Posts Tagged ‘Tampa’


Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

The Church of St. Petersburg bade a fond farewell to one of its best-known and beloved priests today. Monsignor Laurence Higgins, for forty-nine years the pastor of St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, went home to the Father’s House last week. The feelings of love and gratitude many felt for him was clearly demonstrated by the many who filed past his body at his beloved St. Lawrence.

He was just days shy of his eighty-eighth birthday when God came for him and sixty-three years a priest. I shall not repeat the biographical information here as the Tampa Bay Times did all that last week and they will cover the funeral as well, I am sure. I will try to share some thoughts from my perspective as his bishop for the last twenty-one years and perhaps let you see why he will be missed.

Monsignor Lawrence Higgins loved his faith and gave great credit to his parents for their role in raising him. He also loved Tampa (and disdained St. Petersburg). He loved sports, especially the Bucs, for whom he served as chaplain for as long as his health would allow. He always thought the Tampa Tribune was a great newspaper and the one across the bay was hopelessly liberal and anti-Catholic. He brought Larry Rothschild, the Ray’s first manager into the Church quietly (he did a lot of the sacraments “quietly”) and he adored John Lynch and Tony Dungy for their deep faith in God, Christ and humanity.

He was very proud of his parish, St. Lawrence, that he founded. He often said that the late Archbishop Hurley, when he assigned him to start the parish, told him to stop the invasion of the Jesuits from the South, the Redemptorists from the west and east (and there was no threat at the time from the North). Larry Higgins liked nothing better than a challenge.

St. Lawrence became a successful parish because he knew that if he ran a good school for children, their parents would follow and fill the pews on the weekends. To send your children to St. Lawrence School, one needed to register for the parish (no matter where you lived), attend Mass and support the parish through the Sunday collection, and volunteer on special projects when asked. In return, he guaranteed a first class education, almost automatic admission to Jesuit for the boys, and orthodoxy in religion. He built it and they came and they still come. Amazingly, the 2010 census identified St. Lawrence parish as having the highest concentration of Hispanic families in the whole diocese but the majority of its present worshipping community comes from outside the parish boundaries.

I always admired his ability to reach out to the underdog. He was a friend to those who suffered from many types of addiction and addictive behavior. His final community effort was in starting a program at USF in addiction and its cures. He loved St. Peter Claver, a small and always struggling parish in central Tampa with a school for mostly African-American children. In this he had two great allies whom I also admire deeply, Joe Capitano and Ted Couch. If it were not for the three of them, St. Peter Claver School would likely have closed long ago and to this day, though I have doubts about its long-term sustainability, I regularly ceded my judgments to the troika that believed, supported and sustained that important presence.

Back at St. Lawrence, Monsignor Higgins made his feelings known about a number of things from bishops to women serving Mass (he never allowed it), Eucharist under both species (he never allowed it) and married deacons (nowhere to be seen in his time as pastor). I could have forced him but he would have outwitted me some way so I took the road less travelled by. However, the community who gathered for prayer on weekends filled the Church, coming from all over Hillsborough county if they had children in the school and I would not want to begin to count the number of weddings, baptisms, and funerals the good Monsignor performed. Even after retirement, they still came knocking for his presence at major occasions and he obliged right up to the time his body would no longer allow it. Simply amazing in many ways.

About a year ago I stopped by St. Lawrence unannounced to see Monsignor Muhr, the new pastor, and Father Dornquest, the new associate. I was blocked by the police from entering the parking lot because my name was not on a list. I finally convinced the officer that I was the bishop and owned the property and I found a parking place and went into the Church (it was about four pm). It was full of the biggest men and women I have ever seen and there was Monsignor in his cassock and surplice preaching. Someone recognized me and came to my side. There was a huge coffin in front of the sanctuary. I said, “Whose funeral is it?” “Dusty Rhodes, the wrestler” came the reply and Monsignor was going on and on about the Brisco brothers and Florida Championship Wrestling. All of the WWE constituted the congregation that day. Dusty Rhodes was not a Catholic but he was a friend of Monsignor Higgins. I shook my head in amazement, wonderment and admiration.

