Posts Tagged ‘University of Notre Dame’


Saturday, February 28th, 2015
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh C.S.C. in his Hesburgh Library office. Courtesy of the University of Notre Dame. Photo by Matt Cashore.

Father “Ted” Hesburgh went home to the Lord on Thursday, having lived 97 years and acting as an agent of change for many of those same years. Theodore Martin Hesburgh or simply “Father Ted” as he was affectionately referred to by thousands of Notre Dame alums was a proud member of the Congregation of the Holy Cross, a religious community dedicated to education, higher and secondary, and to parish work. For thirty-five years he led Notre Dame to becoming certainly one of the, if not the, most prestigious Catholic university in the United States. In that role alone he became an icon of Catholic Higher Education.

The Jesuits also founded many fine universities in the US but it was Father Ted who through faith, grit, and sheer force of personality changed the face of Catholic Higher Education. Within two years of the close of the Second Vatican Council, Father Hesburgh convened a landmark meeting of leaders of Catholic Education at Notre Dame’s Land-o-Lakes, Wisconsin property. Certain that tough days were in store for sectarian higher ed., he outlined a new “idea of the University” in which trustees, not religious orders, would own and control their respective campuses. The canonical term for what he proposed was titled “alienation of church property” and the idea caught on both in academe and in health care. It was not well received by some in the hierarchy who smelled “loss of control” and “loss of Catholic identity.”

There are endless theories about what actually led Father Ted’s thinking. The ‘mid-60’s also were a time when the litigious nature of life in these United States was rearing its sometimes-ugly head and the potential of lawsuits against the university might bankrupt Notre Dame or the Congregation of Holy Cross. But I think he saw that with the close of the Second Vatican Council the Church was wrestling with its  new openness to the modern world and nowhere better should such debates take place than in a Catholic institution of research and education. Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman toyed with this notion in his The Idea of a University but it remained for Father Hesburgh and a few other Catholic University presidents to put flesh on Newman’s intellectual bones. Father Hesburgh was also aware that opening governance to the laity would bring to decision making for the future a world of worldly experience and wisdom and he was right.

Today Notre Dame has the largest endowment of all the Catholic schools and is closing in on Harvard and Yale. It has not lost its Catholic identity and I would argue that Father Hesburgh’s foresight strengthened the same and did not weaken it. It makes good sense to me that a university is exactly the right place where ideas are debated, research is pursued, and ideas and ideals are spread throughout the Church. ND has given much back to the larger Church since Father Ted began his presidency and it still does, in programs, which strengthen Catholic education, church life, and leadership in ethics through its business and law schools. If there were not the strong university which exists today precisely because of the Hesburgh vision, our beloved Church would be the worse for wear. It has perhaps the nation’s finest theology and philosophy departments among the major Catholic universities with Boston College in hot pursuit.

There used to be a saying about the difference between God and Father Hesburgh – God is everywhere including on the Notre Dame campus and Father Hesburgh is everywhere but Notre Dame. A tireless traveller on behalf of his beloved university, Father Ted was also an icon in the civil rights movement, thrust into that by appointment of President Lyndon B. Johnson to chair the nation’s new Civil Right’s Commission following Selma and Montgomery and whenever a President needed a mediator for some sticky wicket, they called on him. But coming back to South Bend was ever a joy for him and while away the University was watched over with diligence and care by his longtime priest friend, Father Ned Joyce.

One time Father Hesburgh was in Paris and visited that city’s Cardinal Archbishop, Jean Marie Lustiger, himself a convert from Judaism. Father Ted bragged that his university’s Lourdes grotto was never without at least a hundred students praying the rosary to Our Lady. Lustiger disputed that assertion saying that young people of that era did not have great devotion to the mother of Jesus. Upon returning Hesburgh invited the Cardinal to come to South Bend for an honorary degree or something and on the way from the airport, keeping his fingers crossed or having pre-arranged it, no one knows for sure, the two drove right to the Grotto. There were hundreds of young people kneeling in prayer, lighting candles and Lustiger could not believe his eyes.

In the end, Father Ted’s eyes began to fail him and blindness enveloped him but it did not stop the inquisitive mind, which remained alert, bright and informed till near the end. Father Ted died a humble priest of his beloved Holy Cross. Always approachable, ever faithful to his priesthood and to his Church, he richly deserves the accolades, which are today coming his way. His two successors, Father Edmund “Monk” Malloy and Father John Jenkins know well of their predecessors shoes and they have measured up to the task admirably and the Irish remain a storied past, a very rich present, and a great future. He lived simply and died humbly as many of his contemporary Holy Cross brother priests had done. He knew his stature was high but he maintained a low profile in retirement. Father Ted, you served your Lord, your community and the Church brilliantly, now rest in eternal peace.



Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

It has been an interesting few days for me recently and this blog entry might just end up being something like the morning newspaper – lots of filler but not a lot of content, so you may wish to stop here.

In the “Comings” category, last week saw the arrival of the 20th Anniversary ACE (Alliance for Catholic Education) bus tour stop in Tampa and St. Petersburg for two days. ACE is the brainchild of Holy Cross fathers Sean McGraw and Timothy Scully who, slightly more than twenty years ago, dreamed about a strategy of taking recent graduates of Catholic colleges and universities (mostly Notre Dame and St. Mary) and offering them a two-year service project teaching in low-income Catholic schools around the nation based on the AmeriCorps model. Accepting about ninety new teachers a year who spend two full summers at Notre Dame in classroom and hands-on teaching experiences, they earn a M.Ed. degree from Notre Dame at the end. During the school year, they fan out around the country and teach in Catholic schools.

The Diocese of St. Petersburg currently has eight ACE teachers working at St. Petersburg Catholic, Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park, Holy Family in St. Petersburg, St. Joseph’s in West Tampa, Incarnation in Tampa, and three at Tampa Catholic High School.

With about 180 young teachers in the two year program, that was not enough for Fathers Scully and McGraw and they fashioned a dream of a slightly longer program which would prepare candidates for principal positions and to be Administrators in Catholic Schools throughout the country. Called the Remick ACE Leadership program, three summers are required to attain a Master’s Degree in Educational Administration. What I like best about it is that it gives a local church like ours a “bench” which we did not previously have from which to cull the best candidates to administer our Catholic schools. Now St. Leo has put in place a similar program and some of our better candidates are attending it as well. All because dreams do occasionally come true.

But Fathers Scully and McGraw did not stop dreaming and with the generous assistance of the Walton Family Foundation (Walmart), they began a third initiative which at this moment only exists in the dioceses of Tucson and St. Petersburg – ACE Academies. Here our two “ACE Academy Schools” are Sacred Heart in Pinellas Park and St. Joseph’s in West Tampa. What’s all this about?

Well, Notre Dame University sends a team of consultants to schools which are on “life-support” financially (at the moment in Arizona a “tuition voucher” program and Florida the “Step-Up Florida” program by which  corporations can choose to send a portion of what they would owe the state for corporate income taxes to a separate corporation which provides tuition assistance to qualifying low income parents so that they can exercise true choice in education for their children in public as well as private schools). The consultants study the demographics, the ability-to-pay of parents, etc. and if the school looks ripe for “Step-up Florida” student scholarships, then in partnership with the diocese, the management of the school is turned over to Notre Dame which has two special goals: increase the enrollment and improve the text scores. As a matter of fact, the ACE Academy program has this mantra: “College First, Heaven Second.” In one year, both Sacred Heart and St. Joseph have been taken off “life-support” and have significantly increased enrollment and incredibly improved test scores.


So the “dreamers” were in town last week to celebrate twenty years of making what once might have seem fantasy become fulfillment. They honored me with the Father Edward Sorin Award and they honored Tampa’s John Kirtley who dreamed of allowing  poorer parents school choice and founded “Step Up Florida.” Of even greater significance to myself was that my award was presented by Patrick A. Graff, Assistant Director of the ACE program located now in South Bend on campus but for the last two years Patrick was the third grade teacher at our Incarnation School in Tampa.

Also last Friday among the “comings” our Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul presented me with its annual St. Vincent de Paul Award at an evening prayer service in the seminary chapel. I resisted, refused, ranted and raved that I should not be so honored while I am alive and/or in office for simply doing what as a bishop I should do, but I lost. The Board of Trustees chooses the recipients.

I believe deeply in both seminaries and since arriving here as bishop have given my all to both. Signing checks is not that hard a manner of supporting seminaries but I have also allowed the diocese of share some of its best and most talented priests to both places for seminary formation: Father Joseph Waters, Father Kenneth Malley, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups for full-time service. God knows we needed these men here working in this diocese but influencing the formation, education and preparation of our future priests is an even higher priority. So, perhaps this was an award more for giving good men to the enterprise than simply giving money, but who knows?

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Reverend Daniel Harrington, S.J.

Now for the goings. I lost two lovely and influential men to death in the last two weeks. The first was a New Testament professor of mine, Father Daniel Harrington, S.J., who taught me at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts during my own seminary formation days (1975-1978). Father Harrington was only beginning to take his place among the eminent scripture scholars at the time but was already a brilliant and exciting teacher. He was challenged from birth with a speech impediment, but no one cared. What passed through his lips was pure gold to us sitting at our places in his classroom.

