Posts Tagged ‘Tampa Catholic High School’


Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014

I can see the light at the end of the annual “spring” tunnel and so can many of our priests, educators, parish personnel and others engaged in the enterprise of spreading the Gospel in the five counties of the diocese. As I write this, I have four more confirmations scheduled, one cook-out tomorrow night with those few seminarians remaining in the diocese for the summer and the graduation exercise next Monday night for this year’s participants in the Lay Pastoral Ministry effort. I have two commitments outside of the diocese in the next three weeks including a meeting in New York of the Catholic Medical Mission Board on which I serve and an invitation to give the first Bishop Joseph Sullivan lecture as the keynoter at the annual Catholic Health Association Assembly in Chicago. I think I’ll make it! So allow me a few paragraphs to do some summing up of the year in review.

First, I wish to express my profound gratitude to many of you who through comments, e-mails, and letters, etc., shared with me your sorrow for Father Vladimir Dziadek and your concern for myself. No blog entry has achieved the number of comments as did the last posted here and with a single exception of one person who utilized two comment opportunities, all have embraced the twin themes of forgiveness and mercy. Father’s funeral in Poland is today (June 3, 2014) and my Mass this evening will attempt to connect spiritually with those with whom he had familial ties as they grieve his loss. St. Joseph parish under their new administrator, Father Carlos Rojas, is recovering very well with renewed energy and commitment from everyone and that is reassuring.

My annual rounds of the high school baccalaureate Masses (Jesuit, Clearwater Central and Tampa Catholic) and graduations (St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, and Bishop McLaughlin High School) are now history. I have listened to four salutatorian addresses (St. Petersburg Catholic had a tie for this honor), three valedictorian addresses, five lengthy remarks from school principals, and way too many acknowledgments of my presence at the events which reminded me too much of the old days when the bishop was treated like royalty.  I have been impressed with the seriousness of the graduates this year in particular, with the love and admiration they hold both for their sacrificing parents as well as their teachers (quite often mentioned by name) and their references to their basic faith in God. At times it has seemed like a long desert had to be plowed through, arid and with little water of refreshment and regeneration as neither God nor faith nor Catholic nor thanks were extended to those who really deserved the recognition. Don’t know what is currently in the air, but it is refreshing!

There is not much left of summer vacation, even though it has yet to begin. Our seminarians are either in Guatemala or Honduras studying intensive Spanish, in Omaha at Creighton’s Institute for Priestly Formation studying how to be holier, at Tampa General Hospital in Clinical Pastoral Education learning how to listen, or working in parishes with everything from youth ministry to painting. By my count they have only nine weeks until they are back in the seminary, scratching their heads and wondering where the time as gone. Teachers and school administrators are closer to reporting for the new school year today than recalling Easter Sunday and their Spring break. Such is the rhythm of life these days. When I recall that my summer vacation started a day or two prior to Memorial Day and ended a day or two after Labor Day, that was a real summer vacation.

Priests too used to take a month (or if you were from Ireland where there are six weeks in a month) off but now they are lucky to grab a few weeks. There are less of us which means less priests to cover and the shortened summer has shortened most summer vacations for your priests. We seem to all have become prisoners of a new reality which is more occasions of shorter times off. My men work hard for the most part and it is generally acknowledged that few of them take care of themselves in the manner in which they should. Sad really but something of a sign of the times. I wish them the best and begrudge them little. Understandable when a trip home means lengthy and challenging travel such as to Ireland, Poland, India and Africa, the time away should be a little longer as there is no home for these men to go to recover from Christmas and Easter and the mad and merry month of May.

Despite it all, the wonderful work of sharing the “Joy of the Gospel” continues unabated throughout the summer months. Where there was once a full choir at a Mass, there may now be only a cantor and organist; where there once may have been a youth group, there may now be only trips to Cove Crest. The Church, like nature, abhors a vacuum and the Spirit whose coming we recall this coming Sunday leads and guides us. I intend to continue posting from time to time throughout the summer because my mind never shuts down but my episcopal clock is still working its way toward ecclesial midnight. Like Robert Frost, I feel “I have miles to go before I sleep” and with you, to continue to choose “the road less travelled by.” Have a great summer.





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!



