Longtime Diocesan priest retires

For the past four decades Father Mark Heuberger has served the faithful of Southwest Florida in several different capacities, celebrating the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, administering the sacraments and proclaiming the Word of God to the faithful. Most importantly he has strived to live out his call to holiness as a priest through prayer and being an example for others to follow.

After 43 years as a priest, Father Heuberger is retiring effective June 30, 2024, shortly after reaching his 70th birthday. In that time, Father served at 11 Parishes ranging from Fort Myers and Cape Coral to St. Petersburg, on the faculty at three Catholic high schools, two terms on the faculty of the regional seminary, and appointments on numerous seminary and Diocesan advisory boards.

A dual birthday and retirement celebration took place on June 23 at Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles Parish in Bradenton, where he has served as Pastor for the past 14 years. The celebration began appropriately with Mass and was followed by a reception all with intention of thanking Father Mark for his many years of service to the people of God and to wish him well going forward.

Father Heuberger said that prior to the celebration he was trying to think of the number weddings, baptism and funerals he presided over for just the people who were coming to honor him and couldn’t do it. When reflecting on the full 42 years of his priesthood, the numbers become huge and only reflect a small part of his priestly service.

“I am so grateful to have been able to be a small part of so many lives,” Father Heuberger said. “I am so blessed. Thank you.”

During the reception, Bishop Frank J. Dewane, many Diocesan priests and religious, as well as friends from nearly each of his many assignments, recognized Father Mark for his lifelong achievements as a priest. This included a special proclamation in Father’s honor presented to him by Bradenton Mayor Gene Brown, a longtime parishioner.

“We remember him was he was a Transitional Deacon and began serving at Bishop Verot (Catholic High School in Fort Myers),” said current Verot teacher Mark Latell. “He was such an inspiration then, just as he is today.”

Father Heuberger was born in Shelby, Ohio, but grew up in Bradenton, going to St. Joseph Catholic School from 1960-1968 and then to Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota, graduating in 1972. He went directly into seminary, discerning the priesthood at St. John Vianney College Seminary in Miami and then at St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1980 for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The first six years of his priesthood included working on the faculty at three different Catholic high schools, including Bishop Verot Catholic High School in Fort Myers (1980-1982), and Cardinal Mooney Catholic High School in Sarasota (1984-1986) within the Diocese of Venice. While at these schools, Father Heuberger was assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Cecilia Parish in Fort Myers; Epiphany Parish in Venice; St. Michael the Archangel Parish in Sarasota; and finally at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota, as well as at two Parish in St. Petersburg. He then became the first Diocese of Venice Youth Director (1985-1989)

A founding member of the Presbyterate of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, it was in 1988 when Father Mark became founding Pastor of St. Maximilian Kolbe Parish in Port Charlotte where he served from 1988 to 1994. During this time, Father also earned an additional advanced degree in 1993 from St. Joseph College in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was then assigned a term to serve on the faculty of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary as Dean of Pastoral Formation from 1994-1999. Father then had a brief assignment as Pastor of St. Thomas More Parish in Sarasota (1999-2000), before returning the faculty at the regional seminary from 2000-2003.

Having completed his time in academia, Father Heuberger was appointed as Pastor of St. Andrew Parish in Cape Coral, serving from 2003 to 2010, before finally being appointed to Saints Peter and Paul the Apostle, returning to his roots in Bradenton.

“The timing for retirement is right as I am healthy and will be able to enjoy myself,” Father said.

Founder of St. Jude Parish retires

There was an overwhelming show of love and support for Father Celestino Gutiérrez, founding Pastor of St. Jude Parish in Sarasota, as he celebrated his final public Mass at noon on Feb. 25, 2024, before a crowd that overflowed out into the parking lot.

Father Gutiérrez, who is retiring after nearly 60 years of service to the Church, 17 of those at St. Jude, and 39 within the Diocese of Venice, celebrated his farewell Mass. The large crowd did not deter anyone who wished to offer their gratitude to the man who had served as their spiritual leader for many years.