I knew Father Harrington also because several of my Jesuit friends lived in the house in Cambridge on Linneman Street where Dan was in residence so learning at his feet took place for me not only in the classroom but often at the dinner table. He would write many books on the New Testament in the years since I was in his presence and I have them all and often use them for crafting homilies. He died at my age of cancer and the Church, Sacred Scripture and its study, the Society of Jesus, and priestly formation lost a great gift. Daniel Harrington was one of those people one occasionally spends too little time with in life but with whom in eternity I hope I can once again learn from.

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Monsignor Canon Adrian Arrowsmith

Finally, word came of the death of an exquisite priest friend in London, England with whom I often stayed and at whose table I often sat. I first met Canon Adrian Arrowsmith (a Canon is a “monsignor” plus one in the Catholic Church in England), pastor of Our Lady of Victory parish in the Kensington-High Street area of central London, because my English counterpart as General Secretary, now since last Saturday Cardinal Vincent Nichols, lived in the rectory of Our Lady of Victories during his years in London.

Canon Adrian operated under the assumption that any friend of any of the priest residents in the house was a friend of his and I always felt welcome by the Canon as my host on many trips to London. I probably abused the welcome by going so often to OLV. If there were a Catholic edition of Downton Abbey, Canon Arrowsmith would have had a major role. He was, in the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern English monsignor (sorry, could not use “modern major general” here). If Maggie Smith were a male, Canon Adrian would be like her – able to decimate with a quip or an eyebrow flip.

He had young priests as associates who represented well the priesthood of the time with whom he was patient, kind, supportive but doubting. He loved those moments when the occasion called for him to don the clothes of a canon, ermine cape and all, and in the presence of the Cardinal Archbishop (Basil Hume at the time), almost pontificate on the fate of the local Church. Having served in His Majesty’s Navy during World War II, salty and seasoned, Adrian was always a delight. If by now you have not figured it out, I loved him.

In his later years (he was almost ninety when he died last week and soon to be sixty years a priest) he was infirm, but I went to visit him at the Assisted Living and Nursing Care facilities when travel took me near London. I shall make a fifty-two hour round trip to his funeral next Tuesday which will be celebrated by his “star-boarder” Cardinal Nichols and I am sure that His Eminence and I will be united to thanking God for the presence of this good man in our lives. Rest now in peace, dear Adrian.



Thursday, November 29th, 2012

I have had a great week in so many ways which I wish to share with the readers of this blog. My Thanksgiving began with a Liturgy of Thanksgiving last Wednesday on the night before the great American holiday. With the Cathedral church closed for remodeling, the Mass was celebrated in the parish hall where a very lovely temporary worship space has been created and the children’s choir reminded all in attendance of innocence, spirit, gratitude and joy. My brother came down from Buffalo to be with my nephew (his son) and we had Thanksgiving dinner together for the first time in a long time. Brother Tim, whom many of you met only rhetorically from the train trip across America in June, was unable to come up from South Florida not because, for once, of any physical limitation he has at the moment, but the need to care for a very special person in his life who is suffering from very severe back pain. Nephew Chris and his wife, Julie, and their two year old daughter Brinleah plus their 8/9th second daughter (due January 3, 2013) hosted not just myself but several others who had no place to go to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.

On Friday, I celebrated Mass at St. Clement’s Church in Plant City which is beginning to celebrate the centennial (100 years) of the celebration of the first Mass in that small city. About 300 people gathered to thank the good Lord for 100 years of blessings and faith and it was a lovely Eucharistic celebration.

On Saturday, I hosted about twenty people to watch the Notre Dame-Southern California game at my residence. The rule was that hamburgers and hot dogs would be served between 7 and 8pm after which the cook/chef (moi) would retire to concentrate on the game. Ninety minutes prior to the beginning of the game, my cable box blew out and I was certain that tragedy had struck. But a second cable box in the bedroom was moved to the Florida room and none of my guests were even aware of the trauma that preceded their arrival. The outcome of the game, of course, made rest come easy that night but it was one a.m. before the mess was cleaned up and the bishop could retire.

Sunday began with a Mass during which I installed Father Damian, T.O.R. as pastor of old St. Mary’s in downtown St. Petersburg. A full Church and a magnificent choir contributed to the spirit of thankfulness the people held in their hearts for both Father Cletus Watson who had to retire from being pastor (he still lives there and assists) and for Father Damian whom they had come to know well in the last year. Prior to coming to St. Mary’s he had been pastor of Sacred Heart parish in Bradenton and lots of his old parishioners were present to pray him well.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

With Wilfredo and Suzanne Huertas, and Rev. Anthony Coppola of Sacred Heart Parish in Pinellas Park. Photo kindness Ray Bassett.

