The Fr. Luis de Cancer Distinguished Priestly Service Award is named in honor of the pioneer Dominican missionary to the New World and to Florida. A native of Spain who entered the Dominican Order, Father de Cancer was inspired like many of his time to come to the New World in an effort to spread Christianity.
He came to the New World in 1518 and worked successfully among the native peoples of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Guatemala. A disciple of the famed Indian protector, Bartomelo Las Casas, Father de Cancer had particular success in Guatemala. His efforts were so successful in an area known for its bellicose natives, that it was renamed the “Province of True Peace.” De Cancer believed that aggression and violence were counter-productive to the spread of the Gospel and that the native peoples needed to be treated with dignity.
Having read of several failed expeditionary attempts to Florida, de Cancer became convinced that a true missionary effort needed to be undertaken. By late 1547 he had received permission to undertake such an expedition. The Santa Maria de la Encina set out from Vera Cruz, Mexico in early 1549 with de Cancer and three other Dominicans bound for Florida. He insisted that it be an unarmed vessel.
Father de Cancer’s high ideals were put to the test as he arrived on the shores of Tampa Bay in May 1549. Undoubtedly marred by previous contacts with Spanish Conquistadors, the native peoples were very suspicious of this latest venture. Despite warnings from the captain, de Cancer pressed onwards and continued to make contact with the natives despite the fact that one of the Dominicans had already disappeared. Just a few days after celebrating a Corpus Christi Mass ashore, Father Luis de Cancer, a remarkable man of peace and Gospel virtue, was martyred on June 26, 1549 by a band of Indians shortly after setting ashore in the sight of his companions.
In honor of this noble, gifted, and dedicated priest, the Diocese of St. Petersburg established the Fr. Luis de Cancer Distinguished Priestly Service Award in honor of the Proto-Martyr of Florida. This award is given annually to a priest serving in the Diocese of St. Petersburg who best exemplifies selfless and dedicated service to the people of God. The recipient for the award is announced at the annual Convocation for Priestly Renewal held at the beginning of October every year.
1998 – Msgr. John McNulty
1999 – Rev. Frank Goodman
2000 – Msgr. John Cippel
2001 – Msgr. James Lara
2002 – Msgr. George Cummings
2003 – Msgr. John Scully
2004 – Msgr. Brendan Muldoon
2005 – Rev. Arthur Proulx
2006 – Msgr. John Neff
2007 – Rev. Michael Muhr
2008 – Msgr. Robert Gibbons
2009 – Rev. Demetrio Lorden
2010 – Msgr. Robert Morris
2011 – Rev. Christopher Fitzgerald, IC
2012 – Rev. Michael O’Brien
2013 – Rev. John Tapp
2013 – Rev. Robert Schneider
2014 – Msgr. Aiden Foynes
2015 – Most Rev. Robert N. Lynch
2016 – Rev. Msgr. Austin Mullen
2017 – Rev. Msgr. Joseph Pellegrino