Posts Tagged ‘Vocations’

PRIESTS FOR THE FLORIDA FUTURE

Friday, December 12th, 2014

On Sunday evening, the bishops of Florida joined St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary for a major moment, the dedication of two new residence buildings and the major remodeling of fifty year old existing buildings.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

The other FL bishops and myself ready to cut the ribbon in front of the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

Catholics in the St. Petersburg diocese know that we have been raising monies in the FORWARD IN FAITH campaign to pay our diocesan share of the construction and furnishing costs of these new and remodeled buildings.

Two years ago, the Board of Trustees, consisting of the state’s bishops and other lay and ordained representatives from the seven dioceses made a major commitment of twenty-eight million dollars for construction and and endowment to guarantee St. Vincent’s as our choice for priestly formation for the next fifty years, at least.

The seminary was built and opened by the Vincentian Fathers in the early sixties and when it was no longer possible for them to run it, the Archdiocese of Miami purchased it for about two million dollars, if I remember right. It became an Archdiocesan seminary opened to students from Florida and elsewhere and the faculty were largely, though not entirely, Miami priests.

In 1981, Archbishop Edward McCarthy, the second Archbishop of Miami, and Bishops Larkin, Snyder, and Gracida agreed to change its status from an archdiocesan seminary to a provincial seminary, thereby incurring the financial and staffing responsibilities. The Orlando diocese, then shepherded by Bishop Thomas Grady, declined participation in the regional seminary concept, but around 1999, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, then of Orlando, agreed to “buy into” the agreement and the two dioceses of Palm Beach and Venice, established in 1984, were also a part from their establishment. So, St. Vincent’s is a truly provincial seminary for all the dioceses of Florida and it’s open to any other diocese that wishes to send their candidates there.

In the history of the seminary since its regionalization, our St. Petersburg diocese has provided priest personnel in the persons of Monsignor Robert Gibbons, Monsignor John Cippel, Monsignor Michael Muhr, Monsignor David Toups (the current Rector-President), and Father Robert Young ,who is an extern professor of Church History. All of this is to say that financially and with precious priest personnel, we have done our share and I am proud of that.

Currently the seminary enrollment stands at about 90 students and is reasonably projected to touch the magic 100 mark soon. The original design and buildings were horrible. The Albany based architect chosen by the Vincentians never came to Florida and designed the seminary residence buildings like they were motels along highway A1A. Students had to go outside to use the bathrooms and the showers in the residence area. Air-conditioning was challenging to say the least and the number of classrooms was and remained severely limited. But, there is a beautiful seminary chapel which came a little later and a large library/media center which was opened in the nineties.

Now, when the seminarians return to school in January following the Christmas recess, they will find larger rooms opening off an interior hallway with private bath and shower in every room. The design and space is comfortable, but far from extravagant.

2014 Dedication and Blessing of the New Dormitories at St. Vince

View of inside the new St. John Paul II residence hall. Photo kindness of Tom Tracy.

And those old buildings with the central showers and bathrooms are and will be remodeled in such a way as the double the size of the rooms and include a private bath and shower where one previously did not exist. All things made new! The seminary will soon be capable, if necessary, of accommodating something like 125 seminarians. They will be comfortable, but not spoiled. See more photos of the new residence hall here.

At the conclusion of the Dedication and Mass, the eight bishops gathered together for a meal and to begin our quarterly meetings of the Florida Catholic Conference. I proposed a toast to my brother bishops for two years ago taking a deep breath and making a sizeable commitment to the future of priestly formation in our state and elsewhere throughout the Southeast and Caribbean. They had the same courage as those who began the seminary originally and our forebears as bishops who spread the responsibility among all seven dioceses. I was proud of them and proud to be one of them.

To our own Monsignor David Toups, the President Rector, who now has in three years given birth to a new school building at Christ the King in Tampa and 12 million dollars of new building in Boynton Beach, I offer congratulations as “father” of the project and to the architects and Herman Construction Services who built it. I said when I came, soon to be nineteen years ago, that Vocations and Priestly Formation would be one of my highest priorities and the ordination of five men in May of 2015 and six in May of 2016 should be proof positive that we in St. Petersburg, ordained, religious and lay, are doing all in our power to provide priests for the future. Nine men are in the application process for the seminary next year to replace the five being ordained and then some. God is good.

+RNL

THREE NEW “LINEMEN”

Monday, May 19th, 2014

In a week which witnessed this writer on an emotional roller-coaster, Saturday was a beautiful day of rejoicing and being glad.

Somehow, with God’s help, I squeezed the ordination of three new priests and two weddings into the daylight hours. Our Cathedral of St. Jude, newly remodeled, was the scene for the ordination as well as one of the weddings and the new space works magnificently.

Filled to over-flowing, the ordination ceremony is certainly the most beautiful liturgy at which any bishop presides. You can relive the two-hour and twenty-minute ceremony by watching the archived “livestream” replay of the ordination ceremony by clicking here.

Should you not wish to watch the whole ceremony, you may look at a few photos that I am including below (see more photos by clicking here). You may also read my homily on the occasion which is included below the photos (click here for a PDF version of my homily). However, if you wish to merely listen to the homily and neither watch it nor read it, that too is possible by clicking here. Isn’t technology amazing?

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Deacons Jonathan Emery, Brian Fabiszewski and Kyle Smith processing in at the beginning of Mass. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

The Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle was full for this glorious occasion. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

 

Litany of Supplication (Saints).

