Mary Help of Christians Tampa: Giving Until Its Last Breath

Tampa Community Story
(from left to right) Fr. Craig Spence and Br. David Iovacchini, SDBs
(from left to right) Fr. Craig Spence
and Br. David Iovacchini, SDBs
Photo by Ms. Chioma O koye

By Ms. Chioma Okoye, Communications Director, Mary Help of Christians Center

(Tampa, FL – December 21)“I promised that I would give myself to my very last breath for my poor boys”- St. John Bosco (GC1).

The Salesian confreres of the Mary Help of Christians Tampa community take great inspiration from this quote as they strive to answer the question from the 28th General Chapter: “What kind of Salesians for the youth of today?”

The priests and brothers who currently reside at Mary Help of Christians Tampa, including the retired confreres at the St. Philip Residence, are its director, Fr. Franco Pinto, SDB; pastor Fr. Steve Dumais, SDB; Fr. Tom McGahee, SDB; Fr. Tom Gwzodz, SDB; Fr. Dennis Hartigan, SDB; Fr. Joseph Hannon, SDB; Fr. Jay Horan, SDB; Fr. Bill Keane, SDB; Fr. Bruce Craig, SDB; Fr. Richard Crager, SDB; Fr. Raul Acosta, SDB; Fr. Luis Aineto, SDB; Fr. Francis De Sales La, SDB; Fr. Eduardo Chincha, SDB; Fr. Craig Spence, SDB; Br. Dave Iovacchini, SDB; Br. Mike Brinkman, SDB; and Br. George Marquis, SDB.

These Salesians, whether in active ministry or retired, continually minister around the Mary Help campus and beyond. For example, Fr. Raul Acosta, 83 years old, often helps at marriage encounter retreats and conferences for varying Spanish-speaking communities. Fr. Luis Aineto, SDB, 89 years old, celebrates Mass in Spanish each weekend for the predominantly migrant-worker community at Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission in Wimauma, FL. Similarly, many of the priests also serve throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg in celebrating Mass, offering the sacrament of Reconciliation for the local high schools and universities, and chaplaining retreats for people of all ages.

Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School leadership for 2023
Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School
leadership for 2023
Photo by Ms. Chioma Okoye

One specific ministry at Mary Help of Christians Tampa that, by design, ministers to the young and the poor is Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School. Fr. Eduardo Chincha, facilitates and animates campus ministry, which includes his peer ministry class, Friday night oratory, alumni involvement in retreats, and more. Fr. Craig Spence, who joined the community in July, also assists with campus ministry and teaches theology to the senior class while Fr. Joseph Hannon teaches the junior class.

Ten of the 18 Salesians of the community are retired. Recognizing their limitations, they are present to the young according to their capabilities, meaning they often depend on Salesian lay collaborators to help carry out the Salesian mission for the young today. Five of the seven ministries that make up the Mary Help of Christians Center are lay-run ministries: the St. Philip Retirement Residence, Cristo Rey Tampa Salesian High School, Mary Has a Little Farm, Camp Mary Help, and Facilities and Rentals. The laity also play a big role in coordinating the youth and young adult ministry for the parish and overall, center. In these instances, our Salesians accompany and work alongside the lay collaborators to guide the tending of young people's needs. One beautiful example of this is the rotation of Salesians who celebrate the Mass at the beginning of each camp day in the summer. During the homily, they share stories of Don Bosco, put on skits, and share the Word of God while engaging each camper. This not only sets the foundation for Salesian spirituality for the kids but also invites counselors and staff to live out their faith in the charism of Don Bosco.

To ensure that the laity is well-formed in the Salesian mission, the confreres must first ensure that a healthy, effective, and affective community is maintained among themselves. The director, Fr. Franco Pinto, offers ongoing formation through weekly conferences and daily goodnights. The community also regularly evaluates its presence with the young to determine what can be improved. Among the things discussed is the careful following of safeguarding guidelines in the hopes of providing the safest environment for all.

Every choice the confreres make is for the sake of the young people they serve. Though their lives often consist of giving without receiving, “for Salesians, we know that serving and being present to the young is not only for their sake but for our sake too,” remarked Fr. Jay Horan, who just celebrated 50 years as a professed Salesian. He emphasized the reciprocity of helping each other grow in holiness as we work together–the young, the lay collaborators, and the Salesian confreres.

Fr. Franco often echoes this sentiment: that we are “called to help each other grow in holiness in the charism of Don Bosco.” This is also the mission statement for the entire Mary Help of Christians campus and can be seen in all the good work the Salesians have done. Each strives to make the daily effort to be attentive to the needs of the young and the poor, in collaboration with others, to give as the Lord desires.

May Don Bosco and our Blessed Mother, Mary Help of Christians, lead these Salesians as they continue to serve even until their last breath.

December 21, 2023 - 8:00am

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