Impact Report: Caring for our Community

Every day, the Diocese of St. Petersburg goes into the community to serve people in need, regardless of their religious affiliation. In fact, 75% of people served by Catholic Charities are not Catholic. Many parishes in our diocese have outreach programs, such as the St. Vincent de Paul Society, that serve the poor, hurting and suffering and many also support community-based programs. Twelve parishes currently have “twinning” relationships with churches in third world countries, such as the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Cuba, to provide financial and human support. Through our charitable efforts, we have positively impacted the lives of many families and individuals. Below you will find an overview of some of the ways we have a positive impact on life in West Central Florida and Tampa Bay.

COVID-19 Assistance

Catholic Charities has been a leader in meeting the extraordinary needs created by the coronavirus pandemic. In March of 2020, Catholic Charities created an emergency shelter for the homeless during the height of the pandemic. Hillsborough Hope provided shelter during the statewide lockdown as well as food, medical care and social services. Catholic Charities has also distributed over $850,000 in COVID relief funds to families in crisis because of the pandemic and an extra $100,000 for utility assistance.

Within the Catholic hospitals that were started by the Allegany Franciscans and are overseen by the Bishop of our Diocese, healthcare workers have been risking their lives to treat patients who are seriously ill with COVID-19. They also have also provided telehealth sessions for mental wellness, including counseling for pregnant and postnatal women. They have set up and staffed multiple COVID-19 testing sites, made masks for the community and educated the community about safety practices.

Clergy and parish leaders have provided spiritual and charitable support to members of the community. Through prayer, the Sacraments, food and other necessities, the Catholic Church is comforting the afflicted, caring for those who are grieving loved ones, sharing the love of Jesus Christ with the sick and dying and providing hope, education and spiritual strength during one of the most difficult times in our history.

Also, one of our priests, Father Stephan Brown, participated in a COVID-19 vaccine trial to help find a safe and effective vaccine to bring about an end to the pandemic.

Caring for Migrants

In 1992, Bishop John Favalora blessed a new 3,500 square foot worship center dedicated almost entirely to migrant families of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Wimauma, a mission church founded in 1988.

During the 1990s, the Diocese strengthened its Migrant Ministries to meet the needs of migrants moving into the area. Under the leadership of Bishop John Clement Favalora, the Diocese recruited and assigned Spanish-speaking clergy to areas with the highest concentration of migrant families. Four rural churches enhanced migrant ministries: St. Clement (Plant City), St. Rita (Dade City), St. Anne (Ruskin) and Our Lady of Guadalupe (Wimauma). These parishes provided Mass and Bible studies in Spanish, social activities, social service and referral programs.

On October 15, 2003, three hundred people from all walks of life came together to celebrate a successful, decade-long effort to provide safe, affordable and dignified homes for farmworker families in the strawberry fields of Dover/Plant City. The San Jose Mission is a residential community and education/social services campus for migrant farmworker families.  We have 122 apartments that serve nearly 600 people. We partner with community groups and Hillsborough County to provide English classes, clothing, and healthcare and educational opportunities to the families who live there. In 2019, a new multipurpose center opened at San Jose Mission to serve our families better and provide a food pantry/food bank.

Caring for the Elderly

Our commitment to providing affordable housing started with a focus on serving the elderly who were most in need of quality, affordable housing. The majority were widows who were living in squalor in retirement. By partnering with the Federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), we have been able to assist the elderly. The first affordable housing property to be built for seniors located in the five counties of the Diocese of St. Petersburg is called King’s Manor. It was built at Christ the King Parish in Tampa in 1983.

The Diocese started with 99 housing units at one location for the elderly in 1983 and has since grown to over 1,000 units at 14 senior housing properties in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco Counties.