Litany of Saints. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Laying on of Hands upon Deacon Kyle Smith. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Anointing the hands of Father Brian Fabiszewski with the sacred Chrism. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the "Kiss of Peace". Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Greeting Father Jonathan Emery during the “Kiss of Peace”. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

The new fathers at their seats among the priests while the congregation spontaneously applauds. Photo kindness of Mike Donovan.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Liturgy of the Eucharist. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Father Brian Fabszewski, Father Jonathan Emery, myself, and Father Kyle Smith after their ordination to the priesthood. Photo kindness of Maria Mertens.

Ordinations to the Priesthood
Saturday, May 17, 2014
Most Reverend Robert N. Lynch, Bishop of St. Petersburg
Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle
Acts 10:37-43; Ephesians 4:1-7, 11-13; John 15:9-17

            Barely nine days ago, much of the attention of the nation seemed to be directed toward the annual National Football League draft. Countless commentators spouting off on who might be chosen first, second, and third in the draft all listed the following requisites: height, weight, size. This morning the Church of St. Petersburg’s annual “draft day” has all that going for it and far more.

For these three men there was no suspense about whether or not their names would be called; there certainly was no “money sign” given by any of the three a few moments ago when we signaled our pleasure at their generosity, courage and determination, and in thirty to forty minutes, each of these men will “don” our equivalent of the “team jersey” – the chasuble worn at Mass.

            Our new “offensive linemen” will not get monetarily rich either. Their agent, St. Paul, in lieu of telling them how much their life and talent is worth in worldly terms, instead “urged [them] to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” Clearly this isn’t the football of Vince Lombardi. This is the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

            In our world, love trumps violence. These men came today with excellent coaching: by their parents, by the example of priests they came to know and admire; by women and men in formation who shaped their vision of vocation and service. They did not have to first go to Indianapolis, to try out, prior to being called. Brian, Jonathan and Kyle’s calls came much earlier in their lines, as we heard moments ago in the Gospel, “it was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain. . . .This I command you: love one another.” Quietly, humbly, patiently, persistently, presently, fully and completely, these three men are in a very real way laying down their lives for the friends of Jesus.

            And when they might wish to be watching football on a Saturday afternoon, they will more likely sit in the dim light of the confessional waiting for that someone who has not darkened the door of the same for years to arrive seeking the reassurance of God’s mercy and compassion.

          When they might wish to be watching football on a Sunday afternoon or spending time with their family at both the end and the beginning of a long week, they will instead be pouring the water of new life over the head of a child screaming as if he or she wants God in heaven to know that they are free of original sin, the devil’s grasp and now here present, in His Church.

          And in that daily split-second of Divine accomplishment when the bread and the wine, the body and blood of the Lord is raised aloft at the words of institution, at the Great Amen, or at the invitation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ, all eyes and all light will focus on the Eucharistic Lord, not the person of the celebrant. It’s a whole new world. It’s a whole new way of loving. It’s a whole new manner of self-giving. It’s not about us, no matter how long we have been waiting for the moment. It’s all about Jesus and his love for us. We cannot give what we do not have but what we have to share is worth spending the rest of our lives for.

           Today, then, is not draft day. Jesus took care of that nine years ago, or seven years ago when these men first entered the seminary. And today is not the Super Bowl either, for that moment of glory in the sun is all too fleeting. Luke’s words, quoting Peter in the first reading from Acts, capture the essence of this moment perfectly as he reminds us of: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power.

            So Brian, Kyle and Jonathan, after invoking on you the assistance of the saints, laying my hands joined by those of the presbyters on your heads, and anointing your hands with the same Holy Spirit and power, you shall take your place at the altar of God. It’s absolutely amazing. After multiple years of preparing for, dreaming about, working hard for this moment, it will be over very quickly. But a wonderful, rich lifetime of ministry is only just beginning. Priesthood is more than just a moment. It is a way of life.

          Everything that the NFL, major league baseball, the New York Times and CNN or Fox and the media in general think are the true markers of success in life are merely passing idols. For you and me, for your brother priests, Jesus Christ is the constant and like him, as Pope Francis constantly reminds us, we must be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing messengers of his presence. Today and perhaps even tomorrow you and I are dressed in our finest. These are signs of celebrations, of a festive occasion but they are not what Christ would have worn today. We earn our stripes which identify who we are and what we do not by what we wear but how and to whom we minister.

            Brian and Kyle, please give me just a moment for a special word to Jonathan. Many here present today do not know that from the second to the sixth year of my priesthood I served as Rector/President of St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. For two of those five years I had a student named Robert Emery, Jonathan’s Dad. He was a larger man than even his son and at times he was even larger than life. He could be a handful. But Bob Emery was at his best when he was on his knees in the chapel and at prayer, often asking God if he should continue in the seminary perhaps not putting up with the likes of me. After I left St. John Vianney, he left the priestly pursuit and we did not meet again until twelve years later when I confirmed Jonathan and he told me, “this one has a true vocation.” I have thought about your Dad, bigger “Bob”, a lot these last couple of days, Jonathan, and I know he could not be prouder of this moment and the other good things which have happened to his family following his sudden, unexpected death seven years ago. I truly sense a presence among us this morning, a twelfth player, if you will, very proud for sure, but telling his son, it’s past time to get on with the rest of your life.

            Three great men present themselves to the Church today. But we reaffirm that there is, “one Lord, one faith; one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” This you can take to the bank: rejoice and be glad for this is the day the Lord has made!

Newly ordained celebrate what is somewhat inaccurately called their “First Mass” following the ordination rite and normally on the next day, Sunday. Father Kyle Smith left the cathedral, went home for a few minutes, and then was off to his parish church, Our Lady of the Rosary for his Mass on Saturday afternoon.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

 

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O' Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Father Kyle Smith celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of Our Lady of the Rosary in Land O’ Lakes. Photo kindness of Ron Ludwin.

Click here to see more photos from Father Kyle Smith’s first Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary Parish.