One of the nicest things I do each year occurs on the Solemnity of Christ the King when I present the diocesan medal struck in honor of our patron saint, the apostle Jude, to nominees from each parish and mission in the diocese (view photos by clicking here). Accompanied in almost every instance by their pastor or occasionally their assistant pastor, these people who have given years of quiet and humble service approach the altar and receive their medal and a picture taken with me of that moment. Many are weeping tears of joy and humility as they come forward. None of them do for God and His Church anything to eventually cop this recognition. In fact, I always say that if you think you deserved this moment and medal, you probably don’t, but if you think you are unworthy and should not be receiving it, then you are exactly who it was meant for. Great people receive this medal annually, and before them I am humbled.

On Monday, I met with the Presbyteral Council and they talked about many things. It was one of those meetings where I could sit back and enjoy the conversation as they wrestled with giving me advice on issues of some moment and consequence. There was a great, lively and honest discussion and progress was made on several fronts. After lunch I reviewed the results of a number of studies about the Church in the US at this precise moment and said that the statistics needed to help us develop a pastoral plan for the short-term future. For instance, there are 75 million Americans who identify themselves as Catholic but only 17 million are in Church every Sunday. 68% of those who identify themselves indicate that they would not advise a young person to consider a vocation to the priestly or religious life. I’ll be sharing more of these realities with you in the coming months here as we discuss them in the Diocesan Pastoral Council and the Presbyteral Council. They are important for the future.

Bishop Joseph E. Strickland. Photo courtesy of the Diocese of Tyler website.

Finally, yesterday (Wednesday) I was in Tyler, Texas for the ordination of a young new bishop whom I have known for some time through a mutual friend, Archbishop Michael Sheehan of Santa Fe (instrumental in both of our priestly vocations and who preached both of our first Masses as priests). Bishop Joseph E. Strickland is a priest of the same diocese he is now called to serve as bishop which is rare in episcopal appointments in the United States. But the priests and people of Tyler loved him and yesterday they showed it many times during the ordination ceremony. Tyler is in east Texas, about 150 miles east of Dallas from which it was mostly cut off in 1986. It has 89,000 Catholics now and is one of the more missionary of the Texas dioceses. Tyler is the “Rose Capitol” of the world, or so it claims and so does the Papal Bull of appointment (Father Reginald Foster in Rome or whomever must have had fun writing that one for the Holy Father to approve). Fall is just now beginning to arrive in East Texas so I will end by quoting those lovely lines from Louis Armstrong, “I SEE LEAVES OF GREEN, RED ROSES TOO, …WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD.”



Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

I think by virtue of circumstances it is time to revisit the matter of the Health and Human Services implementation plan (hereinafter “HHS Regs.”) which is a part of the Affordable Health Care Act and bring you up to date on what is the current state of the question. Two things in the last forty-eight hours suggest that this is a good moment. When last I wrote in this space about the matter in February, President Obama had announced a “fix” for most of the matters which concerned Church leaders like myself. After careful study, I found it not a “fix” but perhaps only a “first step.” While privately assuring some people in our Church with whom he was in personal contact that the Administration would address to our satisfaction the “self-insured” question later, it has not been done so far, at least publicly. Following that announcement, the public perception of the issue changed from what I am most concerned about “the freedom of religion to define its own self instead of the government” to a question solely of contraception/sterilization, painting the bishops as once again wishing to control women’s reproductive freedom. And there much of the public perception has sat for the last four months as one can witness from the op-ed piece in this morning’s TAMPA BAY TIMES.

On Monday, twelve different lawsuits were filed by forty-three entities including archdioceses and dioceses, Notre Dame University, and other Church institutions in thirteen federal court jurisdictions challenging the present HHS Regs. on religious freedom grounds. Is this judicial overkill? As I wrote in February, it looked at that time to me that only the judicial system could resolve with finality this issue and somewhere in this great land there must be judges, appeals court justices at the right time, etc. who agree enough to hear the case. We only have a window of sixteen months at this writing to settle this. So what exactly is at stake?

On the religious freedom question, the government wishes to define as “legitimate ministry of a Church” only those activities which pertain to, in our case, baptized Catholics (more simply put that which happens at Mass or within a worship place). So, for example, in this diocese, the following would not be “Catholic ministries” at least as defined by the HHS regs in their present language:

1. St. Joseph and St. Anthony Hospital – most patients are not Catholic and Catholic baptism is not required in either the hiring or admitting office.

2. Jesuit High School and the Academy of the Holy Names – approximately a third of their student bodies are not baptized Catholics and one’s religion has never been an admissions criteria.

