“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.

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