I did the same thing thirty-six years ago, having been ordained on the Saturday just prior to Pentecost and managed to get everything out of the way by sunset on the day of ordination itself. The other two priests celebrated their Masses on Sunday. Truth to tell, they actually concelebrate their first Mass with their bishop following the ordination rite itself but we all know what they mean when they invite you to their “First Mass of Thanksgiving.”

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

 

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Father Jonathan Emery celebrating his first Mass at his home parish of St. Clement in Plant City. Photo kindness of Carol Rodriguez.

Click here to see more photos from Father Jonathan Emery’s first Mass at St. Clement Parish in Plant City.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

 

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Father Brian Fabiszewski celebrating his First Mass at his home parish of St. Catherine of Siena in Clearwater. Photo kindness of Wayne Clegg.

Click here to see more photos from Father Brian Fabiszewski’s first Mass at St. Catherine of Siena Parish in Clearwater.

So now they are priests and are given some time to relax between seminary, ordination day, and reporting for their first assignment. The faithful parishioners of St. Cecilia, Our Lady of the Rosary, and Most Holy Redeemer will now have the task of “breaking them in” as their associate pastors and I am sure that these three communities, led by loving and hard-working pastors, will see to it.

But it will still be some days before the applause of gratitude and affirmation dies down in their memories, the love and pride of their families diminishes once again in commands to clear the family table or dry the dishes, or do your own laundry, the joy of their brothers already in priestly ministry subsides. Saturday was a great day for the ordained, for their families and friends, and for their bishop who badly needed such a wonderful moment. (Apropos of the difficulties of last week, please watch this space the next several days as I attempt in homiletic form and information source to share with you what I know and believe relative to the death of Father Vladimir Dziadek).

The country singer Glen Campbell, back in the age of dinosaurs when I was growing up, sang a song called “Wichita Lineman” which began with these words, “I am a lineman for the county. .  . .” Our three new priests are “linemen for Christ” and we wish them many happy, wonderful years of playing in the “big leagues” of ministry and service.

+RNL

FUTURE NOW

Friday, March 21st, 2014

It has been my custom all these years to visit our two seminaries annually and when I can manage it, our seminarians also studying in Rome at the North American College and outside of Boston at St. John XXIII National Seminary (n.b.: I know, I am anticipating!).

Last year the seminary visitation was not necessary because we were all together for the extraordinary trip to the Holy Land during the New Year’s break from their studies. And, while my presence is needed twice a year at both Florida seminaries for meetings of the Board of Trustees, it is never possible to spend any quality time with the seminarians or those responsible for their formation on those occasions.

So, last week I resumed the custom again and visited St. Vincent de Paul Seminary in Boynton Beach where our men spend their last five years of study and formation and St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami where they complete their college studies or pre-theology.

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D'Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

With our seminarians at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami. (First row, left to right): Alec DeDios, Anthony Astrab, Connor Penn, Patrick Lambert, Chris Grevenites, Manny Gozo, Ralph D’Elia. (Second row, left to right): Fr. Carl Melchior, Joshua Bertrand, Drew Woodke, Billy Augensen, myself, Msgr. John Cippel, Joshua Hare, Mark Yarnold

 

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

At the St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. (First row, left to right: Msgr. Mike Muhr, myself, Father Carl Melchior, Deacon Jonathan Emery. (Second row, left to right): Elixavier Castro, Kyle Bell, Dan Angel, Deacon Kyle Smith, Tim Williford, Jackson Reeves. (Third row, left to right): Anthony Ustick, Chuck Dornquast, Curtis Carro, Lou Turcotte, Bill Santhouse, Deacon Brian Fabiszewski

Our medium size diocese has been generous for some time in lending both seminaries some great priests for the faculty and for Spiritual Direction. As strapped as we are for priests, it only makes sense to most of us that we invest in the quality, education, spiritual and pastoral formation of our future priests. Currently both the Rector/President of St. Vincent de Paul (Monsignor David Toups) and the Spiritual Director of the same (Monsignor Michael Muhr) are from the St. Petersburg Diocese.

When two years ago, the Archdiocese of Miami was unable to provide a sufficient number of in-house priest spiritual directors, I asked Monsignor John Cippel, who had been retired from administrative duty for a few years, if he would pitch in and help by going to and living at St. John Vianney for two years as Spiritual Director (something he had previously done at St. Vincent de Paul before becoming pastor of St. Frances Xavier Cabrini in Spring Hill in 1995). He is completing those two years of heroic service and wishes to return to our area to continue his amazing retirement activity.

I mention this because I am aware that last week Father Arthur Proulx, pastor for eleven years at Nativity in Brandon, announced that he would be leaving that parish to begin a term of service as a Spiritual Director at St. John Vianney in Miami. I have already heard about the pain that announcement and the decision which preceded it has brought to many at Nativity. I understand it and acknowledge that it springs from great respect and appreciation which is held for Father Proulx.

But we have fourteen men at St. John Vianney in pre-theology and college and Miami (which owns and operates the seminary and promised when St. Vincent de Paul Seminary became provincially owned by all the Florida dioceses that it would cover the cost and staffing of the college) still has no one to provide at this time. If you sat where I sit, you would not stand idle either and deprive not just our men, but others in the 85 student strong resident college seminary community of spiritual direction during a very important part of their lives. The parishioners of Christ the King understand this, in their heart and from experience. They gave up both Monsignors Muhr and Toups to the seminary with the fond hope that young men being ordained would come back better for having these two guides and examples during their formation.