Tuesday, May 29th, 2012

Baccalaureate Mass at Tampa Jesuit High School Chapel

Last night I was given the privilege of celebrating and preaching at the 2012 Baccalaureate Mass for the graduating seniors of Jesuit High School in Tampa. In a normal year, which this has not been, I usually, as I have mentioned before, celebrate the Baccalauerate Masses for Jesuit High School, Tampa Catholic High School, and Clearwater Central Catholic High School while handing out diplomas at commencement ceremonies for St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names and Bishop McLaughlin High School. However, this year I only had the opportunity to join the Jesuit High School community on the night prior to the graduation ceremony for their 165 seniors.

For some time, I have observed the typical social interaction of young people with each other and with others through the use of the so-called “social media.” I know it is here to stay and to argue too strongly against it could put one in the category of simply being a “dinosaur.” But communicating and living the full message of our Christian life requires far more than tweeting and texting. To focus on one or the other to the exclusion of developing those conversational skills necessary to fully convey and proclaim one’s faith in Christ Jesus requires far more. So what follows is my farewell discourse to this year’s graduating class of 16o young men. I try to make the case for expanding beyond the social media while still acknowledging that even the Church can use it. For example, look at this blog or our Diocesan Facebook or Twitter. If you have time, read the homily below and let me know what you think.

One hundred and forty characters; one hundred and forty letters, numbers, spaces, and punctuation marks.  That is the limit of the length of a tweet.  That limit was originally established, as you may know, so that an entire tweet could fit into one text message.  It is short and efficient, but in that economy of length, depth of meaning is sacrificed.

It is not just in Twitter though where we find this kind of communication.  If one stops to look at today’s media as a whole, we find ourselves enmeshed in a culture of the sound bite.  News programs try to fit all stories into a segment that lasts 30 seconds, or perhaps a minute or two for a longer, feature report.  Today we tend to prefer reading headlines and/or watching highlights of speeches, debates, or even sporting events.  We can be inundated with information from countless sources, but it is all in short, snappy and slick snippets.  To communicate the truth of our faith, however, this kind of communicating will not work.  140 characters are simply not enough.

If the apostles in the upper room when Jesus appeared to them had simply reached for their iPhones and taken a photo of Thomas reaching out to Jesus and, tagged Thomas and Jesus, and posted it to Facebook with the caption “My Lord and My God,” would the depth of Thomas’s confession have been fully revealed?  I think not.  The story of our salvation is so immense, that simply sound bites or snapshots will take us nowhere.

How then, does one communicate the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ to a world that communicates today preferably with texts and twitter, Facebook and Linkedin and other ways, which personally I find incredibly impersonal? The computer, the smart phone, the iPad and iPod may take us to exciting technological places but far from the personal. Technology trumps the intimacy of personal interactions.

Nearly 2000 years ago, a small group of most-certainly illiterate fishermen used “The Social Network” of their time to do just this.  They did not have Facebook or Twitter.  They could not spread the good news of Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit by posting a video to YouTube.  They could, however, let it shine through their lives and their speaking, and this is precisely what they did.

As we heard in last Sunday’s first reading for Pentecost:  the Apostles went out after receiving the Holy Spirit and told of the wonders that God had done for them and everyone heard them speak in their own language.  They did this without Google Translate.  Rather they did it with their actions: curing the sick, healing the lame, casting out demons, feeding the hungry, caring for widows and orphans.

And people began to “follow” them.  They then did for others what they saw done by the apostles.  They did not retweet their words, they told and retold their stories and repeated their actions.

So, tonight, my dear brothers in Christ and soon to be graduates of Tampa Jesuit High School, I would like to propose that you are the answer to the question I posed earlier of how one can and should communicate the Gospel in a world sometimes seemingly limited to 140 characters and driven by the sound bite.  The answer has been with us from the beginning; it is, as St. Peter reminds us in the first reading simply to do as Jesus said, “be holy because I am holy.”

While we needed the words of Scripture to be written down, we will also need you to share your faith by words.  Use your education to argue rationally and passionately for what you believe.  More importantly, though, live what you believe.

