Jesuits to withdraw from Florida parish.
This news item came out during the Long Retreat, but I only just got wind of it today. At the end of July, the New Orleans Province Jesuits will withdraw from Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, ending the Society's 115-year association with the historic downtown parish. I've never been to Sacred Heart (indeed, I've never even been to Tampa), but I've heard good things about it, and the pastor was one of my traveling companions on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land five years ago. The Society's imminent departure from Sacred Heart isn't particularly surprising; as the number of Jesuits decreases, many provinces have cut back their involvement in parochial ministry in order to focus their resources on arguably more distinctive Jesuit apostolates in the realms of education and social ministry. Nonetheless, it's sobering to realize just how much the Jesuit presence in Florida has receded over the past few years. The New Orleans Jesuits' decision to withdraw from Sacred Heart follows earlier withdrawals from historically Jesuit St. Ann Church in West Palm Beach, now under diocesan administration, and Gesu Church in Miami, which is now administered by the Jesuits of the Santo Domingo-based Antilles Province, which also runs Belen Jesuit High School and several other institutions in greater Miami. When they pull out of Sacred Heart, the New Orleans Province Jesuits last remaining Florida apostolate will be Tampa's Jesuit High School, which itself faces the challenge of remaining true to its roots as the number of Jesuits on staff shrinks. In recent years, there's been a lot of talk in Jesuit circles about how the Society can focus its apostolic energies to respond to the dramatic increase in the number of Catholics in the Southern states. As Florida's Catholic population - and, for that matter, its population in general - continues the rapid growth of the last few decades, I can only hope that the dwindling of the Jesuit presence in the Sunshine State is merely temporary. At some point in the future, I hope the Society is able to respond to the ministerial challenges that Florida and the rest of the Sunbelt have to offer. This may not mean establishing or leading another Sacred Heart, St. Ann's or Gesu, but it will surely mean responding to the present and future needs of the Church in Florida with the same creativity and energy which the Society brought to these three historic parishes. Even if I'm not a part of these efforts, Jesuits of my generation certainly will be. Though it's sad to see the New Orleans Jesuits end their long association with Sacred Heart Church in Tampa, I'm hopeful that greater things await the Society in the Sunshine State. AMDG.