“I have been blessed by the Holy Spirit to have served the wonderful people of St. Jude for so many years, but it is time for me to step away,” Father Gutiérrez said. “I love you all. You are my family; you are my life.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane said “Father Celestino’s tremendous influence on St. Jude Parish and indeed, the Diocese of Venice, cannot be overstated. His great joy, which he always credits as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is contagious, and has been a bright light in our Catholic community.  Father Celestino’s pastoral guidance for almost 40 years here in the Diocese has brought many closer to Christ, especially those in the Hispanic community. He had a clear passion for service and taught that so much can be learned about faith through the simple act of helping others.”

A native of Bercimuel, Segovia, Spain, Father Gutiérrez, 83, entered seminary at age 12. He was ordained on June 24, 1964, in Madrid, Spain, and shortly after was sent to Guatemala to serve the poor indigenous population during the civil war. It was there that he developed a passion for serving and working with the poor, whom he said taught him so much about faith, hope and joy, especially in the face of terrible persecution.

“It was a tough experience, but the faith of those people helped me grow in my own faith,” Father said. “There I experienced the gift of the Holy Spirit – joy – that has helped me be a better servant to the People of God throughout my life. When I came to Sarasota (in 1985 at St. Martha Parish), I knew I had found a home.”

While at St. Martha, Father Gutiérrez served the growing Hispanic American Catholic community in Sarasota. He celebrated Mass for migrant workers, created a Christmas program for the needy and focused his efforts to ensure the children took part in religious education programs.

The growing Hispanic Catholic community warranted the establishment of a new Parish and St. Jude was formally erected in May 2006. Hundreds of children participate in the religious education program. Each year as many as 100 receive the Sacrament of First Holy Communion and nearly as many teens receive the Sacrament of Confirmation.

A signature event at the Parish has been the Hispanic Festival, which for 19 years has attracted more than 10,000 on the first Saturday in November, in a grand celebration of the cultural heritage of the diverse community. The day includes musical performances and ethnic dancers as well as food from many nations. The proceeds of the Hispanic Festival support the various outreach efforts of the Parish, including a food pantry two days a week and other direct support as needed.

Many expressed their sadness at Father’s retirement, but joy for having been blessed to have him serve as their spiritual leader for so many years.

Maria Sanchez received her First Communion from Father Gutiérrez while he was serving at St. Martha. She was married at St. Jude in 2006, and each of her four children were baptized and received their Sacraments at the Parish.

“This was a sad day, because Father has been part of my life for so long,” Sanchez said after having a photo taken with Father at a post-Mass reception. “He has served this community with all his heart and that is what we will all miss; his big heart, and the joy he brought to the community.”

Father Gutiérrez, who is recovering from a recent illness, said he is not leaving the area or the Parish forever, and will return when he can for special occasions. “I love you all. Thank you for your prayers and support throughout the years. God bless you all!”

Longtime Pastor, former Diocesan Chancellor, retires

After nearly 60 years serving the ministerial priesthood, Father Jerome A. Carosella is retiring.

“Now that I’ll soon be 85, and a little less energetic, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is a bit weak,” said Father Carosella from Our Lady of Mercy Parish on Boca Grande, where he has served since 1988.

Father was the second Chancellor of the Diocese of Venice in Florida, being appointed to the post in 1986 and serving for 17 years. He reflected that the first few years in the position were a blizzard of paperwork as the Diocesan Curia was established and expanded, along with the opening of new Parishes in the growing region.

“It was after things settled down that I asked to be assigned to a Parish,” Father Carosella said, having spent most of his priesthood in one Parish or another. “I said I needed something that’s going to nourish my priesthood. I remarked that if a small Parish becomes available to the extent that I can manage to go back and forth, I would do it.”

It was at that point, in 1988, when he was appointed as Pastor of the newly elevated Our Lady of Mercy Parish, which had been a mission church since 1950. “It was ideal. I would celebrate morning Mass and go to the Chancery four days a week, with weekends free to focus on the Parish.”