But these last few days belonged to the simple people, parishioners of St. Lawrence, who saw Monsignor as the embodiment of the Good Shepherd of which Jesus spoke. They came to say “thanks, for what you did, for what you said, for whom you worked so slavishly.” Except for an annual vacation, like most of the Irish priests of his generation, he was on the job, 24/7, 330. When his friend from his earliest days of priesthood in Miami, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin, asked his assistance in managing the diocese as Vicar General he added that to his resume while still managing St. Lawrence. At that time he preached a “Gospel” that everything good in the Church originated in the central offices of the diocese. When he was no longer involved there, he changed the “Gospel” to the Church much be present in the larger community, at the Capitol in Tallahassee, at City Hall in Tampa, at the School Board in Hillsborough.

I will miss his presence. We had our moments but they were mostly minor and in the end, who could do anything but admire the accomplishments even if occasionally they were done, “his way, the Higgins’ way.” Of this I know – there shall never be another like him.



Thursday, August 21st, 2014

I was awakened this morning by the sound of an e-mail being received which was from my former Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Gibbons, pastor of St. Paul parish in St. Petersburg. He called my attention to an article in today’s TAMPA TRIBUNE about an apparently raunchy and sleazy movie filmed on location at the now largely deserted Sacred Heart Academy Building (his grade school Alma Mater). Reading the article quickly led me to believe that Sacred Heart parish and its pastor had been duped by the producer of the film and that proper oversight of any agreement to use church facilities which is in place had not been exercised. I wish to begin by apologizing to all alumni of SHA who like myself are embarrassed and perhaps even mortified by today’s revelations and to assure all it will not happen again. Here are the facts as I can best determine them.

  1. The producer of the film approached the pastor of Sacred Heart and he entered an agreement without reading the script allowing use of the buildings in return for an agreed upon rental fee. While not reading the script, he was shown an outline which he says did not raise any “alarms” and feels he was “used”. He is a very fine pastor.
  2. The diocese requires that any such requests be vetted with my office and with legal counsel for the diocese which has a rental agreement form with requirements (including review of the script) ready for execution. There was no request for assistance from the diocese or its legal counsel and the parish executed the agreement on its own.
  3. Last year an article in the TRIBUNE brought up the matter of the concurrent filming and upon learning of it, the Vicar General, Monsignor Robert Morris called the pastor and then learned that indeed an agreement had been entered into which would return some money on an unused, vacant building that was costing money. Additionally, the offensive scenes had already been filmed and Monsignor Morris learned that it was too late to do anything about it.
  4. Had proper procedures which are in place been followed, this would not have happened and the embarrassment avoided.
  5. In today’s article the producer basically revels in the fact that the pastor and diocese has been duped and I readily admit that we do look bad. But, the old adage, “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice shame on me” is operative in this instance and again I sincerely apologize for this publicly painful moment. It will not happen again.



Wednesday, May 21st, 2014
2014 Remembering the Faithful Departed

Father Vladimir Dziadek

St. Joseph Catholic Church, Tampa, FL
Monday, May 18, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg

            There are three things that are for certain in every human life: birth, death and taxes. While we ourselves are responsible for the third, our taxes, our staunchly pro-life teaching has always held and argued that God alone is the author of all human life and God alone is to be the determiner of when life begins and when it ends. Our Father Vladimir, however, a week ago chose both the time and the manner of his departure from our midst and the end of his life. This morning we may think we know of the contributing factors of his decision, but none of us is gifted with the power to see into his mind, his thinking, and his decision-making last Sunday night and Monday morning a week ago. No amount of money is worth the taking of a human life, no amount of shame can ever completely erase the good a person has done, no sin is truly unpardonable, no potential embarrassment even approaches the shame, anger, guilt which befalls those left behind to deal with the unforeseen reality occasioned by suicide. I want everyone here present this morning, the children of the parish and in the school to know that the single act which brings us together this morning is wrong.

            The act, however, can at times be severable from the person. For all of his priestly life, Father Vladimir put himself at the service of the Lord Jesus, serving in missionary territory in Venezuela prior to coming to the United States and to our local Church. In the years he was here, he endeared himself to God’s people. At Most Holy Name of Jesus parish, they cared for him enough that they gave him time to improve his English and when the Church became vacant they asked that he be made their shepherd. He was happy there, serving God’s people and loving in a special way the Hispanic population he was linguistically better prepared to minister to.

