My appointment as Parochial Vicar at Holy Family Church was very short. Within a year I was transferred by Archbishop Carroll to be the Parochial Vicar at Saint Coleman Church in Pompano Beach. There was a problem at St. Coleman Parish. The Pastor was a golfer who played at least two days a week. Between playing 18 holes and having lunch and refreshments at the clubhouse that meant at least two days a week were lost to the pastoral ministry of the Parish. My orders were to organize a youth group. The Pastor was not happy about that because, as he said, “You will be transferred in a year (he was prescient) and I will be stuck with the group.” I went ahead and organized a very successful youth group. The other problem was that the Parish Secretary seemed to be in charge of the Parish. I could not fire her so I simply ignored her and did the best I could.
In May, 1963 Bishop Carroll called me to his office and shocked me by saying, “Get yourself a passport, you are going to accompany me to the Coronation Mass of Pope Paul VI at the end of June.” I was speechless. We flew together to Rome and stayed at the Grand Hotel. After the magnificent Coronation Mass we went to the papal audience room of the Apostolic Palace and Archbishop Carroll went in for a private audience with Pope Paul VI, after a while a papal attendant came out and took me in to be with the Pope and Bishop Carroll. Pope Paul VI (Cardinal Giovanni Battista Montini) was known for his gentleness and warmth. On this occasion he lived up to his reputation. He was exceptionally kind to both Bishop Carroll and myself during the photo taking.
A word about the relationship of Coleman Francis Carroll and Giovanni Battista Montini. As was mentioned in the preceding Chapter, Bishop Carroll’s younger brother, Walter, was a Monsignor working in the office of the Secretary of State of the Vatican. At the same time that Walter was working in the Secretariat of State, Monsignor Montini was an Under-Secretary of State. They became close friends. Walter invited his friend Monsignor Montini to come to the United States and to stay with the Carroll family in Pittsburgh. Monsignor Montini did and Coleman would have gotten to know Monsignor Montini on that occasion. Shortly after Montini’s visit to the United States Walter died in a skiing accident in Switzerland. The bonds connecting the Pope to the Carroll family lasted for both their lifetimes.
The next day the Bishop told me that he was flying to London (he hated being in Rome in the summer time because of the heat) and that I should tour Europe looking at new churches so that I could better do my work as Chairman of the Building Commission. He checked out of the hotel and flew to London. When I checked out of the hotel I discovered that he had not paid for my room. You can well imagine what a room in the Grand Hotel in Rome costs. I was again in a state of shock. Luckily I had brought enough travelors’ checks to pay the hotel but then I was left with barely enough to see Europe on $5.00 per day. Somehow I did it. I traveled to Switzerland and Germany and visited many of the churches that had been built since World War II. I took many photographs and was able to show them to the Bishop when I returned and he was pleased I never mentioned the matter of money, nor did he. I guess he had forgotten that I had spent ten years in the monastery and therefore had no cash reserves to fall back on for a trip to Europe.
Hardly a few months had passed after my return from Europe when the Bishop transferred me to Saint Matthew Parish in Hallandale. The problem there was that the Pastor was a alcoholic. He would remain locked in his room all during the day and only come out at night. Since I had little contact with him I simply took charge unofficially and ran the Parish. Something funny happened at St. Matthew. A large percentage of the parish were “snowbirds” from Canada during the winter. Many of them did not speak English. My French was rusty but I did well until one day in the confessional I asked a woman: “Avez vous triste sincere sobre votre peche?” “Are you truly sorry for your sins?” She replied with a puzzled “Mon pere, pourquoi c’est necessaire pour moi peche? It turned out that I had asked her if she were truly sorry for her peach or fish. The word for sin was peche’ with the accent on the final “e”, it was a matter of pronunciation to distinguish between them. After that I was referred to by the Canadians as Le Pere Peche, or the “The Peachy Pere.”
It was not long before Bishop Carroll arranged for the Pastor of Saint Matthew to enter Guest House in Michigan which specialized in helping alcoholic priests. I then became the Administrator of Saint Matthew for a few months before the Bishop transferred Father Gerald Shehan to Saint Mattew as Pastor and I was transferred to Saint Ambrose in Deerfield Beach.