Father Carosella was born in Waterbury, Connecticut, and studied at St. Andrew Seminary and St. Bernard Seminary, both in Rochester, New York, before continuing his education at the Pontifical North American College in Rome. He was ordained to the priesthood on Dec. 18, 1963, at St. Peter’s Basilica, for the Diocese of St. Augustine.

His first assignment as a priest was as Parochial Vicar at a Parish in Gainesville while also serving at the Catholic Student Center at the University of Florida. He was then assigned as Parochial Vicar at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota for several years before moving on to St. Jude Parish in St. Petersburg. While there, the Diocese of St. Petersburg was formed, and the Parish was elevated to a Cathedral. In the new Diocese, Father was appointed as Vice Chancellor, a position he held for several years. He was next appointed Pastor of a Parish in Temple Terrace and in 1973 as Pastor of St. Martha Parish in Sarasota.

At St. Martha, Father oversaw the renovation of the church and building of a Parish center, before the construction of nearby Casa Santa Marta senior housing. The Parish adoration chapel is named in his honor.

A member of the Board of Trustees of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., since its founding in 1984, Father said the work done in nearly four decades has been amazing. “We had to build up and organize everything into one cohesive unit. Then we expanded the reach to grow and have a tremendous impact, helping people in need throughout the entire Diocese. Just look at what we have done in Arcadia; with the farmworker housing and other programs there. Really, it has been an amazing journey.”

With his retirement, he also leaves the Board of Trustees of the Diocese Pension Plan. Previously, he was Vicar Forane, and also served on the Presbyteral Council, Liturgical Commission, and several other Diocesan advisory boards.

While at Our Lady of Mercy Parish, Father Carosella oversaw the construction of a new rectory, a preschool, and most recently a Parish Life Center. In addition, he has overseen the recovery of three destructive hurricanes (Charley 2004, Irma 2017, Ian 2022), which impacted not just the Parish, but the closeknit island community.

The small Parish has a very seasonal population, but Father Carosella helped build a strong, active community with many different lay groups doing outreach locally and Diocesan-wide. With the new Parish Life Center, he has also started a popular monthly dinner.

“There are a lot of friends and memories that I leave behind here. But the time is right. It has been a good run at nearly 60 years as a priest and approaching my 85th birthday. Now it is time for someone else to take charge.”

Religious sister retires after 57 years teaching

Sister Maureen G. Carroll, Missionary Sister of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, served her last day as a teacher on May 26, 2023, ending a 57-year career, 34 of those at St. Ann Catholic School in Naples.

Sister Maureen is a very quiet and unassuming woman whose presence and energy is seen in everything she does. Described by many as a an “anchor” at St. Ann, Sister is known as someone who is “a good friend that cares about everyone.”

According to Sister Maureen, her greatest joy has been to lead the children to Jesus through the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist.

Generations of young children, mostly second grade students at St. Ann, were formed in their love for Christ by Sister Maureen performing her duties with gentleness and love.

A presence during the school Masses and on Sundays, serving as a Eucharistic Minister or assisting in various ways throughout the years, Sister Maureen quietly performed her tasks without complaint and guided by Christ.

St. Ann Principal Michael Buskirk expressed sadness over the retirement of Sister Maureen saying that she has been an important part of the school for many decades and replacing her was an impossible task.

“Sister Maureen, we thank you for sharing the gift of your strength and gentleness! May God bless you!” Buskirk said.

In honor of Sister Maureen’s service, the people of St. Ann’s dedicated a pew in her name with her own words on it: “You are all precious in the sight of God and I will carry you all in my heart always.” The pew was decorated with artwork that include a garden and beach scene with images of Sister, students, her cat, and various wildlife.

The pew was presented to Sister Maureen during a retirement reception. Present were current and past students and teachers, grateful parents, as well as several Missionary Sisters. This gathering allowed admirers time to honor Sister ahead of the chaos of the end of another school year.

Born in Ridgewood, New York, Sister Maureen was received as a candidate with the Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in 1960. She took her first profession on June 30, 1962, and Final Profession on Aug. 22, 1967.

Sister earned a degree in elementary education from Cabrini College, in Radnor, Pennsylvania. She taught in Catholic schools, grades 1-4, in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Illinois before 1989, settling in for the next 34 years at St. Ann Catholic School. The rest is history.