3. Pinellas Hope and our ministry to people with HIV-AIDS  and most programs of Catholic Charities where we never ask a person’s religion before helping them. Would the people of this nation wish Catholic Charities to simply disappear or hide under the biblical bushel basket of anonymity?

4. Many of our high and elementary schools if their enrollment contains more than 10% non-Catholics and while the exact percentage remains to be defined it is clear that ten percent is about the most that would be required for an exemption.

While contraceptive/sterilization coverage is the issue the government has chosen to launch this new definition of what constitutes “Church ministry,” it could morph into abortion coverage at some time (abortifacients such as the morning after-pill are already to be included under the HHS regs. – so in some senses we are already there). Where does a demonination, a Church draw the line in allowing  government to define what is “legitimately Church ministry?”

I, as bishop, have no desire to control the contraceptive access of the general citizenry. As a bishop, I will continue to teach and affirm the beauty of Pope Paul VI’s total teaching on marriage and procreation in Humanae Vitae, while acknowledging that a part of that teaching can place great stress on a young couple beginning their married life. But that is a part of my teaching responsibility as a bishop. And quite honestly I think the Church has learned how to strongly affirm the teaching while respecting individual conscience  formation in the last forty some years, as well as provide an option with little to no cost. But, I also do not believe my government should ever force my Church to provide something for its own employees which is against its teachings and beliefs. This is a dangerous, steep and very slippery slope.

Neuralgic in this debate is the matter of defending the consciences of individual employers who seek to opt out of providing coverage because of their personal religious beliefs. To me, this can possibly appear as an opening for exceptions large enough to endanger the good that is clearly at play here – enlarging the health care coverage to more people and making it more affordable to access. The goal of universal coverage has been an important goal of the Catholic bishops of the United States for at least two decades. We should neither lose sight of this  goal nor ignore our serious concerns in the area of religious liberty. We remain strong proponents of care for the poor.

So we are currently in a state of “check” but not yet “check-mate” on this issue. Stay tuned, as the old Irish song goes, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” still.



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.



Monday, March 19th, 2012

Former CRS president Ken Hackett. Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

The Fourth Sunday of Lent each year marks the occasion for the annual collection for Catholic Relief Services (CRS) throughout our country. Our church takes justifiable pride in this highly acclaimed and recognized organ of the Catholic Church in the United States which responds quickly and effectively to major disasters throughout the world and leads development efforts in many underdeveloped or at risk countries. While US Catholics contribute about 15 million each year to the CRS collection, the agency’s program expenses and outreach will this year for the first time exceed one billion dollars. The balance comes from agency fund-raising efforts and grants from the US government and other international agencies. CRS serves all of humankind, without favor to religion, race or sex. What makes its so highly effective are two things: its low cost administration (less than $10 for every $100 is spent on fundraising and administrative costs and when I left the Board chairmanship four years ago, the actual cost audited and accounted for was in the neighborhood of $7.00 for the one hundred given) and its partners throughout the world. What other organization has the network of Catholic Charities and parish structures for the delivery of services?

But yesterday’s major gift to Catholic Relief Services was the announcement that the University of Notre Dame had chosen its recently retired (three months ago) President and CEO, Kenneth Hackett for its prestigious “Laetare Medal” at the 2012 commencement ceremony. I would say that given the incredibly distinguished history of its recipients over the years, all Catholics I believe, this award is without parallel for its selectivity and recognition of service to the Church and to the Gospel. I was on the Search Committee, which recommended to the bishops’ only (at that time) Board of Directors that Hackett be appointed its CEO. When chosen, CRS had a program budget of about 200 million a year and, as I noted above, it now should exceed one billion in service to the poor of the world. Still, the administrative costs remain low. Much of this growth and much of its rise in prestige is due to Ken Hackett. He would rightly say that a tremendous staff at CRS backed him up and that is indeed true. But he was the right man at the right time to lead an organization in search of a mission and identity.

In his twenty plus years as CEO, Ken Hackett protected and enhanced its Catholic identity. When USAID balked at giving grants to CRS for anti-HIV retroviral medicines in nine nations in Africa and in Haiti because we did not distribute condoms (our government’s principal answer to stopping the pandemic), he never flinched from Catholic teaching and Catholic identity. And he led the agency in establishing a greater mission than disaster relief and the Thanksgiving Clothing Drive (older Catholics remember that one well) to remain and serve in countries by assisting them in self-help development work (like digging wells and providing for sanitation).