The Parish of Saint Ambrose had been started a few months earlier by my friend Father Sebastian Loncar. He was celebrating Mass in rented space in a strip mall. He asked me to design a school building that could serve as a temporary church. With the Bishop’s permission I designed a circular building with eight classrooms, offices, toilets and mechanical rooms around the perimeter of the circle and a large room in the center of the circle that would be the future auditorium/gymnasium for the school but would serve for some years as the sacred space in which the Parish would worship. I engaged Murray Blair Wright an architect in Miami to prepare the plans and to supervise the construction of the building. The bids came in within the budget and construction started.
Meanwhile, in Miami, at St. Michael Parish the Pastor had been acting more and more bizzarely. Lately he had been standing on his head for extended periods of time. Needless to say the parishioners were concerned for him and brought the matter to the attention of the Bishop. Bishop Carroll arranged for him to go off for psychiatric evaluational and treatment. The Bishop at the same time transferred Father Loncar from St. Ambrose to St. Michael, and transferred me from St. Matthew to St. Ambrose.
I was happy! Now I would get to finish building the school (and temporary church) that I had designed as the Administrator of Saint Ambrose Parish. But it was not to be. Four months after I arrived at Saint Ambrose I was demoted from Administrator and transferred as Parochial Vicar to the Church of the Visitation in North Miami. At the same time Father John Francis McKeown, Pastor of St. Lucie Parish in St. Lucie was transferred as Pastor of the Church of the Visitation. Father McKeown had a reputation for being something of an ogre; he had never had an assistant before. Everyone commiserated with me over my demotion and my having been appointed assistant to Father McKeown.
It was not so much the demotion or being appointed assistant to Father McKeown that disturbed me, it was the fact that I read about my transfer in the diocesan newspaper, The Voice. No one had informed me before hand that I was being demoted and transferred. I later figured that it was he ultimate test that Bishop Carroll was putting me through; he wanted to see if I would object and raise objections to the demotion and transfer and the way in which it was handled. Again, the spirit of the vow of obedience worked in me and I kept silent.
As it turned out, I was happy with Father McKeown and he was happy with me. He was the only priest in the Diocese who had been born (1903) and reared in Florida (Rockledge). Bishop Barry of Saint Augustine Diocese had sent him to Rome, to the Lateran Seminary, to study his philosophy and theology in preparation for ordination to the priesthood. He was the only American priest to ever have studied at the Lateran Seminary. The Lateran Seminary is the Seminary for the Diocese of Rome and most of its graduates are destined to be bishops and cardinals. John Francis McKeown as a Florida “Cracker” must have stuck out like a sore thumb at the Lateran. After his ordination he had a run-in with Bishop Barry’s sucessor, Bishop Joseph Patrick Hurley over the interpretation of a canon of canon law. Bishop Hurley exiled him to the parish in Perry Florida, a town dominated by the K.K.K.. For twenty years Father McKeown survived by carrying a pistol on his hip. His friendship with several classmates who were bishops and cardinals was a matter of pride for him, Cardinal Ottaviani was his prefect in the seminary.
Father McKeown gave me free reign as Parochial Vicar. I was in my glory as I taught in the school, organized a youth group and worked with the adults. Father McKeown taught me to enjoy kippers (kippered herring) at breakfast every morning; to this day I eat kippers, not every day as I did with Father McKeown, but several times a week.
It was too good to last. After almost two years the Bishop transferred me to Saint Ann Parish in Naples to replace another eccentric priest. This one, had among his eccentricities, his custom to tell people in his homilies how to mix the perfect martini. He was not an alcoholic, but he had strange tastes in food: the cupboards in the rectory were filled with cans of refried beans. The good news about this transfer is that I was given the title of “Pastor.”
My two years as Pastor of Saint Ann Parish in Naples I consider to be two of the most successful years of my life. I established a good relationship with the parishoners and the civil population of Naples. I paid off the Parish debt. We had an excellent elementary school with excellent nuns in charge, but we did not have a Catholic high school within 100 miles so the Catholic graduates of Saint Ann School had to go to the local public high school. That school needed repairs. The public school board tried to pass a bond issue to repair the school but the voters voted down the proposal. I launched a campaign in support of the next effort of the school board and the bond issue passed. I was the town hero.
The Bishop agreed with me that Marco Island to South of Naples needed to become a mission and eventually a parish so he authorized me to start the mission, and I did. Today Marco Island has a thriving independent parish.
Naples was a bit of heaven for me; it had the worlds best snook fishing.