In her spare time, Sister Maureen likes to fish, walk the beach, eat chocolate, travel as well as spending time with friends and family.

In noting her retirement, the Missionary Sisters congratulated Sister Maureen on “her faithful, loving service which is true to their charism as Missionary Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus – “Being graced by the Love of Christ, we the Missionary Sisters of the most Sacred Heart are called to respond to His love and to make that love present to everyone.”

“Smile! God Loves You!” Sarasota Pastor of 31 years retires

With a radiant smile and infectious positivity, not to mention his Italian accent, Pallottine Father Fausto Stampiglia retires from St. Martha Parish in Sarasota leaving behind a legacy that is nearly impossible to comprehend.

For the past 31 years, as Pastor of St. Martha, Father Stampiglia – known as Father Fausto to all – served the faithful with all his heart, impacting the lives of countless individuals and families, being there for moments great and small.

Ordained to the priesthood in 1960, now 86, Father Fausto enters retirement comforted by the knowledge that he did the best he could while shining the light of the Lord into the world. A favorite phrase – “Smile, God Loves You!” is on a plaque of his bust on the wall outside the Parish Hall named in his honor, with the rest of the quote saying – “and so do your Parishioners.”

This feeling of love for Father Fausto has been evident throughout his many years and became more prevalent as his retirement approached in recent months.

Comments posted to social media when the official date for Father Fausto’s retirement was made public included: “You will be missed in this role – you have touched so many in our community.”  “You will always have a special place in our hearts. Thanks for everything you’ve done for me and my family.” “Your messages of Christ’s love and infinite ability to forgive us were deeply appreciated!” “Your entire life has been about serving God through us, His children.” “Father Fausto’s legacy is one of great care for generations of students. We pray his retirement be filled with blessed days and good health! Well done, Father Fausto, you have been a good and faithful servant.”

Bishop Frank J. Dewane reflected on the impact of Father by stating: “Father Fausto deserves great recognition and praise for the pastoral work he has accomplished in his years of service with the Diocese of Venice. He has been a blessing to the Diocese of Venice and to St. Martha Parish. Most may only know him as the Pastor of St. Martha, but he contributed in so many other areas. His compassion and love for all is always evident. While he is retiring and his cheerful presence will be missed, the legacy Father Fausto leaves behind will be remembered for generations. Father was a legend in his own time!  I know that he will continue the good work of our Lord in his life going forward in all that he does.”

The humble Italian understands how much people care for him and deeply appreciate his service as Pastor at St. Martha. He recently reflected on his life, from growing up in war-torn Italy where he sought shelter from bombings from the age of five to nine; to his entering religious life at 16 with the Society of Catholic Apostolates (Pallottines); then to his scholarly studies then to assignments teaching first in Italy then in East Harlem, New York, then to Albany, New York. Then he became the expert at starting or reinvigorating Permanent Diaconate Programs at several different Dioceses.

That is what brought Father Fausto to the Diocese of Venice in 1986.

Living at St. Patrick Parish in Sarasota, Father Fausto worked at the Catholic Center and assisted at Parishes in Sarasota while expanding the Permanent Diaconate program and helping to establish the Institute for Catholic Studies and Faith Formation.

As the Diocese expanded and new Parishes were erected, the Pallottines, with Father Fausto as Pastor, were asked to take over St. Martha Parish in downtown Sarasota in 1991. When he arrived at St. Martha, the Parish was in debt, and St. Martha’s school was facing a possible closure.

With Father Fausto’s charm, patience and humble approach to each problem, the Parish soon got out of debt and the school started adding students. Honesty and directness helped during this process as Father Fausto sought donors to support his plans for the future. This included building a new school on property several miles east of the Parish.

While going through that process, Father saw a need and supported the establishment of a new school for students with learning disabilities, the current St. Mary Academy (then known as Dreams Are Free Academy).

Father also supported the Spanish-speaking Catholics in the area, having been assigned to several Spanish-language Parishes in his early priesthood, and helped to establish St. Jude Parish.

