Drive-by farewell overwhelms retiring priest

After 22 years serving at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers, Oblate of St. Francis de Sales Father Stanley Dombrowski knew now was the time to retire.

“I had a great run, but it was time,” said Father Dombrowski, who will soon turn 73. He started at St. Cecilia as Parochial Vicar in 1998 before becoming Pastor in 2001 with his retirement effective July 1, 2020.

To mark his retirement, the Parish staff decided to hold a drive-by farewell on July 2, 2020, wherein the parishioners could drive into the parking lot and heap their praises on Father from their vehicles.

The unusual circumstances of the COVID-19 Pandemic forced this unusual, but successful farewell in lieu of a traditional farewell party. Vehicles arrived long before the celebration was to commence, and the line was so long it created a temporary traffic jam on nearby roads.

As much as a party, cake and speeches would have been more traditional, the drive-thru allowed each family to have a few moments to personally thank Father for his service and to pray for a blessed retirement. The impact one priest had upon the faithful at St. Cecilia was evident in the decorated vehicles and words of kindness.

One driver summed it up best for many: “No words can express what you mean to our family. We love you.”

Father Dombrowski wore a funny hat and was all smiles as he greeted every family by name, recognizing grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren who have been part of the Parish for many years. Jokingly, he reminded everyone that although he is retired, he will still help out at St. Cecilia. “I have the 7:30 a.m. and 11 a.m. Mass this Sunday.”

Afterwards he said he was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support. “That was wonderful. It brought back such strong memories.”

Father Dombrowski made his first profession with the Oblates of St. Francis de Sales in 1979 and was ordained to the priesthood in 1983. He first served as a teacher in Wilmington, Delaware, then as campus minister at Allentown College of St. Francis de Sales in Pennsylvania. He later served as a U.S. Navy Chaplain before arriving at St. Cecilia in Fort Myers.

Longtime Pastor in Longboat Key, Sarasota dies

Msgr. Finegan remembered as a gentle giant

Msgr. Gerard “Gerry” Finegan was known to wear many hats – confessor, confidante, friend, mentor, competitor and much more – but for most people who knew him, he was a gentle giant with a nice Irish accent who was also their Parish priest.

Msgr. Finegan died on Feb. 3 surrounded by family and friends. He was 77. For those who knew the longtime Pastor of Incarnation Parish and Chaplain at Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, and recently retired Pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea Parish in Longboat Key, his passing from this earth struck many very deeply.

Hundreds commented on social media in response to the announcement of his passing. Many shared their personal stories of Msgr. Finegan; of how he presided over the marriage, baptism, First Communion, Confirmation, or funeral of various family members through the years, noting the twinkle in his eye and genuine concern about their well-being, no matter what.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held Feb. 7 at Incarnation Parish, with Bishop Frank J. Dewane as the Main Celebrant and dozens of priests of the Diocese concelebrating, including Bishop Emeritus Robert Lynch of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Father Eric Scanlan, Administrator of Incarnation Parish and former Parochial Vicar at St. Mary, Star of the Sea under Msgr. Finegan, was the homilist and shared his personal reflections on the man he viewed as friend and mentor. He noted that a priest is called not only to follow Jesus but to go beyond that; to be the one who stands in the person of Jesus Christ (in persona Christi).

“In losing a priest, we not only lost a man but the unique way he showed us God,” Father Scanlan said. “His priestly presence was Christ in our world, was Christ to each one of us; and no one will ever again show us Jesus Christ the way that (Msgr.) Gerry did. That is a real sadness and a real loss.”

Bishop Dewane spoke of the tremendous contribution Msgr. Finegan made to the Diocese through the years. He noted that he was not just assigned to Incarnation Parish, but in fact he was Incarnation Parish. Whether at Incarnation or St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Msgr. Finegan was passionate about his commitment to the people.