Caring for the Homeless

Temporary shelter for the homeless is provided at Pinellas Hope, which was originally called Tent City. In 2007, the Diocese of St. Petersburg set out to respond to an urgent need to assist the homeless population.  Bishop Robert Lynch began a temporary housing site on 10 acres of diocesan land.  Named “Pinellas Hope,” it quickly grew under his guidance into a comprehensive outreach that provides food, shelter, safety and opportunities to build a dignified life for those most in need in our community. Bishop Lynch once referred to Pinellas Hope as “the miracle on 49th Street” because it was a coming together of the political world (county, city, municipalities) Catholic Charities, as well as Catholic and non-Catholic churches. More than 10,000 homeless men and women have been served at Pinellas Hope since 2007 and more than 1.5 million meals have been provided. Additionally, apartment buildings with 156 efficiency units have opened at Pinellas Hope to assist people transitioning from Homelessness into permanent housing, some of whom are veterans.

On November 18, 2019, Bishop Parkes blessed 20 new Hope Cottages, which increased the capacity for shelter at Pinellas Hope to about 240, which includes tents. Hope Cottages are 20-foot steel shipping containers that have been converted into living quarters that provide safety, warmth and protection. On October 20, 2020, Bishop Gregory Parkes blessed a new medical facility that helps homeless men and women on the road to recovery. The BayCare Medical Respite Program located at Pinellas Hope of Catholic Charities provides housing, medications and other health care services to support patients in need of medical care. 

The Pasco Women’s Shelter, a temporary homeless shelter for women and children, opened in 2013.

Caring for Low-Income Families

Catholic Charities of the Diocese of St. Petersburg operates nine affordable housing properties to serve low-income families on the verge of homelessness. These vulnerable men and women are able to remain off the streets because we are able to provide affordable housing and/or financial assistance for rent. In 2019, added two new affordable housing properties: Bella Vista in Hillsborough County and St. Teresa in Hernando County. In 2020, Bethany Family Apartments, which opened in 2005, converted from housing available exclusively to families with a member who is disabled to affordable housing for the general public.

Caring for People Living with HIV/AIDS

In the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS was epidemic. The Diocese worked with the Federal Government, and Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties to establish housing for individuals with HIV/AIDS as well as mothers and children with HIV/AIDS.

The Christopher House, which started in 1995, was the first house for people living with HIV/AIDS opened by the Diocese of St. Petersburg. Mercy House, which opened in 1996, serves mothers and their children impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Caring for People in Crisis

In 2006, Catholic Charities started the Pathways Direct Aid program that provides direct financial assistance to people facing a crisis, such as a loss of employment or illness. Since that time, more than 2,000 people have received financial assistance for rent, medical bills, electricity, etc. totaling more than $1.6 million dollars. When you include the financial assistance provided by St. Vincent de Paul Society in our parishes, the amount of direct aid provided to people in need since 1968 has exceeded $50 million dollars.

Caring for Refugees

The Diocese has been assisting refugees since its early years. Catholic Charities and local parishes assisted with resettling Vietnamese refugees starting in the mid-1970s. Catholic families and parishes were asked to sponsor families and orphans were adopted through Catholic Charities. Catholic Charities has helped to welcome into our community more than 16,000 refugees. These refugees, who left their countries with no belongings, have received temporary housing, job assistance, language classes and other assimilation services. The refugees have arrived here from countries that have faced ongoing tragedies, such as Bosnia, Cuba and Syria. While Catholic Charities no longer has a Refugee Resettlement Program, in 2021, Catholic Charities partnered with Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services to provide five apartments for Afghan refugees who fled persecution following the withdrawal of U.S. Troops.

Educating Young People

The Diocese of St. Petersburg has a vital role in the development of students in West Central Florida through its network of Catholic Schools and Early Childhood Centers. Our collective mission is to provide a faith-filled community where students are challenged to Courageously Live the Gospel and grow spiritually, academically, and socially.  

Out of the 175 dioceses in the United States, our system of Catholic schools is the 46th largest, providing education to nearly 13,000 students in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Pasco, Hernando, and Citrus counties. The 11 early childhood centers, 27 elementary schools, 2 special-needs schools, and 7 high schools employ 1,300 Catholic educators and professional staff members. Our students’ average standardized test scores are consistently in the top 25% in the nation and our high school students contribute 86,000 hours of service annually to local communities and nonprofit organizations. Most importantly, prayer and the sacraments are a regular part of daily life in every one of our Catholic Schools.