Throughout the years at St. Martha, Father helped establish the Vietnamese and Tridentine Rite Masses, and has always been a strong supporter of Catholic Charities, Diocese of Venice, Inc., including St. Martha Early Learning Center for needy pre-school children, and Bethesda House (a outreach for victims of AIDS), which sit across from the Parish Church. He was also active in creating Casa Santa Marta I & II (low-income housing for seniors), as well as a Caritas outreach.

During his service to the Diocese of Venice Father Fausto has also been Vicar Forane (Dean) of the Northern Deanery since 1991, Theologian to the Bishop, Director of the Permanent Diaconate, an ex-officio member of the Presbyteral Council, a member of the College of Consultors, Liturgical Commission, and Diocesan School Board, as well as the Diocesan representative on the Sarasota Memorial Hospital Ethics Committee. He is also a Chaplain of the Knights of Columbus.

At the conclusion of the “Year for Priests,” in 2010, Father Fausto was honored with the Papal Medal of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice (For Church and the Pope) from then-Pope Benedict XVI by Bishop Dewane. The Papal Medal is the highest recognition for a Religious Priest and was presented for his exemplary service and for his dedication to the people of St. Martha Parish and to the Diocese of Venice.

Throughout his service to the Church, Father has been with the faithful at every moment of life, from births to deaths and everywhere in between.

To help smooth his transition from Pastor to retirement, the last official act Father Fausto had as Pastor occurred on May 14, 2022, presiding over the First Holy Communion of the students from St. Martha Catholic School and St. Mary Academy. At his side was his successor, fellow Pallottine Father Jerzy (George) Suszko. In the following few weeks, he was also present as an assisting priest at Confirmation and at Masses for the students at St. Martha and St. Mary before the close of the Academic Year.

Although he often has the energy of people half his age, Father’s retirement comes in his mid-80s, a time when most people would relax. That is not Father’s style.

First on his agenda is a trip to his home in Rome, Italy, to see family and friends for the first time since the start of the pandemic. While in Italy, Father will also visit the superiors of his religious order, Society of Catholic Apostolates (Pallottines).

Upon his return to the U.S., he will vacation at national parks in the American West, something he has done for decades. After that, he will assist at St. Martha whenever he is needed.

“I will be living in Sarasota and remaining at St. Martha,” Father Fausto explained. “I’m going to help. It is part of being a religious priest. The Pallottines are staying here so I will be here. This is my home; my family.”

Longtime head of Deacon student formation retires

For more than half his life, Deacon William Ladroga has committed to service the Catholic Church. During that time, he has served as a teacher and mentor to many who have themselves become Permanent Deacons.

After 42 years as a Permanent Deacon, 23 of those within the Diocese of Venice, Deacon Ladroga has retired as Diocesan Director of Diaconate Student Formation. He leaves that role having assisted in the formation of seven classes of Permanent Deacons, 28 men, including seven of whom were ordained on Aug. 15, 2020, just days before he officially retired. One of his last acts was to submit the names of 13 who are being considered for selection into the Permanent Deacon class of 2025.

“I can look back and see how God has been good to me, his unworthy servant,” Deacon Ladroga said reflecting on his service to the Catholic Church which dates to June 24, 1978, when he was ordained a Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of Worcester, Massachusetts.

An engineer by trade, Deacon Ladroga worked for various corporations assisting in the Minute Man missile program and the Apollo moon mission re-entry vehicle capsule program and took early retirement as a metallurgist for a corporation which made high performance ball and butterfly valves.

That retirement moved Deacon Ladroga, with his wife Lucille, to the Diocese of Venice where he has served at St. Martha Parish in Sarasota. He immediately began assisting in the Diaconate Formation Program while also assisting at St. Martha with adult education, Baptismal preparation, RCIA, marriage preparation, hospital ministry and other work. He also served as a two-term representative of Episcopal Region XIV of the National Association of Diaconate Directors.

Married to Lucille since 1960, the couple had five children, 13, grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The couple’s oldest daughter died in 2020 and their second son will become a Permanent Deacon for the Diocese of Worcester in 2021.