“He was a man of faith who had no trouble putting that out to show everybody,” Bishop Dewane said. “The loss to the Diocese is great, but it is also a loss to his family and his many friends. My prayers go with you as you return to Ireland.”

A native of Ireland, Msgr. Finegan was born Jan. 1, 1943, in Cavan, County Kildare, to Joseph and Mary Finegan. He attended St. Patrick College, Maynooth, Ireland. He was Ordained to the Priesthood on June 18, 1967 at St. Patrick’s and Felim’s Cathedral in Cavan for the Diocese of St. Augustine. Monsignor also served at Parishes in Safety Harbor, Largo and was Chaplain at Clearwater Catholic High School, before his 1972 assignment as Parochial Vicar of Incarnation and Chaplain at Cardinal Mooney in the then-young Diocese of St. Petersburg.

In 1976 he was elevated to Pastor of Incarnation and remained there until 2008 when he was named Pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea on Longboat Key where he served until his retirement in November 2019. As announced from the Office of the Bishop on June 11, 2010, then-Pope Benedict XVI, bestowed Papal Honors on Father Finegan, along with four other Diocesan priests, in recognition of their dedication and exemplary service to the Church. This Papal Honor elevated him to the rank of Monsignor, as Chaplain to His Holiness. The group of priests was the first recipients of this honor in the history of the Diocese of Venice.

Passionate in his devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Msgr. Finegan recited the Angelus at noon and 6 p.m. without fail, regardless of what he was doing. In his rare free time, he played multiple sports in his youth and later enjoyed racquetball, tennis, golf and playing cards. He also regularly returned to Ireland to visit family and friends.

Msgr. Finegan is survived by his sisters: Mary Tunney, Aine Connolly, Catherine O’Leary, Brigid Duffy, Josephine Finegan; six nephews; six nieces; 16 grand nephews, nine grand nieces, and countless friends. Please make memorial contributions in Msgr. Finegan’s name to Incarnation Catholic School. Burial will be in Ireland next to his parents.

Priest from Venice dies

Msgr. Anthony A. La Femina, a retired priest and iconographer who previously served as Administrator of St. Isabel Parish on Sanibel, died Dec. 30, 2019. He was 86.

Msgr. La Femina was born Nov. 19, 1933, in New Haven, Conn., and was one of three children of Anthony and Natalie (D’Amato) La Femina.

In his academic formation, Msgr. La Femina attended Providence College, Dominican Fathers, Seminaire de Philosophie and Grand Seminaire in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, University of St. Paul in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, and Angelicum in Rome, Italy. He was ordained May 27, 1961 at the Cathedral of St. Jerome in Montreal, Canada. For the Diocese of Saint-Jérôme, in the Province of Quebec, Canada, Monsignor served in parishes in Rosemère, Deux-Montagnes, before serving on the Diocesan Tribunal, then as the Vice-Chancellor and later as Chancellor of the Diocese.

Msgr. La Femina was appointed as an official at the Congregation for Divine Worship of the Holy See in 1969 and served there for many years. He was incardinated in the Diocese of Venice, from the Diocese of Saint-Jérôme, in December 1986. He also served as an official of the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Within the Diocese of Venice, Msgr. La Femina assisted at several parishes and including in 1998 as Administrator of St. Isabel Parish in Sanibel. Prior to his retirement in 2008, Msgr. La Femina also served in the Diocese of Charleston as Director of the Office of Volunteers. Most recently, he was Chaplain to the Knights of Columbus Bishop Charles B. McLaughlin Assembly 1818 in Venice.

In addition to serving as a priest, Monsignor was a well-known iconographer. Images he created were most notably used worldwide during the 2000 Jubilee. He was also a scholarly author.

He is survived by numerous relatives. A funeral will take place at 10 a.m., Jan. 18, at Epiphany Cathedral, 310 Sarasota St., Venice. A viewing will take place starting at 8:30 a.m.

