A lot of people in the parish know that in my former life I was a naval officer serving on nuclear submarines in the Pacific. And people know me now as a Franciscan Friar and ordained priest. I think most people assume I went from the “monastic enclosure” of the submarine to the hallowed halls of the friary. Not so much. There was a 14-year period when I was out there in the world working in the field of consulting. I started out advising commercial nuclear-power plants – kind of an obvious transition. Before I knew it, a less obvious path opened, and I found myself working on information-technology projects. That eventually led to strategic-management consulting for several different industries. Looking back on it, one thing was for sure: It was never dull. It was exciting to continually enter into new engagements, with new clients, and have the chance to think creatively, strategically, and in all different ways.
But God called, and I answered. What followed were the years of mission in Kenya, returning to join the Franciscan Friars, being ordained a priest, and before I knew it, assigned to Sacred Heart, Tampa. I have been here for 11 years now; seven as pastor, and my how things have changed and are changing. I joke that when I first arrived there were only two places open on Sunday night within walking distance where we could grab a bite to eat after a long weekend of weddings, baptisms, and Masses. It was not unusual to see a tumbleweed rolling down the street as we walked to dinner. Of course, I am kidding. There were three places within walking distance.
As I mentioned, it’s never a dull moment. My first official day as pastor, the women’s bathroom backed up and overflowed, and there was no choir/music for the evening Mass. There were problems of mounting debt, even as there were more and more people coming to the parish. We needed changes, but we also needed “to keep the lights on while we rewired the house.” So, we put on our thinking cap, rolled up the sleeves, and took the chance to think creatively, strategically, and in all different ways. All with the presence of prayer and the efforts of good people. Lots of water under that bridge. Lots of great work by many hands as the parish has thrived in every way possible.
That “water under the bridge” has become a tsunami of development, growth, and expansion here in downtown Tampa. Our community is expanding, the number of residents growing. And over the next five years, we will see more than 25,000 new families become our new neighbors. Channelside. Water Street Tampa. The West River Project. Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights. All of them within our parish boundaries. All of them neighborhoods primed for expansion and already building new opportunities to live, work, and play. All of this growth within just a few miles or less of our church. Are we ready to welcome them? Are we ready to serve them? Are we ready to meet these growing needs?
It might seem overwhelming, but I find that I feel excitement, energy, and can see the creative opportunities that lay ahead. We have an amazing chance to put all of our experience and talents in the service of God and this burgeoning community. Indeed, we live in interesting times – times when we are called to serve the people already here and all of those coming. All for the greater Glory of God.
What will we do? What vision will move us forward? Stay tuned. You will want to be present at Mass for the next three weekends! Just saying…