Since 1968, we have had more than 35,000 students graduate from Catholic high schools in the five counties of the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

Helping Families Seeking to Adopt

Adoption Services has served the adoption triad: birth parents, children, and adoptive families since 1964 through a coordinated set of services designed to identify infants and young children who are at risk of abuse, neglect, or abandonment by virtue of their parents not being ready, willing, or capable of parenting them, to find suitable, permanent homes for those children, and to provide supportive services to triad members such as search services for those who mutually desire to reunify with birth parents or adoptees. Currently Adoption Services, Diocese of St. Petersburg serves 4 dioceses across 25 counties.

Caring for Women and Families in Need

The Foundations of Life Pregnancy Center Programs have served the Diocese since 1993 and are dedicated to addressing the needs of individuals facing the challenges of pregnancy and parenting and making positive life choices.  The program reflects the Church’s love for the lives of the unborn as well as for the health, welfare and development of parents and their babies. Foundations of Life, formerly Pregnancy Plus Medical, has grown from one center to 5 centers and currently provides help and hope to over 2,400 clients with almost 7,000 visits each year. Over 10,000 babies have been saved.

Project Rachel, post Abortion Healing program, is dedicated to promoting the healing of the wound of abortion in individuals.

Providing Medical Care

Since 2000, Catholic Charities has provided medical care to people without insurance, many considered the working poor. We operate a medical bus that travels to high-need areas and offer medical care. Catholic Charities also operates three free medical clinics, located in Dade City, Wimauma and Dover. Since 2000, we have served more than 17,000 individuals in need of life-saving care. (info from 2018)

Additionally, there are six Catholic hospitals overseen by the Bishop of our Diocese that were started by the Allegany Franciscans: St. Anthony’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital St. Joseph’s Hospital-North, St. Joseph’s Hospital- South, and St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.  In the Diocese of St. Petersburg, there are also seven Health Care and Medical Centers and 10 homes for the chronically ill. Over 400,000 people are served each year at these centers for health and healing.

Sharing Inspirational Radio

In 1986, Bishop W. Thomas Larkin established WBVM 90.5, a radio station that serves the community with the largest signal allowed by the FCC: 100,000 watts. The station, now known as Spirit FM 90.5, provides hopeful and positive music, inspiring messages, weather alerts, community and event information to people of all faiths. Spirit FM currently reaches approximately 87,000 people each week.

Improving Racial Harmony

The Diocesan Racial Justice Committee sponsored an 8-week online module on Faith and Racial Healing from February-April, 2020. The committee later organized a Holy Hour of prayer led by Bishop Gregory Parkes at the Cathedral of St Jude the Apostle on Sunday, June 7, 2020, to pray for peace, healing and change following the brutal death of George Floyd and the nationwide protests that erupted. Also in 2020, the Racial Justice Committee of the Diocese of St. Petersburg hosted two “Conversations about Race” and a webinar titled, “Why Do They March?” Also, numerous resources have been compiled to help Catholics open wide their hearts to achieve racial harmony.

In September of 2018, the Diocese of St. Petersburg held a listening session and a day-long workshop and a series of civil dialogues to encourage the faithful to share how racism is impacting their lives in the Church and the community.  According to a Tampa Bay Times editorial, “Bishop Gregory L. Parkes is well serving his pastoral mission by trying to foster a greater degree of understanding, respect and dignity across the Bay Area.”

In the late 1990s, the community of St. Joseph Parish in St. Petersburg helped to form CUCA – Congregations United for Community Action. The group marched against illicit drug use and governmental neglect while marching in favor of racial and religious reconciliation. Father Bill Mason, pastor of St. Joseph at the time, was one of the earliest co-leaders of CUCA.

Fostering Priestly Service

For many of the early years, the Catholic Church in Florida relied on missionary priests from the Northeast, Ireland and Spain to administer the Sacraments and minister to people of all ages in need. Since its founding, 132 priests have been ordained to serve the people of God in the Diocese of St. Petersburg and there has been an intentional effort to foster the development of local vocations (number as of 1/2021).