Hurricane Season Doesn’t Stop Tampa Parish

Andrew Reitz, OFM Around the Province

TAMPA, Fla. — After a busy summer, our fourth year at Sacred Heart Church and School here has begun. 

While Tropical Storm Fay threatened the start of school on Aug. 18, Tampa, for the most part, was spared. What a way to begin the new school year — a half-day the first day and no school the second day.

As we welcome the fall, we’re working on several new ventures, including a marriage enrichment series for couples married less than five years, a monthly Business Persons’ Forum, the launch of our $700,000 Restoration-Repainting Fund for the church interior, a 40s-Plus Singles Group, participation with the Diocese of St. Petersburg in creating Hillsborough Hope for the Homeless, finalizing the parish’s 150th Anniversary festivities for 2010, and working more closely with the Franciscan Center. 

Growing Parish
Although building in Florida has slowed, the parish keeps growing. We welcomed 70 new families between mid-June to mid-August. 

With more than 100 weddings each year, we felt that we should reach out to young people with Marriage Enrichment Sessions. For those who have been married less than five years, the sessions will meet once a month at the Franciscan Center. The coordinator of our pre-Cana program will lead the sessions. 

We also have had a Young Singles Group here for the past two years that keeps growing with social activities, outreach programs and spiritual events, including a yearly retreat at the Franciscan Center. We felt that our young married couples could benefit from a program that would assist them in their marital vocation. These are young people too that have a desire to remain close to the church.

Since we are in the heart of downtown Tampa, we have been eager to begin a program for businesspeople. The staff from the Franciscan Center will lead the Business Persons’ Forum, held the first Friday of the month after 7 a.m. Mass. Work related topics and their relationship to one’s spirituality will be discussed.

Helping the Homeless

We had to stop allowing homeless people to sleep on the church steps because of the violence that happened almost nightly. We studied the situation and learned what the Diocese of St. Petersburg had done in Pinellas County after a tent city was destroyed by town authorities in St. Petersburg. 

The diocese offered land and put up its own tent city organized by Catholic Charities. People were given a tent, with meals, showers, and social work help available. We visited this Pinellas Hope set-up and thought that something similar should be duplicated here.

Currently, the diocese is working with the county to obtain the necessary permits to establish Hillsborough Hope on a piece of diocese-owned land. The effort will involve many area churches. Our parishioners are particularly excited about volunteering. Hopefully, this will begin in November or December.

Hope for Tomorrow
A new pastoral plan for the next three years has been drawn up by the Pastoral Council. With the culture and community changing so quickly in this area, we need to update our plan frequently.

What’s next? We are in the middle of hurricane season, so we watch the weather, hoping that Florida will be spared. Keep us in your prayers.

 Fr. Andrew is pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Tampa and a member of HNP’s Provincial Council.