I have an opportunity on these visits to have some private moments with each seminarian. They share with me their joys as well as their trials and readily provide me with an insight as to how they are doing in their pursuit of understanding better God’s call in terms of their own vocation. Believe me, dear reader, it is not easy in today’s world to give up the love of a potential wife and the attraction of another profession. Some of our pre-theologians hold degrees in engineering from UF or FSU or UCF and USF to name a few. They once dreamed of something else and then felt this calling from the Lord, which they will test out right up until the moment of their ordination. I admire them so deeply and firmly believe that without exception you would be honored to have any of them as your sons and we will be honored, please God, to have them some day as our brothers in the priesthood.

They care for one another very well also. Our men, on their own, make it their personal duty to weekly pray together, share their life experience over the past week with their peers, and fairly regularly to recreate together. They are already a “band of brothers” and this augurs well for the future of ministry in this diocese. Priests today and more so since the sexual abuse crisis of the last decade need to support one another. Almost without exception I find them devoid of clericalism and in the seminary because they feel called by the Lord to serve His people and not themselves. They know how to gently “needle” one another but never in a manner or way that hurts someone else. In fact, at the dinner which I have with them during these visits, they can be quite fun. I don’t remember during my seminary days of ever being as open, unthreatened and casual with my bishop at the time. In the end, however, they are very respectful of authority and genuinely understand its place in the Church.

Before I leave both seminaries we celebrate the Eucharist together and it is then when I see their deep commitment to prayer. I pray that the men are learning that it is what they do after ordination as priests at Eucharist and not what they wear that is important. I pray that they will come to appreciate that the greatest privilege that can be accorded any priest is to be truly and genuinely called “Father” and not to worry about other honors, privileges and distinctions. I pray that they will understand that if they have truly become whom they have received in the Eucharist, they will yearn to walk out of that chapel or any Church like Jesus would and serve the poor, battle societal injustice, call to serve both women and men in our parishes, embrace the great gifts of women to serve in any and all ministries and offices open to them, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Yes, it is a tall order but something tells me that the men I spent time with last week will not repeat the mistakes of my generation and will serve the Lord with genuine gladness, sacrifice and dedication.

They are the future, now!

+RNL

IT’S MIDNIGHT! DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOUR SEMINARIANS ARE?

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Ever wonder what our thirty+ seminarians do in the summer? Hopefully after reading this you will have some appreciation that even the beginning of a vocation to the priesthood can easily lead to 24/7/365 while still in formation. Well almost, some episcopal hyperbole to be sure but recalling that old maxim that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” we do try to keep our seminarians busy and accounted for.

The college seminarians mostly work in their home parishes during the summers, painting, mowing, sprucing up buildings and grounds. Two of our seminarians are working at Good Counsel Camp in Floral City this summer as counsellors. A stint at Good Counsel at one time was almost a prerequisite for ordination to the priesthood but now they volunteer if they wish to work there. Two of our college men are also working in Omaha, Nebraska at Creighton University for the Institute for Priestly Formation (more about this program in a few seconds).These two seminarians are at the service of those older seminarians who are in the IPF program and they drive cards, make airport pickups, serve meals, etc. And there are two seminarians working with CRS in Africa for eight weeks.

Those in theology have longer commitments. This year there are four men on what is called the Pastoral Year. We interrupt the theological education program of the seminary at the exact midpoint, between second and third year to allow those approaching ordination to have two experiences which we feel will either confirm their vocation or suggest priesthood is not for them. The first component which is currently taking place is something called “Clinical Pastoral Education” or CPE. Three of our seminarians are taking CPE at Tampa General Hospital and one is doing the same at Woodside Nursing Home in Pinellas Park. During this quite labor intensive experience, the men learn a lot about themselves and their ability to deal with the sick and dying. Under close supervision and sometimes very challenging evaluation, CPE students get an immersion course in death and dying, sickness and health, and their own capacity to listen closely, minister appropriately, and evaluate with others in the program their experiences. The three men in CPE at Tampa General spend their nights and week-ends at Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Ybor City (not much sleep at night on week-ends for these men) and they live and assist a wonderful pastor, Father Thomas Stokes who welcomes them annually with great Irish hospitality and priestly kindness. The fourth is living at the rector of Sacred Heart parish in Pinellas Park with Fathers Anthony Coppola and Tom Tobin. At the conclusion of CPE they will be assigned from Sept. 1, 2011 to May 2012 at four parishs in the diocese learning the art of the possible and sometimes the impossible in parish life. These four men can be found at St. Ignatius of Antioch parish in Tarpon Springs, St. Lawrence parish in Tampa, Christ the King parish in Tampa, and Nativity in Brandon.

Four other seminarians are also involved in an immersion experience, this time in the Dominican Republic learning Spanish. The program is required by our seminary and I would wish it anyway even if the seminary did not. Within fifteen years, the majority of Catholics in many areas of this diocese will be Spanish speaking and we need men able to function in Spanish. Thus, the six to eight week program in the Dominican Republic.

Two seminarians are actually enrolled in a nine week program of spiritual formation and direction at the Institute for Priestly Formation, held each year at Creighton University in Omaha. A mixture of classes on ascetical theology (how those who have gone before us have become saints), spiritual direction and a rather lengthy silent retreat, these men who will begin their theology studies this August are experiencing a much deeper engagement with the spiritual life than would be possible even in a five year program of formation such as we have in our seminaries.

Finally, nine of our theologians are assigned to parishes during the summer and while admittedly some things slow down, most find their summer experience to be enlightening at a minimum and challenging at a maximum. Of the nine, two men are deacons, having been ordained in the Spring and they are baptizing, preaching and witnessing marriages in addition to conducting inquiry classes and RCIA, etc.