            When I asked him three years ago to come to St. Joseph’s to succeed the beloved Father Felix, he did not hesitate. He came. It was not easy for him. There was the school which had been losing money and enrollment for many years and a whole new effort begun by the University of Notre Dame to not just save the school but to build it up. He lived to see that happen. There were walls to be painted in the Church and at times he was more difficult and demanding of the artist painting than Pope Julius was of Michelangelo applying fresco to the Sistine Chapel. Through it all, mostly alone, he heard your confessions, celebrated Mass for you in two languages, baptized your children, and anointed your sick. On two occasions he told Monsignor Morris and I how much he loved St. Joseph parish and that it was an honor to be your pastor. Publicly all seemed well. Internally what some of us knew to be true was that dear Father Vladimir suffered bouts of depression although in recent years he showed signs of improvement and greater control.

            However, little known to most and unknown to me, there was an affliction within him called an addiction, which first came to light less than two weeks ago.  Addictions are not always sinful. To be sinful, in classic moral theology, three things are necessary: grave matter (taking a loaf of bread from the super market to feed one’s starving family, though I do not recommend it, is not grave matter but taking large sums of money is); second, one must know and understand the gravity of the act (since addictive behavior is often repetitive behavior, this requirement for serious sin can sometimes be missing); third and finally, in performing the sinful act one must willfully and knowingly intend  to break God’s law and the harmonious relationship between ourselves and our God and fellow women and men.

            Neither you nor I this morning are in a position to judge Father’s actions. He did not give us a chance to do so. But all three readings from Scripture remind us that our God is merciful, loving, compassionate and forgiving. The task of judgment passes from our minds and hands to Our Lord’s. Less than fifty years ago, a funeral Mass for a victim of suicide was not allowed by our Church and priests were not even allowed to pray over the caskets of the dead. The Church and society have embraced the notion that mental illness often causes people to do the unexplainable and what was once considered a capital sin remains wrong but can be an occasion for mercy, a call to pardon, a sign of love. We gather this morning not as investigative reporters but people of faith.

            Allow me to speak just for myself for just a moment. The past week has seen my emotions run the gamut from anger to guilt, from disbelief to compassionate concern for Father’s family in Poland and in West Tampa, from shame to sorrow, and usually back to guilt. On Saturday morning I rejoiced at the ordination of our three new priests, but I could not rid myself of the image of “the one who got away and how I wished I could have taken him back.” And I am sure that many of you have shared the same thoughts and the same feelings. A leader of belief, a shepherd of souls, a model of Christian living and loving, chose to end his life and leave the rest to us.

            Now we must leave the rest to God. There is no reason why we can not remember Father for all the good that he has done but there is no reason why we could or should embrace the manner in which he chose to leave us. Hoping and praying that he died in the Lord, we can embrace the words of the writer of the Book of Revelation, “Yes. . .let [him] find rest from [his] labors, for [his] works accompany [him]. Rev.14.13. As Wisdom says in the first reading: He who pleased God was loved; he who lived among sinners was transported, snatched away, less wickedness pervert his mind or deceit beguile his soul.  For the witchery of paltry things obscures what is right, and the whirl of desire transforms the innocent mind.” Wis.4:11-13.

            It is my duty as your bishop to assure you that we can pray for Father Vladimir confident that God will judge him justly. It is also my duty to draw the distinctions between right and wrong and in a proper time and manner to share with you what I know when I know it about what has and can be done to right the wrong, which was done. But it is also my duty as your bishop to say to Father Vladimir and to his family, despite all this, we are grateful for his better times and better moments among us and we send you our love and sympathy as we commend his soul to God, the most high. Eternal rest grant unto you, Vladimir, and may perpetual light shine upon you.

Father Vladimir Dziadek endeavored to be a good man and a good priest. Prior to coming to the United States, he left his native Poland and served for seven years in the missions of Venezuela.  In 2002, he came to the Diocese of St. Petersburg, able to speak perfect Spanish while perfecting his English. After a few years as an Assistant Pastor at Most Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Gulfport, he was named Pastor of the same parish in 2009 with the support of many parishioners. He was loved at that parish and when I asked him to assume the leadership of St. Joseph Parish in West Tampa, he readily agreed, was missed by the community in Gulfport, and began to bring people, mostly Hispanic Catholics back to St. Joseph’s. He was a good shepherd.

