St. Petersburg Friars Spread Christmas Cheer

Roy Gasnick, OFM Friar News

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — “I never expected that the Advent and Christmas seasons would be so pastorally busy here in a retirement friary,” said James Toal, OFM, in his first term as guardian of St. Anthony’s here.“I’m amazed at how much time the friars have freely given to assist at so many parishes in the diocese.”

Jim’s introduction to the hectic pre-Christmas season was twofold: he coordinated the various requests that came to the friary from the many parishes in the two-county area they can comfortably serve and he took the furthest Mass call, in Palm Harbor, a good 45-minute drive away from St. Anthony’s. “We handle parishes in two counties: Pinellas, home of St. Petersburg, and Hillsborough, home of Tampa, host of Super Bowl 2009,” he said.

Parish Help
Some 11 parishes from those counties requested and received pastoral assistance from the friars during this time.

Twelve of the 18 friar priests of our community were able to volunteer their services for Masses, Penance Services and confessions during the Advent season and into Christmas time. These parish helpers were John Anglin, OFM, Martin Bednar, OFM, Clement Comesky, OFM, Cornelius Conti, OFM, Roch Coogan, OFM, Mario Di Lella, OFM, Edward Dillon, OFM, Miguel Loredo, OFM, John Marino, OFM, Guy Morgan, OFM, Roderic Petrie, OFM, and Emeric Szlezak, OFM, in addition to Jim Toal.

Spanish-speaking Assistance
In a geographical area that is in desperate need of Hispanic pastoral ministry, our community is blessed with a number of friars who can fulfill that need. For the many parishes that are bilingual, the Spanish-speaking abilities of John Anglin, Marty Bednar, Clem Comesky, Miguel Loredo and Rod Petrie were additional blessings for the Advent season.

Ministry of the Word
The Advent season was pleasantly filled for the friars of the MOW. Roderic and Marty preached a bilingual parish mission at St. Clare’s Church in Deltona, Fla., from Nov. 29 until Dec. 4. Rod and John Anglin conducted another bilingual mission Dec 7 to 11 at St. Anthony Church in Lakeland, Fla. A third mission was preached by John and Marty at St. Timothy’s Church in Lady Lake, Fla., Dec. 14 to 18.

Nearby St. Anthony Hospital made good use of the talented chaplain services of Bill Bried, OFM. Besides his regular chaplain duties, he designed and set up the Christmas decorations in the hospital’s chapel. Mario Di Lella continued to build up the campus ministry he started earlier this year at the St. Petersburg campus of the University of South Florida.

01-07-09-st-petersburg-lgInside the friary
We have always prided ourselves on the extent to which we decorate the friary for Christmas, but this year we notched it up a good deal, with John Capozzi, OFM, in charge and Michael Madden, OFM, and Valerian Vaverchak, OFM, assisting.

John, whose artistic talents are widely known, also has a flair for interior design. He decorated the lobby, the rec room, the dining room and the courtyard.

The displays rivaled those of major department store windows. Lladro figurines filled the Christmas crib scene in the dining room as well as the Magi display in the lobby. The Christmas tree looked like a setting out of The Nutcrackerwith a grandfather clock to one side.

Michael and Valerian decorated the chapel. In place of poinsettias, tasteful arrangements of red and white carnations were displayed.

The friars’ work was not over even by time of the Christmas midnight Mass (at 8 p.m.); a handful of men were still helping out at local parishes. Perhaps that was the reason for the off-tone singing during the Mass, the worst musical disaster in my 16 years here. But, oh, did we make up for it on Christmas Day at a 10:30 a.m. Mass when we and our guests sang gloriously and made merry for the Lord.”

 Fr. Roy, a former HNP communications director, is on staff at St. Anthony’s Friary in St. Petersburg. He is shown in the photo above.