So there you have it. Gainfully employed, hands not idle at all, learning the ropes and the “tricks” of the trade during their summer vacation. They all have some time to themselves to travel, relax and rest but no more than a typical working father or mother would likely have. Most are compensated for their summer in a small way but that helps pay for gas, haircuts and an occasional movie during the school year. Come August our college men will return to Saint John Vianney College Seminary in Miami, and our theology students to St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach, Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston, Massachusetts and the North American College in Rome. They have a three day convocation at the Bethany Center coming up the second week in August where they will surely share stories of their summer experiences.

I conclude by using this moment to thank those pastors who welcome our seminarians for their summer assignments. Their hospitality to those studying for the priesthood is only outdone by their witness to their own happiness and fulfillment in priestly ministry. So, our seminarians are not “kids” but we still know where they are most midnights.

+RNL

ANNIVERSARY WALTZ

Friday, May 13th, 2011

May is the month when most of our priests celebrate the anniversaries of their priestly ordination. Now that I am on the “giving” side of ordinations as opposed to the “receiving” side (as pictured on the left), each year I ordain I  realize even more the grace of God in the moment and the joy and hope each ordination brings not just to the ordinand but to the whole Church. Sadly this year we have no ordinations but I can reasonably assure you that this is the last year for that phenomena. If God gives me the strength of days and good health, there is just the possibility that I will ordain just about as many to the priesthood in my final four years as in the sixteen years since my episcopal ordination. That thought alone is exciting and much of the future joy goes not just to the Holy Spirit but to Father Len Plazewski who worked the vineyard very hard searching for and cultivating vocations both to the priesthood and religious life. I think the Vocation Director(s) get about as amped at ordinations as the ordaining bishop. I know that Fathers Blum and Melchior await that moment with great expectation as do I.

Many priests allow their ordination anniversary to pass generally unnoticed. I realize that many married couples do the same, leaving the feelings, memories, joys and struggles to one another and moving on in their marriage without pausing to pay too much attention to the day they were married. Servant leaders usually take their cue from the Lord Himself who came to serve and not to be served and therefore any major acknowledgement or recognition of an anniversary day is the farthest thing from their mind. Sometimes priests will quietly acknowledge the day with a classmate in ordination, having dinner together and telling robust and raucous stories often centering on or about their bishops (just kidding). But I think every priest I know on the anniversary of their priestly ordination approaches the celebration of Mass on that day with a profound sense of thanksgiving and gratitude for the gift of priesthood. Some struggle, some rejoice, some are tired, some are renewed, some are worried, some are serene, some count the years until retirement and some fear the thought of retirement. But at the end of the Eucharist, perhaps in those few moments between communion and the closing prayer most priests thank God for the gift of serving as a priest. In my two rounds of overnights with the priests of this diocese over the last three years, many have in some way or another said, “if I had it to do all over again, I would do the same thing.”

Serving the people of God lies near the heart of our happiness, but making Christ present in the Eucharist and the other sacraments reserved to priestly ordination is the true epicenter of our joy and sense of satisfaction. For a priest, a day goes downhill from the moment he leaves Mass which is understandable in the light of our recent Eucharistic initiative where we clearly affirmed that the Eucharist is the source and summit of our faith and life in Christ. That certainly does not mean the day is not without its highlights, it means simply that particular moment of a priest’s life is likely not to be recaptured that day.

You can pretty much go to the bank that at least most of the diocesan priests at your service will be celebrating anniversaries of ordination in the next ten days and a  few in June as well. Except for the major milestones of 25,40 and 50 years of ordination, the day will pass with little notice and no attention. That’s the way we want it – just between us and Christ. But prayers for your priests this month are most welcome. I know each day of this season who was ordained on that date and check the list every morning with the intention of offering Mass for them for a bishop without priests is worse than a day without sunshine. Happy anniversary my brothers in priesthood! God’s people love you and so do I.

+RNL

SEEK AND YOU WILL FIND

Monday, March 21st, 2011

I thought you might be interested in how we look for vocations to the priesthood and religious life. There are many approaches, which can be taken to vocation recruitment, but the most important ingredient is a happy priesthood and religious life in the diocese. Priesthood can only seem attractive if the men who serve the young are themselves happy. Happiness and contentment in the priesthood is constitutive for recruiting good candidates for the seminary and for religious life.

In this diocese we have been blessed with a great number of vocations, which will in a few years begin to pay off with more ordinations. For almost thirteen years, Father Len Plazewski pursued anyone who showed even the slightest interest, never taking their name from his Rolodex of candidates until they contracted marriage. Using a variety of methods of contact, our Vocation Directors stay in touch with those who seem to be searching for priesthood. They meet them in their schools, on college campuses, invite them to discernment retreat week-ends, evenings of prayer and discussion throughout the year, and even twice a year take them to the college seminary for a week-end experience.

Once a year we hold something called FOCUS ELEVEN. All of the sixth graders  in our elementary schools are invited to come to one spot for an entire day which focuses on vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Using skits, games, and many other ways to connect with eleven year olds, the matter of a possible religious vocation is brought up. Why eleven year olds, one may ask? Sociologists and child psychologists agree that it is about age eleven when children begin to think about what they want to be with they grow up so the moment is right in the maturing process and we take advantage of it. Eleventh grade is also an important moment when the sixteen or seventeen year old is beginning to think about where to continue their education after high school. We used to bring all the eleventh graders together as well.

Priests, Sisters, Brothers all hold signs of their former occupations. Eleven year olds are challenged to match the job with the right person.

On Thursday, I hosted what are called Project Andrew dinners, after the Apostle who first followed Jesus and then invited his brothers and friends to do likewise. On these occasions, young men in junior year of high school and older, are invited to dinner with the bishop accompanied by their pastors or associate pastors. We don’t do a “hard sell” on these occasions but each priest present and I share our own vocation stories. We offer to receive and answer any questions, which they have and then send them forth with the promise that to the extent they wish, we will stay in touch with them during their discernment experience. This year we will have had four of these dinners and I personally have met about twenty-five or thirty young men who express an interest.