New Church Dedicated and Blessed in Lakewood Ranch

Bob Reddy – Florida Catholic

Richard and Monica Rice have been going to Our Lady of the Angels Parish in Lakewood Ranch since Mass was held in a nearby Lutheran Church where just a few dozen people initially attended.

Those days are long in the past as the Parish now has 5,133 individuals and 1,946 families. To accommodate the growth, a new 21,060-square-foot Parish Church was built and on April 22 Bishop Frank J. Dewane dedicated and blessed the people and the building, proclaiming it to be a sacred space from this day forward.

The Rice’s, and many others, were impressed by the Dedication Mass itself which has many parts that are unique and rich with tradition. “It was beautiful,” Monica Rice said. “It was really emotional at times. To have the Bishop come here for this was a special blessing. It is truly wonderful for the whole Parish Community.”

Bishop Dewane explained that a Church dedication and blessing has many parts the purpose of which is to solely and permanently dedicate the building as a sacred space. However, the more important part of a Church is the people who worship there. “I have a distinct advantage point to see the true beauty of this church today,” the Bishop said from the altar. “I don’t have to look up, but it’s right in front of me. It’s here. It’s all of you.”

The Bishop also noted that several hundred people were watching the Mass from the former church. “You simply outgrew it. And that’s a good thing!”

At the conclusion of the dedication and blessing, Parish Administrator Father Scheip, who has been at the Parish since early 2017, proclaimed: “Bishop we made it!” Father thanked the many people who were involved in the vision and contributions necessary in making the new Church possible. He also made a special point of joy to note that the Mass was the first time the parish had kneelers and everyone knelt.

“This is just the beginning. This is all for you. Priests come and go. Bishops come and go. But the people of God remain faithful and steadfast,” Father Scheip said.

The memory of previous Administrator Father Dan Smith, who died in 2016, was present throughout, as major aspects of the design of the Church were part of his vision. In addition, the chalice used during the consecration was Father Smith’s personal chalice.

The Dedication of a Church was done as part of a Mass and began with a procession from the former church to the new building of concelebrating priests, escorted by the Color Corps of the Knights of Columbus. Gathering outside of the Church, the Rite began with prayer and a hymn. Parish representatives then presented the Bishop with a certificate of dedication, copies of the architectural plans, and a ceremonial key.

The Bishop then said: “Go within His gates giving thanks, enter His courts with songs of praise.” The opening procession then began. Once inside, the next part of the Rite included the Bishop blessing the water in the Baptismal Font and then he, along with Father Scheip and Parochial Vicar John Haong, blessed the people with Holy Water as they are the spiritual temple of the Lord and so as to recall their Baptismal promises and repentance. This was followed by the sprinkling of the walls of the Church, marking the Church as a holy place from that day forward — before finally blessing the altar and the sanctuary.

The Mass then proceeded with some minor adjustments, such as the Litany of Saints replacing the general intercessions. Following the Litany, the rites of anointing, incensing, covering and lighting the altar followed. During the anointing, Bishop Dewane spread Sacred Chrism Oil – blessed at the Chrism Mass during Holy Week – first on the altar and then in the sign of the cross at four points on the walls of the Church. This is done to provide a sacred designation for the altar and Church. Next was the incensation of the altar to signify Christ’s sacrifice, and then of the nave of the Church and of the people throughout symbolizing “prayers rising up to the Lord.”

The new Church has a seating capacity for 1,074 people, doubling the seating capacity from the previous worship space, where weekly Masses have been held. The cruciform design comprises a hybrid pre-engineered steel building frame with a steel roof, and concrete masonry structural walls with cementitious stucco finish system and aluminum window systems.

The exterior design style borrows from Italian Renaissance and Spanish Mission Revival archetypes. There are prominent gold domed towers and central gold domed cupola with a cross frame central entrance gable. Both an interior and exterior focal point is a 11-foot 4-inch diameter rose window of Our Lady of the Angels, the patroness of the Parish, the beauty of which drew a great deal praise. It is located above a triple arched entrance canopy. Another lovely element is an oculus between the narthex and the nave which offer views of the rose window at the exterior wall. The church design features 68 exterior windows, which will soon display colorful stained glass.