I can’t think of a more worthy recipient than Kenneth Hackett with whom I was privileged both to work side by side with and at the same time learn from about serving the poor. My commitment to and love for Pinellas Hope can be traced to two laymen who have taught me everything: Ken Hackett and Frank Murphy. Congratulations Notre Dame on an outstanding selection and congratulations Ken Hackett on winning this award, which is even more affirming than the honorary doctorate, conferred on you by the same institution a few years ago. And thanks, Notre Dame, for letting CRS woo your Dean of the Mendoza School of Business to succeed Ken Hackett as the person at the helm of the premier relief and development agency in the world.



Thursday, July 21st, 2011

In two weeks I will celebrate Mass for our diocesan seminarians prior to their return to their respective seminaries. Then we have dinner and  I give the men an opportunity to dialogue with me about anything which they wish to bring up. Temerity does still somewhat rule the moment but more and more the softball questions are giving way to the curveballs and it is a give and take which I enjoy and look forward to. I think the latest count stands somewhere around thirty-three for the seminary this year with two at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts, one at the North American College in Rome and the rest at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Florida.

However, often lost in these reflections are the men who are studying for priesthood within religious orders and congregations. Perhaps overlooked because we often are not informed of those who choose religious life, they are nonetheless a blessing from God and the diocese to the Church. I know of two men studying for the Society of Jesus (there may be more) and one for the Franciscans. I am sure that by the time of the convocation of seminarians, I will have heard from parents and others of still more.

As often happens in my blog composition, all of this is by way of foreward to another thing I wish to share with you. If any reader has been to a liturgy which I have celebrated the past three years, the odds are 9 to 1 that you noticed a young man assisting me, the servers and the pastor and associates of the parishes. Unflappable, always kind to the servers, and incredibly helpful in celebrating a good liturgy, this young man has also served the diocese as its “webmaster”, the mastermind of the technical details of my blog, and more often than not, my driver (something I resisted for twelve years until one day at lunch I mentioned to my closest collaborators that I noticed that coming back from evening confirmations I would often find myself daydreaming and miss the Fourth Street North exit off the Howard Franklin to my home). That did it and they went on a search for a multi-talented person who could do something in the diocese which was useful, drive and assist me with ceremonies, and be unfailingly helpful to the parishes where we would be going.

Walter C. Pruchnik III had been an ACE teacher at St. Petersburg Catholic following his graduation from Notre Dame University and a year following the conclusion of his time with us as a teacher, he was looking for something to do as a transition, perhaps to marriage or to religious life.  He applied, was hired and has assisted me for three years. Girl altar servers will remember the handsome young “priest” who helped the fat, balding bishop. Walter leaves the diocese today to begin a year of discernment for the Congregation of Holy Cross at his beloved Notre Dame. If all goes well and God and the community call him, he will enter the Novitiate in Colorado next summer for a year and then theology studies leading to ordination. Most of the priests of this diocese would second my conclusion that the Holy Cross Fathers are lucky to be getting Walter as a candidate. He so loves his alma mater and the community that founded it, that neither the Vocation Directors nor I have put a lot of pressure on him to think about diocesan priesthood but he will always be welcome should he choose to come here. He has been thoroughly private and professional in his time here and with me and I am so incredibly grateful for his dedication to his work, his love of the Church, and his loyalty to me. I think for purpose of our prayers, we should promise to include Walter in them every time we pray for those studying for priesthood and the religious life. Thank you Walter, blessings and happiness to you at Moreau Seminary this year and next, go Irish, and it has been a wonderful ride. May Notre Dame our mother intercede with her son for you and for all of us you leave behind.



Friday, June 24th, 2011

Photograph from Notre Dame University Website

This morning in South Bend and in Baltimore, Notre Dame University and Catholic Relief Services respectively announced that Dean Carolyn Y. Woo of the Mendoza School of Business has been chosen to become the President/Chief Executive Officer of Catholic Relief Services, our church’s worldwide disaster relief and development agency. CRS now exists in slightly over 100 countries and has program revenues approaching one billion dollars in the coming fiscal year. Dr.Woo is known to a number of people in the Diocese of St. Petersburg as this year’s main speaker at the Catholic Foundation Dinner last February. There she told an amazing story of being born on mainland China and the family moving to Hong Kong where she studied with the Maryknoll Sisters who had been expelled from China following the revolution. One of eight children, Dr. Woo chose, mostly against her father’s wishes, to pursue a college education and earned a scholarship for her freshman year at Purdue University. Eventually she earned not only a bachelor’s degree but a Masters and Ph.D. as well. Fourteen years ago Notre Dame approached Dean Woo and literally “wooed” her to coming to Notre Dame as head of the Business School. The rest is history as under her leadership the Mendoza School is currently rated first among undergraduate business schools and sixth among those who award Master’s Degrees, no small feat to be sure.

