Posts Tagged ‘St. Vincent de Paul Regional 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.

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

THE LORD GIVES AND THE LORD TAKES AWAY

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013
Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

Word came to me late yesterday of the deaths of two wonderful people. The Marist Fathers province informed us of the death of our dear Father Thomas Stokes, for many years the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City. Father Stokes retired last summer but remained around until the Fall when he returned to Ireland for the final time. I wrote lovingly about this man and his time among us last year and you can access that tribute by clicking here. For this moment, Father Tom did not have a long period of restful retirement, but now he rests in peace in that better place to which we all aspire and to which all of us who knew Father Stokes know that he is almost there, for sure.

When I arrived in the diocese in January of 1996, our communications officer was Joseph Mannion. He also died yesterday after a long struggle with cancer. Joe was one of the first people I heard about after my appointment as bishop became known as he had been a classmate and friend in Rome at the North American College of Cardinal William Keeler, a wonderful friend of mine and mentor to me. He told me that Joe and his wife remained close friends of his and that the diocese was blessed to have a communicator of his talent. Upon arriving, I found that Joe had been an on-air personality of Channel Eight here in the Tampa Bay area for a number of years and was a highly respected journalist in the newer medium of television. Joe was also the lobbyist in Tallahassee for Pasco County which necessitated his presence in the capital during legislative sessions and we were beginning to have the challenge of coming to know and handle the sexual misconduct claims of priests and other diocesan employees. It became almost impossible for Joe to represent both the county before the legislature and the Church before the media and he chose the county. A part of me always thought that because of his lifelong love of the Church and the priesthood, it was just awful for Joe to have to speak to these crimes of unspeakable pain and suffering perpetrated largely on minors. I would see Joe and his wife on occasion, always when his friend Cardinal Keeler was in town, and at the annual Red Mass in Tallahassee once each year when the bishops were in town. He was a great man in every way, a great servant of his Church and his faith, and a witness to both. May he rest in peace and may his wife Elizabeth and his sons be comforted by the memories of a life well lived and a service to the Lord and to humankind of the highest quality.

Finally, this brings me to the Lord’s most recent gifts. On Saturday last, I ordained eleven men to the transitional diaconate (this means simply that they are on their way to priesthood ordination next year and will serve as deacons only during a transitional period of thirteen months).

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary

Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, seminarian at the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

The ordination took place at our regional seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach where Monsignor David Toups is Rector and Monsignor Michael Muhr, both priests of our diocese, is spiritual director. Three of the eleven men were ordained for the Diocese of St. Petersburg. They are Brian Fabiszewski from St. Catherine parish in Largo, Jonathan Emery from St. Clement parish in Plant City, and Kyle Smith from Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Land O’ Lakes.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

Deacon Kyle Smith, myself, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski, and Deacon Jonathan Emery. Photo kindness of Alexander Rivera, a seminarian at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary.

The other new deacons were from the Archdiocese of Miami, and the dioceses of Palm Beach, Orlando, Jacksonville and Pensacola-Tallahassee. My opportunity to ordain at the seminary to the diaconate comes once every seven years as the owning bishops of the seminary rotate the privilege. It was a glorious day with a glorious liturgy and I departed confident that six of our dioceses would be getting eleven great priests a year from now. Pictures from the occasion can be found by clicking here, as is my homily (click here to read it) on this occasion.

So indeed with two deaths of friends, colleagues and witnesses to the faith, the Lord has taken from our midst great people, but in the ordination rite, the renewal of ranks continues and he gives us continued hope for the future.

+RNL

GOINGS AND COMINGS

Tuesday, September 25th, 2012

With Father Thomas Stokes, S.M.

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM – DAY THREE – Monday, May 7, 2012

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Florida's newest soon-to-be-bishop, Bishop-elect Gregory Parkes "stands tall" among all the bishops present for the opening Mass last night at the North American College. At 6'8" tall, he will surely rise above everything. Photo kindness of Ryan Boyle.