Each of you has a unique character, which you have formed under the guidance of your first teachers, your parents, as well as your teachers here at Tampa Jesuit to be a witness to the Gospel.  You have been nourished in faith, given a magnificent education in the arts and sciences, and formed in the tradition of St. Ignatius Loyola to do all things for the greater glory of God and be truly men for others.  As you go forth tomorrow night from this Jesuit High School, I am convinced that with 160 human ” characters” constituting your senior and graduating class, you can and I pray you will communicate far more through your actions than simply 140 characters in a tweet.  That is how you will build up a social network for the Kingdom of God on this earth.



Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The "cap toss" which has become a tradition at high school graduations. I have been cropped from the left side of this picture but I can assure you that with miters costing in the range of $500, I held on to my hat! Photo courtesy of John P. Christian

It has always been my custom except for one year to either celebrate the Baccalaureate Mass or attend the Commencement (Graduation) exercises for our six high schools in the diocese. Tomorrow night (Wednesday) I will have the privilege of doing the former at Tampa Jesuit High School and will then bring this high school graduation season to an end. I always begin with the actual graduation ceremony for the Academy of the Holy Names which by far is the most stylized graduation of the six. The young women all wear similar white floor length gowns and wear the most uncomfortable looking shoes I have ever seen. After receiving their diploma from me and posing for the official photograph, Academy’s graduates then go center stage and receive a dozen roses from flower girls chosen from the kindergarten class and both then curtsy to the audience and then the graduate returns to her place. It is a tradition at the Academy (and many private girls Catholic high schools throughout the country). Per graduate the Academy commencement ceremony easily takes the longest time but is very lovely. I was pleased this year that three young women from St. Peter Claver and two from Academy Prep received diplomas under the Academy’s “cultural diversity” program.

It is a work-out for me to attend all these end of the year ceremonies and sometimes can be quite challenging listening, as I have, to three salutatory and three valedictory speeches which often contain references that one can only understand if you are in the graduating class (even the parents often are clueless as to the allusions). I am always looking for references in the talk to their “faith formation” which the class has received or expressions of gratitude for having the chance to receive a Catholic secondary education. This year the three baccalaureate Masses which I have celebrated have been very prayerful experiences with super student participation. Last night at St. Timothy in Lutz, the students from Tampa Catholic provided a superb and very appropriate musical program and two of the graduates sang solos during the Mass and did an outstanding job. I was quite impressed.

It seems to me that this year’s crop of graduating seniors are far more serious and deferential to elders than some of my earlier experiences. The brief interchanges when I hand them their diploma or shake their hands at the end of Mass if it was a Baccalaureate moment have been far more substantive and gratitude far more genuine than in the earlier years. I hope I am on to something here in experiencing a trend of some kind.

Congratulations to our graduating seniors and heartfelt appreciation to the parents who made the moment possible and to the faculty and staff of our schools who sacrifice  great deal in order to teach our children. My interaction with all of you this year has been heartwarming and my prayers accompany the graduates as they move on.



Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

The new school year is about to begin in our diocesan elementary and high schools, in fact it has already begun in the high schools. The diocese has a new Superintendent of Schools and there are a number of new principals in the various buildings. In the last two weeks, however, I have been looking at some statistics on the measurement of success of transmitting the faith in our Catholic schools in the diocese which I wish to share with you. They are encouraging. But before getting into the results of the testing, I feel compelled to once again raise the question of “Why Catholic schools?” To my mind there is only one plausible and logical answer to this question and that is that Catholic schools are the most effective way of transmitting the faith from one generation to the next. If they fail in this regard, then there is little reason for the Church to spend so much money and energy in maintaining them.

But teaching the faith is only part of the equation, though it is that part that is the responsibility of the schools themselves. Practicing the faith at the same time it is being taught is the responsibility of the sending parents. Like love and marriage in the famous song from the musical OKLAHOMA, “you can’t have one without the other.”

Too often we hear, I don’t know what happened to the faith of my children? I sent them to Catholic schools and yet today they do not practice. It is so sad. Well I am here to tell you that the school alone is not and has never been enough. What is taught must be lived and that lived experience is up to the parents and/or guardians. One can teach the Fourth Commandment, “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath Day” till one is blue in the face, can teach the gift that is the Eucharist to the children, but when Mom and Dad could but choose not to attend Sunday Mass with their children, then all that is taught is in conflict with all that is lived. So I pray and hope that the opening of school this year will be accompanied by a firmer commitment on the part of parent users to accompany their children on the journey of faith and support what is taught in the classroom with what is practiced in Church.