Two weeks ago, our Executive Director of Finance visited St. Joseph Parish because there appeared to him to be a significant lessening of support and an interesting, albeit alarming reduction in the balance sheet of the parish. It did not take long for him to discover that the pastor had been using the parish bank debit card to withdraw large sums of money at the local gambling casino over the last fifteen months. Father Vladimir readily acknowledged that he had withdrawn the money for gambling purposes but stated that he had tried to replace some of the funds.

The next day Monsignor Robert Morris, our Vicar General,  and I met with Father Vladimir and it was clear that the situation was far more serious than even thought the day prior. After a preliminary inspection of the accounts of the parish during the three years that Father had been pastor, it appears that  $199,685.00 was taken for the purpose of gambling and  $35,300.00 had been returned to the parish. This otherwise good priest appeared to have a serious addiction to gambling. I assured Father Vladimir that I was ready to help him in any way I or the diocese possibly could. Father Vladimir left my office ashamed of what he had done, sorry for what he had done, but in denial in some ways of the true nature of his actions.  I immediately removed Father Vladimir from anything involving administration of St. Joseph Parish. I assured  him that I was ready to assist him in any way possible, asked him to allow us to find assistance for him for his addiction (which he continued to deny having) and that while I hated the circumstances in which we found ourselves, I still loved him as a bishop should and we would attempt to get through what was coming. Monsignor Morris and I were concerned before his arrival in our office of his emotional stability. He had a history of fighting with deep depression, once which required hospitalization and a lengthy leave of absence in Poland to work on recovery. Both of us asked him not to return to the Rectory that night and be alone but to stay with either of us. He refused, insisting that he would be all right. The next day I ask a brother priest who was also Polish to call him up and ask him to move in with him and again he refused. There were several phone contacts with Father Vladimir which followed.

Concerning the funds taken from St. Joseph Parish, all institutions of the diocese are insured against such losses but the insurance carrier rightly demands that appropriate law enforcement be notified. In cases such as this, priests are not treated differently from lay employees. I met with the Diocesan Finance Council and sought the advice as well of Legal Counsel for the diocese.

Last Monday morning, May 12th, I was terribly saddened to learn that Father Vladimir had taken his own life.  The pain that has been felt by parish staff members, parishioners, friends, family members, fellow priests and myself is immeasurable.  I went immediately to the parish, to speak with staff members and have cooperated with the investigators from the Tampa Police Department.

I have chosen to appoint Father Carlos Rojas as Administrator of St. Joseph Parish.  Father Rojas is an energetic young priest of our diocese with a passionate heart for ministry.  I am confident that he can and will bring much-needed healing to the parish community of St. Joseph’s.

The parish turn-out for his viewing and Wake Service on Sunday was “standing-room only” for three hours. At his funeral on Monday, they were standing in the back half of the Church as there were not enough seats. Sixty-five of his brother priests came for the funeral Mass. The parish community knew everything by the week-end, except the exact amounts I have shown above since the local media had reported the story. They came to forgive, to mourn, and to ask divine mercy on a man whom they loved in life. On Monday night after the funeral I met with about twenty leaders of the parish community and told them everything which I knew, including not just the amounts taken and replaced but the pattern of financially accounting for them as well. All monies missing will be quickly reimbursed to St. Joseph’s parish.  Sadly, the parish did not have an active, fully functioning, fully accountable Finance Council; it met seldom and usually were just used to sign reports required of the diocese. That changed at St. Joseph as of Monday night. This morning I said Mass for the school children and spoke to them at length about “heaven”.

This has been the hardest, most challenging and emotionally draining moment of my time here as bishop. Father Joseph Waters, the Rector of St. Jude Cathedral upon learning of the suicide and reasons texted me this message: “suicide leaves behind many victims.” He was so spot on. I have celebrated the funerals for three suicide victims in my priestly life, all teen-agers. I then had no real sense of the deep feelings of guilt and anger and questioning which those three families experienced, until now. I blame myself and even though everyone who loves me says, “don’t”, to this moment I can’t stop. I feel I could have and should have done more. This all transpired on the Sunday when the Gospel said that the good shepherd would leave the ninety-nine to reclaim the one.