Loved on campus and admired by almost every student in the Business school as well as her faculty, she will be missed under the “Dome.” A daily Mass attendee who met her husband at Purdue where both attended daily Mass at the campus ministry center, they have two children, the oldest of whom just graduated from the Medical College of the University of Virginia and the youngest is pursuing a Master’s degree in theology at Notre Dame. Nine or ten years ago while I served both as Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services as well as its President,  the bishops of the US voted almost unanimously to allow lay people to serve on the Board of Directors. CRS for many years did not have a board of directors but was generally run and overseen by the Archbishop of New York and had its offices there as well. In the seventies the by-laws were changed to allow bishops to serve on its board after being elected by the membership of the United States Catholic Conference. CRS always had a bishop as its Executive Director (CEO). The first lay person to serve as Executive Director was Lawrence Pezzullo in the early eighties and he reported to an all bishop Board. Finally, in about 2003, the by-laws were changed to allow for non-bishop membership and I as chair willingly ceded the title of President to the Executive Director to come more in conformity with other international agencies. Carolyn Woo was chosen among the first group of non-bishops invited and elected by the Board to serve a total of six years, ending her service, she thought, two years ago.

Eighteen years ago I was on the Search Committee which recommended Ken Hackett to succeed Pezzullo who had been asked by President Clinton to serve as Ambassador Pleni-Potentiary to Haiti following the violence and overthrow of the government in that country. For seventeen years, Ken Hackett has served the poor of the world with distinction and his special diadem will be the solid Catholic identity which he and his colleagues have imbued in the agency. I deeply admire his tenure and respect his decision to retire and turn the leadership over to whomever the Board might choose. Starting on January 1, 2012 Carolyn Woo will serve as his successor.

Catholic Relief Services is admired throughout the world because of the competence and commitment of its people, some 5000 plus strong, many as it should be nationals of the country in which they are working. It is the “go-to” agency because it has a unique delivery opportunity throughout the world through parishes and diocesan charities structures but it never, ever excludes anyone because of their religion nor does it proselytize. There have been many challenging moments in its history including working under the Marcos family in the Philippines, the Diems in Viet Nam and repressive governments in many other parts of the world. Its non-political nature has made it possible to succeed in places like Sumatra, Indonesia after the tsunami, Sri Lanka and throughout Africa. Its mission is securing the present and future of people, not governments. It makes Christ present – nothing less and in Dr. Carolyn Woo it will be led by a woman of great faith, a history of vision for organization, and a winning personality which made her one of Notre Dame’s most successful fundraisers – and saying that about any one person at Notre Dame is a “mouthful.” I enjoyed serving with her on the board, travelling with her to remote parts of the world (together we survived an 8.9 earthquake in Medan, Indonesia (she did not come looking for me by the way) and hearing the amazing story of her childhood. But I so deeply admire her love of her Catholic faith. She is making a great sacrifice to leave Notre Dame for many reasons but like heading to Lafayette, Indiana when she was eighteen, she follows Blessed Pope John Paul II’s challenge to “put out into the deep.”



Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Robert Angel, First Theology, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary and currently a summer intern with Catholic Relief Services, Sierra Leone

As mentioned in an earlier blog post, there are two seminarians and a junior attending Notre Dame University who have been sponsored by the diocese to spend eight weeks this summer as an intern with Catholic Relief Services in Africa. Bob Angel is already on post in Makene, Sierra Leone, about 100 miles northeast of the capital of Freetown. His brother Dan who is a senior at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami leaves next Tuesday for eight weeks in Liberia and Christophers Mertens, the junior pre-med student from Notre Dame has just arrived in his eight week posting in Tamale, Ghana. Bob and Dan have established a blog site and it can be reached by clicking here Bob’s early postings reveal the challenges of an American spending any time, much less two months in a strange culture, challenging climate, and without the support systems which often sustain us in manners and ways unknown to us when we take them for granted. It is a superb blog and I strongly recommend that you add it to your regular reading for the next few weeks.

Christopher sends me a long e-mail which I convert to a Word file and which I will edit and present here from time to time. I am sure that Walter, my cyberspace guardian angel will find a way to make it accessible so that I do not have to add the full text to this blog spot each time but will share with you his experiences as well. He will be assisting in a clinic and working with a physician who treats a lot of HIV-AIDS cases and other diseases which affect people in that part of the African continent. Needless to say, none of these men are enjoying anything near the “lap of luxury” but rather are experiencing the desperate poverty and living standard of most of the world in which we live.

I hope you enjoy their reports back as much as I am enjoying hearing of their experiences coming from “Out of Africa.” I am very grateful to the staff of Catholic Relief Services in Baltimore and in the host countries and regions of those countries who are welcoming these men and guaranteeing their experiences.

What follows now is Christopher’s first two impressions of Ghana.

