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.

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