While we have a good number of seminarians (thirty-one at the beginning of the present school year) I also wish to acknowledge that religious communities in the diocese also have sought and received vocations from our young men and women. There are, I think, about an additional six men studying for priesthood in religious communities such as the Jesuits, Salesians, etc.

Finally, when a candidate decides to apply to the diocese, a rigorous assessment process is begun which includes interviews with at least three members of the Diocesan Vocations Admission Board, myself, a full battery of psychological tests and interviews, and recommendations from teachers and friends, including always the vote of the man’s pastor.

Eventually the nomination comes before the full Admissions Board containing lay women and men, religious women, and diocesan priests. So what may have begun with a chicken dinner at the house of the bishop ends with ordination to the priesthood or profession of vows in religious life. At the time of this writing, we have nine men in the application process for the coming year which almost guarantees a total of thirty-five for the seminary next Fall. But I will close with this thought. This is not a numbers game which we are playing but a search for fine candidates for the priesthood. We know that not all we accept will make it to the altar.

Probably one of the more boring moments - "The Bishop's Speech"

A little over 350 children attend each of two days

LEAD ME, GUIDE ME, ALONG THE RIGHT WAY

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Recently, I spent some time with a brother bishop who had escaped his home diocese’s frigid climate for some of our Florida warmth (of sunshine and welcome). We were talking about the Church for which we were ordained and the Church we now serve. Both of us remembered the pre-Vatican Council liturgy, the excitement of “aggiornamento” or new birth that accompanied the papacies of Blessed John XXIII and Paul VI. They were heady days for us in which the seeds of our own vocations were sewn and our ministry begun. We recalled bishops who were either unknown to or to be feared by us. Pastors who locked the kitchen refrigerators so that a hungry assistant pastor could not “raid it at night” (in some of the northeastern (arch)dioceses, the whole Offertory collection went to the pastor who had the ‘duty’ to feed his assistants, if he wished). There was a lot about our early experience of Church which we liked and some which we found challenging. It was precisely the “opening” that in effect opened our hearts and minds to serve not a “new” Church but a “slightly different Church.” When I first began to study Scripture in the seminary, the professors were not even allowed to suggest that the Book of Genesis might have been the work of four distinct authors, that the first three Gospels could all trace their source to two ‘fountains’ and that the Evangelists may not have even known Jesus personally. But before we finished our studies, with the openness of the Council’s document Dei Verbum we were pondering all these possibilities, finally coming into harmony with other biblical scholars of other demoninations. I remember a wonderful Scripture professor at my seminary who one day came into class with a colorful book entitled Men and Message of the Old Testament by Peter Ellis, I believe, and he opened it to pages showing which verses of Genesis were likely written by which authors and with tears in his eyes said, “all my life what I have been teaching is not the truth, this book contains the truth.” That was in the field of Sacred Scripture.

Then we began to talk about the role of the bishop in today’s Church and particularly how it has evolved. We both shared common insights because I served as did my bishop friend an episcopate in this country which was markedly different than the one to which I belong today. The emphasis of the ’70’s and ’80’s was on collegiality and shared responsibility. Bishops focused their attention after implementing for the country the directives of the Second Vatican Council on issues of social justice and the Church in the Modern World. Speaking ill of another bishop was a violation of the “eleventh” commandment and public disagreements, even on matters like “communion in the hand” were done with deepest respect. I particularly remember a long discussion in a November General Meeting between the late Cardinal Cooke of New York, chair at the time of the Pro-Life Committee and Cardinal Medeiros of Boston over the Hyde Amendment. The Pro-Life Committee supported it even though it was imperfect legislation because it offered some protection against federal support for abortion but Cardinal Medeiros could not in conscience support it because it allowed for the exceptions for rape, incest, and to save the life of the mother. Both men were kind to one another in the debate, recognizing the consciences of each, respecting one another. At the end of the discussion, the bishops voted overwhelmingly to support the Hyde Amendment’s adoption in Congress. I remember Cardinal Carberry of St. Louis who was unalterably opposed to the reception of communion in the hand. For a number of years he carried the day in the Assembly of Bishops, but then one November, “communion in the hand” was adopted and the Cardinal went back to St. Louis and allowed the practice. Were there differences of opinion in those days? Indeed. But there was a unity among the bishops which sometimes does not appear to exist today.

We commented at great length on how the theological and ecclesiological shift from a full embrace of collegiality as the driving force of working together began to shift in the mid-eighties to each bishop’s first obligation is to shepherd his own diocese and on occasion to break with or challenge collegial decisions. As an example of this I would point to the implementation of something as seemingly simple as women or girl altar servers where it is still not permitted in some dioceses and a good number of parishes. At least two of the dioceses in the United States refuse to allow outside auditors to examine their record on handling sexual abusers and even on whether or not they are complying with the strongly unanimous decision by the bishops to create a safe environment for children. I dare say these would likely have never occurred in the ’70’s and early ’80’s.

Bishops have lost credibility in the last decade. The sexual abuse of minors and how it was previously handled has contributed to it, and so have the liturgical wars. This loss of credibility in bishops extends also to some our priests and religious and to many lay people who  just don’t understand why so little time is spent by us on why people are leaving the Church in great numbers and what can be done about it. They do not understand how a hospital procedure in one local Church can be judged unacceptable yet be acceptable in many others. They do not understand why Catholic politicians can be denied the sacraments in one diocese but not in another. They do not understand why the President of the United States can be welcomed in some Catholic circles but not in others. The answer, of course, rests in the ecclesiologial truth that each bishop is the successor of the apostles in his diocese (or archdiocese) and can and must act as his conscience dictates but the danger rests in a growing sense of congregationalism, something every bishop fears in his diocese but can also occur in a national hierarchy and, I think is equally to be feared. I don’t foresee this changing unless and until it becomes so out-of-control that someone says, “stop”: we must face the future together and not divided.