Located on the west side of the Church, there is a Daily Mass Chapel, which will seat an additional 194 people. To preserve the history of Parish, all the Sanctuary items from the now Parish Hall, which has previously served as the worship space, will be placed in the Daily Mass Chapel, including the altar, tabernacle, cross, presider and assistant chairs, along with statue of Our Blessed Mother, as well as 18 of the stained-glass panels. On the south side of the Church is Adoration Chapel which will accommodate 30. The multipurpose building used as the church will now become the Parish Hall and undergo future renovations to include the installation of a new kitchen.

All construction was respectful of the natural habitat of the eagle’s nest, which made its home on Church property several years ago. There is a permanent 100’ protection zone around the nest, which was in place during construction of the new Church and required monitoring and certain restrictions to construction times.

McIntyre, Elwell & Strammer, of Sarasota, is the contractor, George F. Young, Inc., of Lakewood Ranch, is the civil engineer. The architect is parishioner John J. Holz of Plunket Rayisch Architects, LLP, of Sarasota.

Our Lady of the Angels Parish was first established in 1999 as a Mission Church of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Parish was led by Third Order Regular Franciscan priests sharing worship space with a nearby Lutheran Church. The original church was opened in 2003 and has more than doubled the number of registered families in the past 10 years.

Ray and Robbie Phaneuf have been parishioners for four years and are impressed with the new Church, pleased that the hard work has paid off. “What a special day,” Ray said. “This has been a long time coming. With so many people moving to the area, we were crammed into the old church,” Robbie said. “Now we have a big open space to worship. Just perfect.”

Two of the newest parishioners, Julia Barreda and Kellen Braren, parishioners for just a few months, are excited to see the new Church. The couple is engaged to be married next February and Julia even remarked that the new Church is so beautiful that little will need to be done for the wedding. “It is already so wonderful. I don’t know if I would change anything.”

Former Pastor in Holmes Beach, Punta Gorda dies

Staff Report – Florida Catholic

The Diocese of Venice mourns the loss of Father Robert J. Mongiello, former Pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach and Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. Father passed away Thursday, March 22 in Bradenton at the age of 68.

Father Robert Mongiello, former Pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach and Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda, died on March 22, 2018, he was 68.

Father Mongiello was born July 16, 1949, in Mercer, Pa., to Vincent and Pauline (Hinds) Mongiello. He studied at Clarion State College and Edinboro State College, both in Pennsylvania, and for the priesthood at Pontifical College Josephenum in Columbus, Ohio, and at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach.

Ordained to the priesthood in the Diocese of Venice on May 15, 1987 by Bishop John J. Nevins, Father first served as Parochial Vicar of St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral and then at Sacred Heart Parish in Punta Gorda. He was elevated to Administrator of Sacred Heart Parish in 1995 and Pastor in 1997, a position he held until 2004. It was in 2004 that he was appointed as Pastor of St. Bernard Parish in Holmes Beach. He retired in 2010.

Father Robert had a great love for music and sang in various choirs in his early life. He is survived by his two sisters, Paula Magargee of Pardeeville, Wis., and Lisa Pettican of Johns Island, S.C., as well as nieces and nephews. Father was preceded in death by his parents.

A Mass of Christian Burial is to take place March 28 at The Beloved Disciple Catholic Church, Grove City, Pa. Burial will be in Findley Cemetery, Mercer. In addition, a Memorial Mass will be held on April 12, at 11 a.m., at St. Bernard Parish, 248 S. Harbor Drive, Holmes Beach.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Diocese of Venice Timothy Fund, which promotes vocations to the priesthood, or the American Diabetes Association.

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