“I have been fortunate to have a loving and understanding wife who has given up her time with me so that I might minister to others,” Deacon Ladroga said, adding how she was involved assisting in diaconate formation programs but has had her own ministries and interests.

“I’ve had a fulfilling and interesting secular career, a blessed diaconate of (42) years, and a relatively healthy life for (82) years – and (23) years in sunny Florida! What more could one ask?” he concluded.

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.

Sister Frances retires leaving advice: ‘Stay close to Jesus’

Susan Laielli – Special to the Florida Catholic

With a smile and her famous Irish twinkle shared with Parishioners of Epiphany Cathedral in Venice for the last 26 years, Sister Frances Lalor, RSM, announces her retirement effective June 30.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, longtime Director of Religious Education at Epiphany Cathedral in Venice, is retiring June 30, 2020.

Sister Frances, 81, professed her vows as a Religious Sister of Mercy (RSM) on September 8, 1957 in Ireland, and completed her studies in Columbia, Missouri in the 1960’s, eventually serving as principal of a Catholic School in Lake Worth, Fla., before coming to Southwest Florida.

“When we first came to America, we had the most beautiful habits made for us in Ireland, but oh boy, were they hot,” laughs Sister Frances. “We had to make lighter weight habits on the hurry.”

Since 1994, Sister has been a leader in Catholic Education working as Epiphany Cathedral’s Director of Religious Education, a position that is extremely crucial with respect to teaching and preparing young minds and hearts for the Sacraments of Confirmation, First Confession and First Holy Communion, as well as overseeing the annual Vacation Bible School and weekly Religious Education classes. She also coordinated the Parish’s RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) Faith Formation classes, which brings new Catholics into the Church. In addition, she served as acting Principal of Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School for several months a few years ago.

Over two-and-a-half decades of teaching in Venice, one can only imagine the impact Sister has had on several generations of growing Catholics. The advice she always offered was to always “stay close to Jesus.”

“Well, I hope I have. You never know for sure if you have made a difference,” said Sister Frances. “In fact, I met a little girl just last Sunday who went through a very difficult time in her life when she was growing up here. Now, a nurse in Texas, she came back to visit. When someone says to you, ‘You saved my life’ – you know…”

With teary eyes, Sister recalls the little girl’s father died by suicide and she spent time working with the family through that rough time, including helping her to get through the Christmas pageant that year.

Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, center, seen in Ireland with her brother Tom, a newly ordained priest, and cousin Sarah Ryan in this photo from 1968. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

Born in County Laois, Ireland, Sister Frances grew up in a “very” Catholic Family, one of seven children, who never missed Mass, and whom as a family prayed the Holy Rosary each night on their knees, as she says, “not in cushy chairs.”

“No matter who came to the door the Rosary didn’t stop. They just walked in and got down on their knees – whether it was a workman, or someone else, because we lived on a farm,” said Sister Frances.

The visitors would finish the Rosary with the family, then work would go on, she recalls.

With a memory of seven Popes in her lifetime, she says if she had to choose a favorite, it would be Pope (St.) John XXIII, who served from 1958-1963.

“I like Pope John XXIII because before he became Pope, he helped the Jews quite a bit, but when he became Pope, he was just natural and human,” said Sister.

Retirement is one of the unavoidable stages in a life well-lived and is bittersweet.

On June 1, 2020, Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School teachers honor retiring Religious Sister of Mercy Frances Lalor, a one-time principal at the Venice school. The longtime Parish Director of Religious Education is retiring on June 30, 2020.

As Epiphany Cathedral Catholic School celebrates 60 years of Premier Education for a Life of Purpose this year, the school recently honored Sister Frances with its 2020 Shining Star Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Epiphany Gala, held in February.

Before the effects of COVID-19 took hold, Sister Frances had big retirement plans to visit a religious order in San Antonio, Texas. But for now, those plans are on hold, so she’ll remain local with a few good meals until the Pandemic subsides.

“A favorite would be eggplant parmigiana with a glass of white wine – not red!” smiles Sister Frances.