I end as I began. Father Vladimir was a good man who made some very serious errors in judgment, yet had a deep love for Christ and the people of his Church. Please join me in praying for his eternal rest and for the people of St. Joseph Parish who will miss him terribly.



Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

My favorite source for news about the Catholic Church in the United States which is the mother of all ecclesial blogs ( recently reported that there is statistical evidence now that baptized Hispanics now outnumber any other grouping of Catholics and is above fifty percent. It affirms what every Church leader should recognize and accept as Gospel, the Church in the United States is already a very heavily Hispanic Catholic church. There is absolutely nothing to fear from this fact and a lot to be grateful for.

Last Saturday, this diocese celebrated Hispanic Heritage day with our annual Hispanic Mass at Nativity Church in Brandon and the large Church was filled to the brim.

Nativity Catholic Church was filled to the brim at the annual Hispanic Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Nativity Catholic Church was filled to the brim at the annual Hispanic Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

To help Hispanics (and sometimes ignorant bishops like myself) understand the cultural beauty of their faith, it has been the custom every year to honor the Blessed Mother in October by choosing her patronage from a Hispanic country. This year it was Our Lady of Lujan (Nuestra Señora de Luján), the patroness of Argentina.

Our Lady of Lujan. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens

Our Lady of Lujan. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens

Funny how she appeared with the Church’s first Argentinian pope but then my wonderful former secretary, Vivi Iglesias, who is now the Associate Director of the Office for Hispanic Ministry is also from Argentina (oh, well – I guess I am just another suspicious Irishman but then I don’t totally buy into Our Lady of Knock [too cold for her!]).

The Liturgy was wonderful – talk about complete and active participation – these people know how to do it and then some. I loved every minute of it and the joy on the congregation’s faces was enough to keep me going for yet another year.

Praying the Our Father together. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Praying the Our Father together. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Click here to see more photos from this year’s Hispanic Mass.

Last night, over 1000 people gathered at Sacred Heart parish in Tampa for a Candlelight Prayer Vigil for a Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

2013 Prayer Vigil for Immigration Reform

The Church was wonderfully full! Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

There were far too many people to fit in the Church (holds 650) so the overflow was outside.

The overflow outside during the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz.

The overflow outside during the prayer vigil. Photo kindness of Sabrina Burton Schultz.

We peacefully and prayerfully processed down Florida Avenue three blocks to the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse .

2013 Prayer Vigil for Immigration Reform

Processing down Florida Avenue toward the Sam Gibbons Federal Courthouse. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Peacefully and prayerfully processing to the courthouse. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Peacefully and prayerfully processing to the courthouse. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

In front of the courthouse, we concluded the Prayer Vigil Service (it was the only Federal property which we could find even though our minds and hearts are fixed on the Obama Administration and Congress hoping they will address this urgent matter when the current nonsense comes to an end).

Praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.


The faithful praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The faithful praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.


Praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

Praying in front of the courthouse. Photo kindness of Jeanne Smith.

This short video might give you another sense of the prayerful and peacefully energy that accompanied us, as well as the number of people in attendance.


To see more photos from the Prayer Vigil for Immigration Reform, please click here.

In the immigration experience of the last two centuries, the Catholic Church played a major role in settling, resettling, educating, inculcating, medicating, and safeguarding the rights of immigrants. I hope our generation of Catholics will be known for the same.

Click here if you wish to read my words this evening at the Prayer Vigil, but some of you may find it upsetting. To me, it has always been interesting that I get the greatest pushback when I speak out for immigration generosity and against the death penalty. The common complaint is, “Bishop, stick to the Gospel and leave politics alone!” But then, many of these same people and same voices articulate their complaint with me that I do not become more actively involved in the politics of the abortion issue. Go figure. I haven’t been able to.

So lots of time the last seventy-two hours was spent with and speaking for the rapidly growing Hispanic community of this local Church. Wish you could be with me for it because it is just wonderful.