Reflections On The Passing Of A Well-Known Priest
Monsignor Laurence Higgins died of heart failure Wednesday morning. He was 87. He served the parish he created for nearly 50 years, a term the Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of St. Petersburg Robert Lynch, called "unheard of."
Lynch said Higgins "has been in a sense, the voice of the church in Hillsborough County for almost all of those years. He's been a friend of the addicted, the dispossessed, the lonely, the aged, he's been a profound believer in the value of Catholic education, and gave life and strength and support to an extremely strong Catholic school which to this day is one of the finest in the Diocese of St. Petersburg."
Higgins came from County Derry in Ireland in the 1950's. He came to Florida when there was only one diocese in the state, first serving in St. Augustine and then Miami. When he was sent to Tampa, he was asked to build a parish where a cow pasture stood. All evidence of the livestock is long gone, and the grounds of St. Lawrence Catholic Church include a school that bears its name as well as Higgins Hall.
Father Thomas Morgan attended St. Lawrence Catholic School as a boy and was always in awe of then Pastor Higgins. Morgan's father let on to Higgins that young Thomas was considering the priesthood. Father Morgan said from then on, Higgins encouraged him to pray, and always carved out time in his busy schedule to listen to Morgan, which had a profound effect on Morgan's decision to become a priest.
Bob Best, who describes his work for Higgins as a sort of consultant, said while he had met a lot of people and a lot of celebrities, "I don't know that I've met anybody that has the charisma of Laurence Higgins. No one was ever a stranger for him, he could mingle, he had that Irish background, and I mean this in a very respectful way, he did not worry whether you had money or whether you were poor, he was truly a person of the people."
Still, Higgins counted governors and city leaders among his friends, and will be remembered for his energetic service to the community.
Visitation for Monsignor Higgins is next Monday and Tuesday at St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Tampa from noon to 9 p.m. His funeral mass will be said on August 31 at 11:30 at the church and he will be interred at Garden of Memories Cemetery in Tampa. The public is welcome to all of these services and you can find more details here.