral cross given to us by Pope Benedict XVI today

He was interested in hearing from each of us whatever we wished to share with him from our diocesan experiences and he would offer a brief reaction to whatever we said. All told with seven bishops present, we took about twenty minutes of his time.  To me he seemed more tired than when I was with him in November, breathing a little more deeply and heavily but still so gracious and humble. This man, like Paul VI, is a very humble priest, despite his reputation sometimes to the contrary. I think I could capture the feelings of our group of seven bishops that we were genuinely grateful that he could still take the time to welcome each of us. Traditionally at the end of the Ad Limina visits with the popes, we receive some gift and it has been for the last four visits of US bishops a pectoral cross which we wear close to our heart as a constant reminder that sometimes shepherding the churches can be an invitation to carry a cross.

In the afternoon I had pranzo (aka “Lunch”) with Monsignor Gerald Cadieres, a student of mine at St. John Vianney College Seminary and the first South American to complete his theology work in Rome as a student at the North American College. He gave me the privilege of vesting him for his diaconate ordination here at St. Peters and it is always wonderful to see him during my visits. He works in the Spanish language section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Later in the afternoon a highlight for me was meeting after a long absence Cardinal Agostino Cacchiavillan, former Apostolic Nuncio to the United States of America and a man with whom I worked during my six years as General Secretary of the Episcopal Conference of the United States. He was a wonderful friend and mentor then and remains such even today. It was a terrific penultimate way to say farewell to Rome.

The “proof sheets” of the several hundred pictures taken of us this morning by the one photographer were back at the North American College by two o’clock and the bishops behave like parents at confirmation trying to get the pictures taken of their child with the bishop. It was like Disney animal time at the Magic Kingdom with people ordering photographs by the score. I am supposed to get a digital disc tonight later and if it arrives, one of the seventy pictures taken in less than two minutes of Monsignor Morris and I and it should be on this blog.

Sunday I celebrate my thirty-fourth anniversary of priestly ordination and Monsignor Bob Morris celebrates his twenty-first a few days later, so with our colleagues from the Pastoral Center we had our final dinner in Rome and attempted to make it memorable.

I leave with some very strong, mostly emotional feelings. First, I took Pope Benedict’s leave with the very strong feeling that I likely shall not be seeing him again. It was that same feeling in the gut I had when as a child we would take our leave of our 80 and 90-year-old grandparents. Secondly, I am clearing out my closest in the Bishops Larkin and Lynch Suite and bringing almost everything home tomorrow, as I do not anticipate coming back again, at least for business. Thirdly, all of us had a hard time tonight saying goodbye to Ryan Boyle our seminarian here who has shared much of his time with the eight of us. If generosity, hospitality, and helpfulness are predictors of a successful priesthood, Ryan will do very well. The seminarians at the North American College could not have been more hospitable this week, unfailingly kind and solicitous. Likewise the staff, priests and domestics which have in the last six months watched two of their former rectors made Cardinals, fifteen regions of the US bishops pass through for at least a week and the normal flow of guests and visitors coming to Rome, they have all been just terrific. All of the bishops of Region XIV are grateful to them.

So it is arrivaderci Roma, good-by, farewell to Rome, city of a million moon lit places, city of a million smiling faces, far from home. I believe this is my forty-fifth trip to the Eternal City and the Italian language had a great single word for how I feel tonight, basta, “enough.” Thanks for reading these entries and now it is back to confirmations, ordinations, graduations, birthday and anniversary. Ciao for now.

+RNL

P.S. The much anticipated disc with the pictures seems not to have arrived as of this writing and posting of this blog entry, so I will post some of them tomorrow or whenever. If you can’t stand the wait, the mother of all ecclesial blogs, http://whispersintheloggia.blogspot.com/ has them available for viewing. You can view more photos from the trip, graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with the Catholic News Herald, the diocesan newspaper of the Diocese of Charlotte, here.

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.

+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

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

THE ROAD TO HELL . . . .

