Recently the Diocese of Venice celebrated the golden anniversary of its first bishop, now retired, Bishop John J. Nevins. Founded in 1984, the Diocese of Venice was created mostly out of territory which once belonged to the Diocese of St. Petersburg with only Collier County (Naples and Marco Island) coming from Miami and several interior counties (Hardee, DeSoto, and Glades) coming from Orlando. After flying up and down the coast from the Skyway Bridge to Florida City, the Apostolic Delegate to the United States (Pope’s representative) chose Venice to be what we call the “see city” or home of the Cathedral of the new diocese. He chose an auxiliary bishop from Miami, John J. Nevins to serve as its first bishop which he did for twenty-three years.
Bishop Nevins is special to a number of us in this diocese. He was the Vocation Director of Miami when I was accepted as a seminarian for that archdiocese. In the initial interview he got after me about my weight at the time and I thought to myself, “people in glass houses shouldn’t throw rocks.” But he and admissions board accepted me.
He was the Rector of St. John Vianney College Seminary at the time I was ordained and many of our current priests in this diocese were students there during his time (Fathers Muhr, Tapp, Morgan, Weber, Rebel). He had a knack for what might be termed “baby talk” and would often approach you and disarm you with something like, “Hi, brother in Jesus” or “Hi, holy man – you’re going places.” Sometimes he would approach a seminarian who had been with him four years in the seminary by asking, “Are you new here?” I suspect he did a lot of this to gauge the response.
In 1979 he was ordained an auxiliary bishop of Miami while serving as the Rector and with the new duties expected of him, I took his place as the fifth rector of that seminary. He lived on the seminary property and we became close.
Venice owes Bishop Nevins a lot for his time as their bishop. He took a large geographical area and built the Church up amazingly. He opened about fifteen new parishes in his time as bishop. To staff these new parishes he turned to sources for priests outside of the state and sometimes even the nation. He was always a man of good humor with a love of history. When he was a child, the late Norman Rockwell drew him in color for one of his famous covers for The Saturday Evening Post and the good bishop also was a contestant on an early TV program called Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour. Both parents were born and raised in Ireland and he loved the Irish.
My dear friend is suffering the ravages of aging but his mind is still sharp and his sense of humor remains in tact. His successor, Bishop Frank Dewane had a special celebration of his fiftieth anniversary two weeks ago when I was in New Orleans so I drove down to Venice to take Bishop Nevins to dinner last night. I told him that the priests, deacons, religious and people of his neighbor to the North were praying for him on his golden anniversary and he said, “I hope so, brother. I hope so.” And of course he greeted me with, “Hi, holy bishop.” What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him I suppose but I sure wish I could do some of the things as well as he has done them.
We have five retired bishops at the moment in this state – all wonderful men with great histories of service: Bishop John Snyder, the former bishop of St. Augustine, Bishop Norbert Dorsey, the former bishop of Orlando, Bishop Nevins, Bishop Agustin Roman, the retired auxiliary bishop of Miami, and Bishop Gilberto Fernandez, retired auxiliary bishop of Miami – big shoes for those of us still “walking the walk” to fill. Ad multos annos to Bishop Nevins especially and to all my retired brothers.
Now it is off to Mount Rushmore.