Word has come to me through St. Leo University that God called Father James C. Hoge, O.S.B. to Himself last Saturday afternoon. Father Hoge was 96 years old and had been professed with the Benedictine community of St. Leo Abbey since 1938. Had he lived long enough to come to next Tuesday’s Chrism Mass I would have honored him on the occasion of his 70th anniversary of his priestly ordination. What makes Father Hoge so unique in our diocesan history was his service to this local Church in its northern counties (Pasco, Hernando and Citus). Instrumental in the establishment and founding of all six parishes in Citrus country, he became known and beloved by almost all Catholics living in our northernmost county. He also was instrumental in pushing for the establishment of Pope John Paul II elementary school which began its life as “Citrus County Catholic Elementary School.”
St. Benedict, in founding the religious community which bears his name, told his monks in their “way of life” that two things were absolutely essential: “ora et labora” or “Prayer and work.” Tireless in spreading the Gospel in the church, first as a teacher at St. Leo Prep School in Pasco County, and then for many years as a parish priest and pastor, this man was truly a builder. He was a model of Benedict’s view of the perfect monk, working hard and praying harder. It was painful for him when retirement finally came and he did not take to it well. Ever ready to help out in parishes on weekends, especially in those he founded and where he left such great friends, returning to the routine of monastery life was hard for him.
So many people were the beneficiaries of his priestly presence, diocesan priests, religious women, lay men and women, children. He was there for them all. To be cut off from his pastoral life-blood was very hard and he suffered physically and emotionally in his final years. I, too, dread the time when my medical-surrogate, a long time priest friend, comes and says to me , “Bob, I need the car keys.” I hope I will be more at peace in that moment than dear Father Hoge was for most of the time it is a moment of “tough love” of those who care for us in our old age. When he was a the “top of his game” the priesthood was very much in vogue for Father Hoge and he gave it his all, and wished to do so until his last breath.
In addition to being a great pastor of souls, Father Hoge was born in Charleston, West Virginia, as I was, and he loved railroads, as I do. He would bring me books about the railroads of west central Florida, where they went and what they carried. It was great fun for me when I first came to the diocese to learn the history of the “northern exposure” of the Church of St. Petersburg. What he did not share with me, Monsignor George Cummings did, and he would have been sitting right next to Father Jim next Tuesday at the Chrism Mass. See, Monsignor George will be ninety-five this year and will observe very quietly he has warned me, his seventieth anniversary of priestly ordination. These men were truly priestly pioneers, giants of their time, and devoted evangelizers of the Gospel. Father Jim, rest in peace, dear friend, with Benedict and his sister Scholastica, with your parents, the five abbots of St. Leo whom you knew and under whom you served and your many deceased Benedictine brothers. We send our prayers and sentiments of sympathy to the monks of St. Leo Abbey and the Sisters of Holy Name Monastery and members of your family on the occasion of this significant loss.
When Hoge was in vogue, the faith was alive and the love of Christ abounded.
NOTE ADDED 3/22: I will be celebrating a Memorial Mass for Father Hoge at 6:00PM on Wednesday, March 27, 2013, at St. Scholastica Parish in Lecanto. All are invited to attend.