My thoughts here are clearly in the minority among the bishops and I understand and accept that. And I do not bemoan the present though I think it has made the challenge of leadership of a local Church much more difficult. Most bishops, if they were truly honest, would speak of a tri-partite priesthood: there are those men  who experienced the enhilaration of the Council but who see retirement in the offing and simply say “all I want to do now is make it to retirement.” Then there is a second group who are dillusioned and unhappy with the direction in which they feel the  Church is going and do not know if they can make it to retirement or what retirement will be like for them.  And there is a third group who are quite satisfied, some of whom wish the “reform of the reforms” might continue. If a local Church is to “make beautiful music unto the Lord,” then the bishop must be a skillful conductor, allowing each section to make its contribution but to see that we are playing from the same “score.” It is a real task of leading and guiding to see that the local Church progresses along the right path.

+RNL

SO LONG FOR A WHILE

Friday, August 6th, 2010
Bishop Lynch with the Seminarians at the Bethany Center

Bishop Lynch with the Seminarians at the Bethany Center

Our seminarians are about to return to their respective seminaries for the coming academic year and I had the pleasure on Tuesday night to celebrate the Eucharist with them and have dinner as well, all at the Bethany Center. We again have thirty-two seminarians this year matching last year’s number. They attend three seminaries. All of our college seminarians attend St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and most of our theology students attend the Regional Seminary of St. Vincent de Paul in Boynton Beach. We have one seminarian at Blessed John XXIII National Seminary in Weston. 2011 will be the last time for a number of years in the future when we have no one to be ordained to the priesthood. Two men will be ordained deacons in 2011 and then priests, God-willing in 2012. After 2012 there will be a regular number of ordinations each year and in six years there may be a class with as many as nine to be ordained but that is too far off to begin ordering the invitations. I am impressed, however, by the quality, dedication and generosity of our men who feel called to priestly ministry.

Getting into the seminary at this moment in Church history is not that easy. A rather long application process includes three interviews with members of the Vocations Admissions Board, one with myself and a number with the Director of Vocations, a physical examination by a doctor and a whole battery of psychological tests by a psychologist. Of course, letters of recommendation are required as is promotion by one’s pastor of one’s parish church. A man beginning the path to priesthood entering as a freshman in college can expect a total of nine years of seminary formation. A man beginning his journey after completing college and earning a bachelors or masters degree can expect seven years. At a time when we desperately need priests, the universal Church has lengthened the time required prior to ordination. Each year of formation, the candidate receives an annual evaluation by the seminary formation faculty in which he is analyzed inside and out. Most of our men do very well academically so that is seldom an issue in advancing toward the altar.

I saw a parish bulletin from last Sunday and noted with great interest a reflection by the parish pastor on a seminarian who would be leaving soon to return to the seminary. I was deeply touched by this pastor’s words and reflection and I want to share it with you. “Our seminarian, Joe ______ leaves us on August 10. I have grown very fond of him and will miss him. The fact that he is leaving means that he is returning to the seminary for his final year of studies and priestly formation. We hope and pray for his ordination to the deaconate [sic] in June 2011 and to priesthood in December of 2011. The decision regarding these days is not final. Joe will make a fine priest, one that I can be proud of. He is a hard worker, energetic, and well motivated to serve the people of God. He has a rich prayer life and a solid spirituality. He instantly connects with anyone he meets. He is positive and he is likable. I look forward eagerly to his becoming my brother priest. Hopefully he has touched some lives in our young people to inspire them to look within for a possible vocation to the priesthood or religious life. The halls upstairs will be empty for me and Dusty. God bless you Joe, and thank you for listening to God’s call and responding.” My thanks to Father Dennis Stillwell, pastor of St. Francis Xavier parish in Petoskey, Michigan, for these wonderful thoughts and he did not even know he had a visiting bishop nosing around his parish.

I think most of our diocesan seminarians meet Father Stillwell’s standards and I know I would be proud to serve with almost all of them, if not all of them, were I to share a parish ministry. Each ordination finds me seriously asking myself this question: would you like to have this young man as an associate pastor and colleague and I have always been able to offer myself a resounding yes. So off they go to the seminary again. For those beginning first college, nine years seems like such a long time and it is, except it passes ever so quickly if they feel they are in the right place doing the right thing. In fairness, I would also like to add that there are about four other men from the diocese studying for religious orders, including one for the Society of Jesus (aka Jesuits) who will be ordained soon. God and the Holy Spirit is at work in our diocese planting seeds. Thank you, men, for giving God and priesthood a chance. I think they know how proud of and grateful for them I am.

+RNL

Update: Photograph with seminarians added.