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I have always loved and found generally true that old aphorism, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” It has been about ten days since I last logged on to share some of the things happening in the life of the diocese and each day I rise saying, I am going to write a blog entry and each night I go to bed saying, “shucks.” So there is a lot to cover in this entry.

VISIT TO OUR SEMINARIANS

Week before last I visited our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary at Boynton Beach. We currently have eighteen on campus at the former in their college and pre-theology years and nine on campus at the latter plus two men currently in the diocese of what is called “Pastoral Year.” I try to give each seminarian twenty to thirty minutes for some private time with me, celebrate the Eucharist for them, take them en masse out to dinner and say prayer with them. This year our new diocesan Vocation Director, Father John Blum accompanied me and he too spends time with each seminarian. At the conclusion of our visit, we both meet with the Rectors of the seminaries to gain their perspective on  how they see our men doing in formation. Honest seminarians always admit to the challenges of pursuing their vocations. Think of what we ask of them: celibate chastity all their lives beginning when they enter the seminary gates, living in close proximity to others and constantly under a microscope (not necessarily of their superiors but even their peers) studying two intellectual disciplines which are largely abstract in their origins (philosophy and theology), living, studying and praying in multi-cultural, multi-language Miami and South Florida. There is little that is new here to priestly formation but the experience of recent years in the Church has shone a spotlight much more glaringly on seminary education and formation and our men sense it. Overall, they are doing quite well. Some have decided not to go on after this year and they spoke honestly to me of their reasons and I admire their decisions, hard as they were to arrive at. Most are content, challenged, and eager to move on eventually to priesthood. From the perspective of a soon to be seventy year old, I can not help but admire the sacrifice these young men are making in a youth culture, perhaps even in a secular culture which neither understands nor values a chaste and celibate priesthood. While I stop short of elevating our seminarians to the ranks of heroes or saints, I can not help but admire their generosity and commitment. I left my camera at home on this trip but here is a picture of the college seminarians and one of the theologians will follow as this week I must return to both seminaries for the twice yearly meeting of the Board of Trustees.

College Seminarians 2011 with Fr. Blum

The college seminarians with Fr. Blum.

ROMAN MISSAL WORKSHOPS

Over 750 people attended one of five workshops held the last ten days throughout the diocese on the introduction on the First Sunday of Advent of the new Roman Missal translation of the Mass. I was so proud of both the presenters and those who gave of their time and talent to come and learn about what will be happening and how best we might prepare our parishioners for it. Planned, organized and executed by the Diocesan Worship Office and Commission, I have to admit that I learned some new things myself, even though I had been actively involved in the process of vetting the translation recommendations. In a few days, and I will make note of it here in this space, a video of the two major presentations made during these workshops, one by Doug Reatini on the history of changes in the Roman Missal and the second by Father John Tapp on what to expect on “T DAY” (the last Saturday in November at the Vigil Masses for the First Sunday of Advent) will be available on our Diocesan Website to join the video of Bishop Blase Cupich’s fine presentation to our priests in December of last year. If you are truly interested and I hope you are, take the time to watch both of these videos and I guarantee you will be ready for T-Day. Thanks to all who worked so hard to make these workshops so beneficial. The “buzz” (“buzz” is different from the things which are said to the bishop to make him feel good) on these days has been overwhelmingly positive and grateful. I am proud of our diocese and I know in my heart and mind that we will be ready.

Workshop held at St. Timothy Church in Lutz on Feb. 12, 2011

THE CATHOLIC FOUNDATION DINNER

About 540 people joined me in our annual dinner for the Catholic Foundation which has as one of its principal goals raising money for tuition assistance for children attending our Catholic schools who might not otherwise be able to afford it. Last year they raised just over $150,000 for tuition assistance and this year appears that it will be about the same. It was truly “Women in the Church Night” at the A La Carte Pavilion in Tampa last Saturday a week ago.  Sometimes when our Church gathers there is this underlying feeling that unless one has a cardinal or well-known archbishop to give the major address, there is little reason to go. Well this year gave the lie to that line of thinking. The major address was given by a woman born in mainland China and the show was stolen by an eighth grade young lady from St. Raphael’s school.