Now, to what is taught and how effective are our schools in transmitting the faith. Each year our elementary schools administer in the fifth and eighth grades the Assessment of Catechesis Religious Education developed and administered by the National Catholic Education Association. Additionally, our four high schools administer a similar test to eleventh graders. Jesuit High School and the Academy of the Holy Names either do not administer the test or choose not to share the results with me and with the diocesan school office. The good news is that in every category tested, our students outperformed the national average, often considerably so. The “domains” which are tested are God; Church; Liturgy and Sacraments; Revelation, Scripture and Faith; Life in Christ; Church History; Prayer/Religious Practice; and Faith Literacy. There are also four “pillars” which are also measured and those are: Creed, Liturgy/Sacraments, Morality and Prayer.  Both knowledge and attitudes are measured and the “domains” mentioned above reflect key concepts of our faith while the “pillars” reflect the Pillars of Faith according to the Catechism of the Church.

One interesting note to me is that for the past three years while the diocese has been focusing on its “Eucharistic Initiative”, the students’ awareness, understanding of and appreciation for Liturgy and the Sacraments has increased – perhaps the first fruit of bring all the teachers of our young together for in-service education on this centrality of our faith. I have before me the scores for the past five years and they have been and remain substantially and significantly higher than the national average. I can also tell something of the effectiveness of each of our elementary schools but these raw scores must be interpreted carefully. Any standardized test requires basic reading skills and some of our elementary schools work with students whose reading aptitude is far below the norm for the year of study. All in all, I wish to compliment our elementary schools teachers and principals for a good year of transmitting the faith.

Our four high schools are also above the national average but not as markedly and remarkably as the elementary schools. I would like to see the results higher in the coming years and I will be communicating this hope to the high school principals soon. There are also some very remarkable variances and differences between the test scores of our four high schools with Tampa Catholic consistently outscoring her three sister schools (St. Petersburg Catholic, Clearwater Central Catholic, and Bishop McLaughlin). Again, I should also note that in the domain and pillar of Liturgy and Sacraments, there are also to be found better results in the last three years. I have reviewed all the results with our Director of Faith Formation, Brian Lemoi, and know that a careful reading, perhaps more careful than I have given which I would term more “cursory” than “careful” is required, but I can affirm to all parents reading this blog entry that I truly believe that in the area of faith formation and transmission, you are getting what you paid for. Now I plead with you to do your part.



Sunday, May 16th, 2010

For centuries the Church has put “funny” hats on its bishops. In our case, they are called mitres and zuchettas (Italian word for the purple beanie). The mitre can be traced back to a certain headgear that was worn by Jewish High Priests but in Catholicism is evolved into a front and back of somewhat triangular shape and various colors. I thought of the mitre today as I presided (without wearing one) at the first of six high school graduations and/or baccalaureate Masses. But we bishops do not have a lock-on distinctive headgear. The traditional headgear of a high school and college/university graduate can be even more distinctive and occasionally troublesome. Of course, I am speaking of the mortarboard or cap worn at graduation ceremonies. The graduate has worked hard at various levels of educational activity for the privilege of wearing a cap and a gown at their graduation. Unlike bishops, they only have to wear them a couple of times in their lifetime and in some graduation ceremonies they can not wait to toss them into the air. Bishops can’t do that – they cost too much for one thing. But in the history of civilization, headgear has often been a sign of accomplishment or office.

The graduation season at the six high schools in the diocese began this Sunday afternoon (May 16th) and for all but last year, I have tried to be present to the graduates and their families at this special moment of achievement. Some of my brother bishops have chosen not to attend graduation or baccalaureate Masses for a variety of reasons but I see it as one last opportunity to accomplish several goals: to briefly remind the graduates that they are being sent to the world to among other things make Christ more present; that the education they have received is a sign of the love for them which their parents or guardians and the Church have as today it comes at considerable financial sacrifice; and, finally, that at least in our Catholic schools, administrators, teachers, and staff also make a big sacrifice to be present to them and help them. It all has to  be done rather expeditiously because the graduating class just wants to get out, get on with the parties and celebrations and get on with their lives. This afternoon I tried to remember who spoke at my high school graduation, who were the salutatorian and valedictorian. Couldn’t! Could not even remember who did it for my college graduation either. So the “who” of graduation day and the “what” he or she said is very transitory.