Our first day of “work” started off with Mass at the Tomb of St. Peter at eight o’clock in the morning. You can view photos graciously taken and shared by SueAnn Howell with The Catholic News Herald, the Diocese of Charlotte’s newspaper, here. The altar of St. Peter stands right above what is believed to be the burial place for the first pope. At that time, the Vatican Hill was outside of the city of Rome, on the outskirts as it were, and was the traditional burial place for non-Romans and especially for those convicted and executed for breaking Roman law. After his crucifixion upside-down, Peter’s body was likely dumped into a common gravesite. It was not long before Christian converts in Rome began to come to this site to recall and pray for Peter.

The Emperor Constantine in the third century after his conversion began an excavation to see if it might be possible to locate Peter’s remains. He also began construction on the first Basilica dedicated to the prince of the apostles. Through the years scholars have come to agreement on the site of the burial, the likely place of the body, and parts of the Constantinian basilica remain under the foundations of the present mega-basilica. Interested pilgrims can make arrangements to view the excavations under the present St. Peter’s Basilica and the tour is called the “scavi”. Reservations well in advance are required and there is a fee for the approximately ninety minute tour, many of which are conducted in the afternoons by trained seminarians from the North American College.

The altar where Mass was offered this morning is directly above the excavation site. It is, however, the place to which every bishop in the world returns once every five years to offer one of two required Masses during their ad liminavisits. So our working time in Rome began with Mass at the threshold of the place of Peter’s burial. Archbishop Wilton Gregory is the senior archbishop of the two provinces on this visit and it fell to him to offer the Mass and to preach the homily.

Archbishop Wilton Gregory preaching at the Tomb of St. Peter. Photo kindness of Ryan Boyle

Immediately after Mass, we departed for our first and only curia meeting which was with the Apostolic Signatura. Think Supreme Court! The Signatura is the final court of appeal in Church Law. It hears appeals from decisions of other congregations of the Roman Curia such as the Congregation for Clergy which adjudicates right now the requests of bishops throughout the United States who wish to close a parish or sell a church building for some profane use. It also hears appeals of decisions arrived at in local diocesan marriage tribunals regarding nullity of marriages. One can safely posit that the Signatura is the responsible Vatican body for directing diocesan marriage tribunals throughout the world. A third task of the Signatura is to receive and adjudicate appeals concerning the removal of pastors if the procedure utilized to accomplish this did not conform to the law of the Church.  An American cardinal is the head of the Signatura at this time, Cardinal Raymond Burke, originally a priest of the diocese of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, and then its bishop, archbishop of St. Louis, and now the “chief justice” of our Church’s highest appeals court. The Cardinal and his principal assistant, the Belgium Bishop Daneels were most hospitable in welcoming us and spoke to and with us for about seventy-five minutes. Unlike the dioceses of the east and Midwest of the United States, our region is more interested in opening parishes to serve a growing population than in closing them so our discussion did not center on Church closures but mostly matrimonial jurisprudence. At the conclusion of this meeting, the province of Miami was free for the rest of the day. The province of Atlanta, however, had their audience with the Holy Father at eleven a.m. and returned to the North American College with a wonderful sense of having trust taken part in something quite wonderful and stimulating.

In the evening, we bishops were invited to a reception at the residence and embassy of the Ambassador of the United States to the Holy See. The current occupant is a long time friend of most of the Florida bishops, Ambassador Miguel Diaz. A Miami native, the ambassador is a graduate of University of Notre Dame with a degree in theology and he taught and was academic dean at our St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary before he left to join the faculty of St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. Appointed by President Obama as his representative to the Holy See, he is completing three full years in a position which is often described as one of the best listening posts in the world. With our far-flung diocesan and parish networks, the Holy See is often well aware of developments in nations before even the local embassies. Ambassador Diaz was most gracious is welcoming us and it was good to see him again.

Tomorrow portends to be a busier day for us and the pesky rain seems to be dissipating making it possible to more easily get out and enjoy this remarkable city. We will see.

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DOCTORS, LAWYERS AND COMMITTED CATHOLICS

Thursday, September 22nd, 2011

With USF medical students. Photo courtesy of Dana Rozance.

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

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

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

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

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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.

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