Accra, Ghana, greeted me as the sun rose on our plane and we prepared to land after a ten hour flight across the Atlantic. I didn’t get much sleep on the overnight flight, a result of what I believe was a combination of restless anxiousness to arrive and the bright flickering movie screens on the bulkhead of the plane playing various romantic comedies in succession. The thing that struck me the most as I peered at the landscape while stretching my neck to see around those sitting in the window seats was that most of the roads were not paved for the city where we landed. I know this shouldn’t be a shock to me, but it did drive home the reality that I was truly someplace far removed from Tampa and South Bend, my two homes.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) had a driver awaiting me as I cleared customs at the airport, a process that was also surprisingly painless and quick, at least in my case. The heat and humidity that greeted me outside is a close family member of the climate of Tampa, and the sweat that immediately appeared on my face and arms confirmed this observation. The 7-8 mile drive to the CRS offices took nearly 45 minutes thanks to the narrow roads of Accra and the explosion of car ownership in the city that far outpaced the road capability. As we crept along the streets, various venders would hold their wares up to the window. I have been told that it is possible to leave your house here in Accra with just the clothes that you are wearing, and you would be able to purchase almost anything you could possibly need to take on vacation somewhere.

At the CRS office, I was warmly welcomed and introduced, and then briefed on not only my stay, but also on the major programs that were being run within Ghana. CRS is involved in many programs, most of which are focused on the 3 northern regions of Ghana (Upper East, Upper West, and the Northern regions), and dealt with issues ranging from pre-natal care and early childhood care, HIV and AIDS treatment, prevention, and education, and agricultural programs aimed at assisting small villages and farmers that struggle to live even on a subsistence basis from the farms they live and work upon. Although I will be primarily stationed at the Shekhinah Clinic in Tamale, it is planned that hopefully I will be able to travel out to some of these program sites while in Tamale so that I may more fully see the scope of the work and good that CRS is doing.

After waiting out the 2-hour downpour that is beginning to signal the start of the rainy season in the southern part of Ghana, I left the office and arrived at my lodgings in a guesthouse for the night. After a much welcomed 3 hour nap, I arose and headed to the small 4 table restaurant downstairs to catch some dinner. After hearing the options, I decided that I would forego the familiar food from home (such as spaghetti) and try a local dish that came with tilapia. Now, being from Florida, and a fan of seafood, I thought it would be great to see what they used as spices for it. When the plate came, it seemed I did “catch” some dinner, as the fish was present in whole on my plate, eyes gleaming, and mouth and teeth open in an eternal grin. The waitress, smiling, told me that usually it is customary to eat this meal without utensils, and I took that as a challenge to be accepted. Unfortunately, I didn’t foresee dinner being such an entertaining event, and left my camera locked in my room, so I will let you imagine the rest of the dinner, as I tried to delicately remove the skin of the fish and scrape out the tasty meat and seasoning while trying to avoid any guts, bones, or brains on the fish.

Today I fly up to Tamale where I will be greeted by the CRS office there, and then after a little time to orient myself there, I hope to be off to the Shekhinah clinic with Dr. Abdulai in a day or two. I was fortunate to have a great internet connection this past night, but I believe it will be a bit more sporadic for the weeks ahead, yet I will still try to jot down notes, observations, and experiences on paper so that I may commit them to type to send out. The graciousness and generosity of those that I have met so far has truly been a blessing, and I hope that God will help me to remain open to meeting and getting to know people here on my stay.


Christopher Mertens and myself outside of Corby Hall on the Notre Dame campus in October 2010

There are two major reasons why I think our local Church will benefit from young women and men having opportunities such as this. First and foremost, we are a universal Church and although we share the same doctrines and disciplines throughout the world, every local Church is different. The Diocese of St. Petersburg is different from the Diocese of Pensacola-Tallahassee, for example. To have priests and lay people who have first-hand experience of the Church Universal will broaden our own horizons and make the universal nature of our faith better known. The second reasons is the profound love which I hold for Catholic Relief Services. They do incredibly good work in incredibly difficult working circumstances. They make we Catholics in the United States look good by their presence in over 110 countries throughout the world. I want these two men studying for the priesthood and the one studying for a possible lifetime as a doctor to share their experience with CRS and their sense of its presence and effectiveness throughout this diocese. I also hope that more young women and men will choose CRS for a life’s profession. All of this is possible with “apostles” of CRS spreading out throughout the diocese and country and telling its amazing story.

I am leaving in a few moments for Chicago and the final meeting of the Search Committee seeking a new President and CEO for Catholic Relief Services. It is the least I can so and sharing with the organization some of our women and men and allowing them to tell their amazing stories of their experience is a part of my DNA.









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 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.