AN ORDINARY’S NOT SO ORDINARY LIFE, CHAPTER THIRTEEN

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The Church of the Nativity, Hollywood, Florida
Interior of the church as it appears today; it underwent a remodeling in 2000

 

About the time that I was appointed Pastor of Saint Ann Parish in 1966 the Pastor of the Church of the Nativity in Hollywood, Florida, applied to Bishop Carroll for permission to build a church for the Parish.  Up until that time the Parish had been worshiping in the Parish school building using three classrooms.  The Bishop gave permission and set the budget at $5o0,000.  In 1966 $500,000 would have been the equivalent of $1,500,000 in today’s building costs in South Florida.  When I learned, in my capacity as Chairman of the Diocesan Building Commission that the Pastor had engaged an architect in Boston to design the new church I went to the Bishop and objected.  I told the Bishop that a Boston architect would not be familiar enough with South Florida to be able to design the church and stay within the tight budget.  The Bishop told me that I was exaggerating the problem.  When I insisted that there would be problems, the Bishop simply said with a wry smile, “You do not understand, the architect that the Pastor has selected is the nephew of the Apostolic Delegate (Nuncio) in Washington.”  I, in turn, simply smiled and nodded my acceptance of the political reality of the situation.

Sure enough, when the bids came in for the construction of the Church of the Nativity they were way over budget; the cost of the reinforced concrete alone exceeded $600,000; the entire structure of the church, all of it’s walls, was to be of reinforced concrete.  I took the bids into the Bishop and asked him if he would authorize a increase in the budget to over $1,000,000.  He paused for a long time and then said, “No that is impossible for a parish that size.”  So then I said, “Well, then there is no alternative but to direct the Pastor to hire a local architect and start all over.”  The Bishop reluctantly said, “Yes, tell him.”

I called the Pastor to my office and explained to him that it was not possible for the budget for his church to be increased enough to enable him to build the church as designed by the Boston architect and that it would now be necessary for him to engage a local architect and start all over again from scratch staying within the budget of $500,000 that the Bishop had authorized.  He stormed out of my office.

It was now the summer of 1967 and I left for a month’s vacation, driving from Naples to Houston to visit my mother.  Two weeks had hardly gone by before Eddie Borrell, the Bishop’s Secretary, called me at my mother’s home and told me, “The Bishop was to see you as soon as possible.”  She did not tell me why he wanted to see me.  I asked her if it was so urgent that I should fly to Miami, visit with the Bishop and then fly back to Houston to resume my vacation.  She told me not to do that but instead to drive back to Naples immediately and to call the Bishop as soon as I reached my rectory in Naples.

I did as she directed and when I called the Bishop he said that he would fly to Naples and that I should pick him up and bring him to my rectory for a conference.  I was shocked!  I knew that the Bishop would never fly in a small airplane and yet there was no way he could fly from Miami to Naples except in a small airplane.  Again I offered to drive immediately to Miami.  He said no, he would fly to Naples.  I knew that something big, and probably not good, was about to happen and it was with anxiety and not a little fear that I met him at the small Naples airport and took him to my rectory.

No sooner had we sat down in the rectory when the Bishop told me, “The Pastor of the Church of the Nativity has resigned his pastorate and resigned from the priesthood and the Parish is in an uproar!”  I was stunned.  And then he immediately added, “I am hereby appointing you Pastor of the Church of the Nativity.”

The thought of leaving Naples, which I had grown to love, and going into the maelstrom of anger in that Parish in Hollywood was almost too much for me to process.  For the first time since I arrived in the Diocese I objected to a decision of the Bishop.  I gave him all the reasons why he should leave me in Naples, not the least of which was the fear that the people of Hollywood would lynch me since it was I who told their Pastor that he could not build the church they had sacrificed for and had waited for for so many years.

The Bishop gently told me of his experience as Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh when Bishop Deardon transferred him from Saint Maurice Parish, which Bishop Carroll has started, to Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh.  He said that he objected emotionally to Bishop Deardon’s decision and that Bishop Deardon had gently said to Bishop Caroll, “You do not understand, Bishop,  I am not asking you to go to Sacred Heart Parish, I am ordering you to go to Sacred Heart Parish.”  On hearing those words from Bishop Carroll I said, ” I understand, I will go to Nativity Parish!”  Again, my commitment to the spirit of my vow of obedience kicked in and killed all thought of resisting the Bishop.  So, said goodby to the people of Saint Ann Parish, packed my belongings, gave my cat to the wife of my dentist and I moved into the rectory of Nativity Parish.

That cat was my constant companion.  She had been run over by a car as a kitten and my friend in Miami who was a veterinarian healed her injuries and offered her to me.  I had not had a cat since I was a boy and I welcomed the little Siamese kitten.  She was ferocious.  She attacked any male cat that came anywhere near the rectory in Naples, driving them up a tree.  I would hear their crying and have to go out and bring my cat inside so that they could escape.  I named her Madame Nhu after the widow of President Diem of Vietnam who had been assassinated by the C.I.A. with the permission of President John F. Kennedy.  Madame Nhu moved to Paris and launched a worldwide speaking tour denouncing the United States for the death of her husband.  She was like the Tiger Lady in the Steve Canyon comic strip.  My cat, Madame Nhu would walk with me to close Saint Ann Church each night and would walk back with me as a dog would do.  What a cat.  A year later the wife of my dentist sent me a photograph of Madame Nhu with the caption, “Bishop?  What bishop?”  I could not take her to Nativity Parish because there I would be living with an Assistant Pastor and it would not be fair to him to have my pet also living in the rectory, he might possibly be allergic to cats.  I had a priest friend who was an Assistant Pastor in another parish and he asked the Bishop for a transfer because the pastor had a German Shepherd dog that was allowed to eat at the rectory dining room table and occasionally the dog would eat my friend’s steak if he was not protective of his meal.

To say that the people of Nativity Parish were ready to lynch me is putting it mildly.  I met with the Parish Council many times and explained to them what had happened to the project for their church.  It was only after I told them that I, as an architect, could promise them that I could not only build them a church but that I could also build them a parish hall, all within a budget of $500,000 that they became reconciled with me as their Pastor.

I then sketched out the design of the church you see above and with the help of Architect Murray Blair Wright built it and a large parish hall within a budget of $500,000.  No sooner had I completed the construction of the church and parish hall and had them blessed by the Bishop, than he transferred me from Nativity Parish and made me Rector of Saint Mary Cathedral in Miami, again in violation of the impediments imposed on me by the terms of Canon 642 and my Indult of Dispensation from Solemn Vows.  I did not question the Bishop on how he could do it because at the same time he made me Chancellor of the Diocese which was a far greater violation of the impediments.

Being Rector of the Cathedral brought with it the responsibility of being the Bishop’s Master of Ceremonies for all of his pontifical celebrations in the Cathedral.  I was in my glory.  I have already mentioned that I was Assistant Master of Ceremonies in Saint Vincent Archabbey Basilica, and to once again have the privilege of assisting in the celebration of pontifical ceremonies in the traditional Latin Mass of 1962 was a source of great joy.  Bishop Carroll was a lover of the Church’s traditional music and had hired a distinguished musician as Director of Cathedral Music and so our liturgical celebrations were always accompanied by the best of the Church’s wealth of traditional sacred music sung by a magnificent choir.  Once again the Church’s Liturgy was compensating for any frustration and disappointment I was experiencing by my frequent transfers from one assignment to another.

 

 

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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