The principal speaker for the evening Professor Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean of the Mendoza School of Business at Notre Dame University. Dean Woo told of her own personal debt to the Catholic schooling she received in Hong Kong at the hands of the Maryknoll Sisters who had been forced by the communists out of mainland China and had taken up both residence and mission in Hong Kong. It was the sisters who guided this young girl, the fourth of six children, through elementary and high school and gave her the courage to look to the United States for her college. With only enough money to pay for the first year of tuition at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana, against her father’s wishes she made her way to the college of her choice, using $1800 (the cost for one year’s tuition in 1972 at Purdue) which she had saved from summer jobs, gifts from her siblings, and help from her nanny. Alone, afraid, but determined, she went to daily Mass at the student center at Purdue and almost immediately met the man to be her husband years later after she had completed her doctorate degree. Purdue hired her, first with a teaching job and then as a part of the University Administration. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame discovered her and asked that she come to South Bend to be Dean of their Business School. In the succeeding years she has led a major school on campus which this year in one ratings system is now first in Undergraduate Business schools in the nation and sixth in their Graduate Program. And she would lay it all at the feet of those noble women from the United States, the Maryknoll sisters, who taught her that a woman can become a leader, even in a culture (Mandarin Chinese) that relegates them to inferior positions behind men. Her story is one of amazing accomplishment and deep faith and one could hear a pin drop in the huge room while she was speaking.

Dean Carolyn Y. Woo, Dean of the Mendoza School of Business at the University of Notre Dame with Henry Jenkins, currently an ACE teacher at Holy Family Catholic School in St. Petersburg

But even Dean Woo would say the evening belonged to in the eighth grader at St. Raphael who won the diocesan first prize in an essay contest on what it means to be in a Catholic School. Speaking for about ten minutes from memory and with a super accompanying video which she herself put together, she won a long, sustained and enthusiastic standing ovation from those in attendance for her talk and presentation. It was stunning, even to me who sometimes callously thinks I have seen and heard everything. Her prize was full one year tuition which she will spend at St. Petersburg Catholic in the coming year. This young woman stands a great chance of being her generation’s Carolyn Woo. Here is Heather Finster, this year’s winner who has set the bar incredibly high for eighth graders who will attempt in future years to top her. Heather’s mom worked for many years for St. Joseph Hospital and her father died a number of years ago, making this achievement all the more beautiful. Congratulations, Heather, and it will be nice to have you in the neighborhood when you come to SPC.

Winner of the Catholic Foundation's First Annual Essay Contest on "What a Catholic School Has Meant to Me"

The Foundation made a special award to Mrs.Cecile Demers of St. Patrick’s parish in Largo  who with her husband have been strong supporters of  Catholic education, particularly at St. Patrick’s school , Clearwater Central Catholic High School and  St. Leo University. Although her husband is now deceased, Mrs. Demers continues to share the blessings of her life with young women and men who probably could not afford to be in a Catholic school were it not for her generosity and that of her late husband. Here is a picture of my presentation of this year’s Foundation Award to Mrs. Demers who used the moment appropriately enough to tell me to do more for Catholic school kids – truly an amazing woman.

Photo compliments of P. L. Carrillo

Finally, it has been “crunch time” for Confirmations and I have been doing about four a week since a month ago. There are eight more between now and the night before Ash Wednesday when we cease the confirmation circuit to better focus on Lent and preparing once again for Easter and the Triduum which precedes it. All toll, this year I will celebrate the sacrament of confirmation forty-four times before mid-June and will have served fifty-one parishes (some combine their young people and others come to the Cathedral for the two large group celebrations of the sacrament. Here one final picture of that special moment – in my life and hopefully in the lives of the young women and men who receive the sacrament.

Photo by Walter Pruchnik III

This completes the longest blog entry in the short history of this author. But now we are caught up for the moment. I hope reading it has not been something akin to walking that road to hell but in writing this, however late, I did have good intentions.

+RNL