I did look at the graduates however and I do have the feeling that we have done the best we can for them to prepare them for their next adventure. At least at St. Petersburg Catholic I see them arrive in their freshman year and grow, physically, emotionally, spiritually and educationally. I can tell that their Catholic school experience made some difference. Our schools compete against a lot in the culture and world which teen-agers experience today. High schools do not always win that tug-of-war, but I still think we make enough of a difference that we must be committed to keeping the opportunity available for future high school generations. A sometime endless debate centers on whether or not, if one could have only one, would elementary or high schools be the place where one deposits the greatest investment. At the moment and I hope up to the time I leave, it will never be “either-or” but “both-and.” The elementary schools after all are the principle feeders for the high schools.

To all the graduates of St. Petersburg Catholic, the Academy of the Holy Names, Bishop McLaughlin, Tampa Catholic, Jesuit, and Clearwater Central Catholic, I offer my congratulations but I save my greatest good wishes for those loving parents and guardians and faculties and staffs who make this day possible annually.


Updated: Here are some photos of yesterday’s (5/16/2010) Graduation at St. Petersburg Catholic.

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Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

This week throughout the United States, the Church is observing  Catholic Schools week. This morning I had Mass at Tampa Catholic and on Thursday I will celebrate Mass for the students and staff of Clearwater Central Catholic High School. In this diocese we have 1,409 children in early Childhood Centers owned and operated by our parishes and schools,   12,266 in elementary and high schools including The Academy of the Holy Names and Jesuit in Tampa. There are presently 28 elementary and 6 high schools celebrating Catholic schools week.

These are tough times for Catholic in-school education. Tuitions are too high for many people and demographics in this area are indicating a significant decline in the number of school age children. As most of you know, both Pinellas and Hillsborough county have or are considering closing some public schools because of a marked decrease in enrollment.

Catholic education in this country thrived on three realities which are no longer present: (1) the shoulders of religious sisters, brothers and priests who worked for nothing; (2) the hostility  toward the Catholic religion in general and thus the need for Catholic schools to protect both faith and values; and, (3) a genuine belief in Catholic families that Catholic education was important to imparting and sustaining the faith.  The sisters are gone for the most part and their place has been taken by dedicated and devoted lay women and men who deserve (as did the sisters and brothers) a just wage – thus much higher tuitions. Many parents are not afraid of secularization and do not place the same emphasis on moral teaching and discipline as did their and our parents (this can be evidenced in part by the number of parents who do not and will not take their children to Sunday Mass yet continue to access the schools). Between cost, some loss of identity and better public schools, enrollment loss is today more the order of the day.

Our schools and centers continue to attempt to buck the trend. Generally, where there is a vibrant and younger population, schools are getting by and several are flourishing. Also generally, where the demographics of an area suggest a diminishing population of children, schools are hurting. In some instances in this diocese, the schools are no longer in a viable service area and there are no schools where there should be. The Diocesan Finance Council has asked me to commission a diocesan-wide review of our Catholic schools and to suggest financially viable ways in which to maintain them for the future.

For now, however, we acknowledge the presence and good work of Catholic education in our five counties. And I salute our principals, administrators, teachers and staff for maintaining quality educational institutions in a challenging time. But most of all I wish to acknowledge those gallant parents who truly sacrifice so that their children may benefit from Catholic education. That’s what this week is all about, celebrating the present while prudently planning for the future.

The Tampa Catholic experience this morning was enhanced by the presence of grandparents, proud of their offspring and happy to attend Mass with them. A senior girl named Victoria at the end of Mass gave a tour d’force about the things that school does to be of service to the broader community. She was proud of the Tampa Catholic Crusaders work on behalf of others and so was I. Now I look forward to Thursday at Clearwater Central Catholic.

Photo by Mike Hayes

With some TC students after Mass