In 2012 when the bishop asked me to do him a favor for “a couple months,” I had no idea that what he really meant was “learn all you can from Fr. John and get ready to take over.” In the following seven years, St. Paul became my home and Leesburg my community. A lot has changed in seven years. When I came here, downtown Leesburg was a ghost town by 7:30 p.m. Now there is live music several nights a week and people gather for fun, food and fellowship in the downtown district. St. Paul was a little like that too…not too much happened after 5 p.m. Now on almost every night of the week, something is going on: choir practice, ESL, bible study, youth group, faith formation. At the request of the parish, we began a Saturday daily mass, and we started to look at youth ministry and the school to determine what could be done to enhance those opportunities. We realized that St. Paul Catholic School was the best kept secret in Lake County, and we didn’t want to keep it secret anymore. We began advertising campaigns for both the school and parish, and for the last three years the school has been basically filled. We recognized that a parish is a 24/7 ministry, and so we needed to have coverage for maintenance of the facilities and made some staffing moves to accommodate. The parish had been scrimping and saving for renovations to the church, and in late 2015 it began. We “endured” being in the old church (social hall) for more than a year with plastic chairs and cramped quarters all the while praying for the workers who were building our church. In December 2017, we entered the new church and praised God not only for the birth of His Son, but also the re-birth of St. Paul Catholic Community!
Thanks to all of your efforts, we have increased the outreach of the Food Pantry, and with the help of Fr. Gianni and the Lazarus clinic, we opened a dental office. We continue to grow in our ministries and spiritual life, and for all these things and too many others to mention, I say “Thank You!”
I also have to say goodbye. Bishop Noonan has blessed me with the opportunity to become the pastor of Resurrection Catholic Community in Lakeland and having spent my pastoral year there felt it would be a good fit for both me and the community. I’ve come to know and love the people of St. Paul, and I will always cherish my time here. I’m sad to leave all the wonderful people I have met and ministered to during the past seven years and know that you will always be in my prayers. I hope you, too, will continue to pray for me. I know that you will make Fr. Martin welcome when he “takes the reins” August 1st. You’ll find out more about him next week.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, and may God bless us all!