SIGNIFICANT CHANGE

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

For the last twelve  years here as bishop the diocese has had one single Vocation Director, Father Leonard Plazewski. The role and responsibility of the Vocation Director in the life of the local church is very significant. He or she devote all their waking energy to the pursuit of men for the priesthood or religious life as a priest or brother and of women for religious life as a sister. Theoretically, that is their job description but realistically, since religious communities have their own Vocation Directors, he or she spends most of their time searching for young men who think God is calling them to priesthood. Father Len has done that for us for a dozen years and today he and I are announcing that he will leave that position at the end of this calendar year. I am certain that all of my diocesan family know him because he has in all likelihood preached in your parish four times on vocations (he made the rounds of the 76 parishes and missions four times in twelve years). Since assuming the responsibility, he has put into place many dinners at my residence or occasionally some other place called PROJECT ANDREW dinners where pastors and associate pastors come with interested young men juniors in high school and above for a meal and to listen to our vocation stories. Annually he has gathered the eleven year olds of our elementary schools and for a long time juniors in high school for what is called FOCUS ELEVEN because sociologists tell us that their science has found that vocation decisions begin to be made first at eleven years old and then later during the eleventh grade. In the last few years he has gathered inquirers for a period of reflection and retreat just prior to Christmas.  He never gives up on his search for vocations and as a result, our diocese has been the best in the state in recent years in attracting men to the seminary.  The Church of St. Petersburg owes Father Plazewski a debt of gratitude as he winds down his work and begins in a yet-to-be determined assignment. Along the way, he has served the last several years as the president of the National Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors and has visited many other dioceses to assist them in their Vocation promotion.

Today, I am announcing that Father John Blum, pastor of St. John Vianney parish on St. Petersburg Beach, will assume the role of Diocesan Director of Vocations on New Year’s Day. He will continue to serve as pastor of his parish so his appointment is part-time in Vocations where he will serve almost strictly as Supervisor of Seminarians. To assist Father Blum, I am also announcing that Father Carl Melchior, associate pastor of St. Catherine of Siena parish in Largo, will serve as Assistant Vocation Director while continuing in his present assignment. Father Carl’s task will focus on recruitment and when they are accepted by the Diocesan Vocation Board and admitted to the seminary, his work will be complete and they will become Father Blum’s responsibility. To give up a full-time Vocation Director for two part-time Vocation Directors is not the best idea but our current clergy personnel requirements do not allow me at this time to do otherwise. Hopefully and prayerfully in a couple of years, we will return to a single, full time Vocation Director.

When I arrived fourteen years ago, Father Michael O’Brien who is now serving as pastor of St. Justin the Martyr parish in Largo was serving in this capacity. He did a wonderful job also so I have known nothing but good Vocation Directors. And let me add that during my time as Rector-President of the College Seminary in Miami (1979-1984), the Diocese of St. Petersburg had splendid Vocation Directors (Fathers Arthur Proulx, Dennis Hughes, Robert Tabbert, James Johnson) who brought splendid candidates to the seminary for admission. Vocations for and from this diocese have always been a blessing and some who chose to leave and get married remain faithful, wonderful Catholic men. I have always emphasized that quality of candidate is far more important than quantity of candidates but I must confess to being proud that last school year and this coming we will again have 32 seminarians, a testimony to Father Plazewski’s labors.

These men in formation can be assured that the two men soon to split the responsibilities will be every much as supportive, grateful, present and wise as their predecessors. Finally, this is a good moment to offer my thanks to the Diocesan Vocation Committee which has advised Father Len along his way, to the members of the St. Petersburg chapter of Serra International (who pray for, work for, and support vocations to the priesthood and religious life) and to the Diocesan Seminary Admissions Committee which gives a great deal of time to meeting prospective applicants and judging their fitness for the journey to the altar. Today marks the beginning of a significant change in our Vocations Office but I believe it will be seamless.

+RNL

OIL ALL OVER TROUBLED WATERS

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

One of my priests has on several occasions pointed out to me that I am committing a “sin” of omission by not devoting some space in this blog to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He has reminded me of the Church’s concern for the environment and the protection of creation, God’s earliest gift to the planet. Of course he is right but it is hard when one’s car gets only 19-20 miles per gallon in the city as mine does to get too deep into the “muck” when part of the problem is my foolish consumption.

We have oil rigs in places where there is oil but there probably should be no rig because of our insatiable appetite of gasoline. We have oil rigs offshore in order to become less dependent on uncertain foreign sources of oil, some of whom are friendly, some of whom are hostile, and some of whom are whatever the prevailing winds in the Mideast suggest they be from one moment to the next. The nightly news talks incessantly these days about the warning signs of a potential disaster or meltdown which were ignored. I saw warning signs every time there was a hurricane anywhere in the Caribbean sea and the rigs in the Gulf would shut down, gas would increase dramatically in price, people would complain, the storm would pass, the workers w0uld return to their rigs and life went on. And therein, it seems to me, lies the fundamental problem – life goes on.

There is no question in my mind that large multinationals like BP and EXXON cut corners to keep up with the supply and demand and make huge profits in the meantime. Why should they not? We learned little, it seems, from the days several years ago and gas prices rose to about $4.00 per gallon. Everyone pointed the finger at the oil companies but we should never forget that when the index finger is pointed at someone else, the thumb points back to ourselves. We simply ignore the threats to the environment to satisfy our own needs for gas-guzzlers, lack of mass transit, etc. As for solar energy, we are still in the infancy of those possibilities but as long as heating oil and gasoline are around $2.50, who cares about alternate sources.

Before writing this today, I did an examination of conscience about how I waste precious resources, water, gasoline, electricity. Say what you will about the mega-corporations engaged in energy, it ultimately is the consumer like myself that drives the need for searching for more oil in precarious places. I hope they do not allow drilling off the Florida coast. The western Gulf is proving too close and perilous as it is. But until we rationally as a nation curb our appetite for energy and begin to pursue conservation, I think we can be faulted almost as much as the multinationals. I feel guilty in some ways and also responsible that the oystermen and musselmen and shrimpers and vacationers of the Gulf Coast are today at risk. But I need to end this reflection and drive to North Tampa for a cook-out for our seminarians and prospective seminarians. Of course, I also need to fill my gas tank! What would Saint Francis of Assisi say to me?

+RNL