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Pastor leaving St. Scholastica

By JIM ROSS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 20, 2000


LECANTO -- The Rev. Tom Morgan, pastor of St. Scholastica Catholic Church for the past eight years, announced this past weekend that he is taking another assignment within the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

The Rev. Tom Morgan, 42, oversaw the fundraising and construction of St. Scholastica's new sanctuary.
Morgan, 42, will become assistant pastor at Espiritu Santo, a Catholic church in Safety Harbor. The priest who holds that position, the Rev. Richard Jankowski, will be Morgan's successor at Scholastica.

The switch becomes effective Sept. 1, Morgan said.

Scholastica parishioners heard the news during Masses on Saturday and Sunday. Morgan, who had been away on a previously scheduled vacation when he learned of his new assignment, returned to Lecanto and personally delivered the message.

"It was very difficult . . . even to look people in the face," Morgan said. He said the task became easier during later Masses, after people had heard the news through the grapevine.

The development did not come as a complete surprise to Morgan. He had asked Bishop Robert Lynch and another top diocesan official to consider shifting him to a lower-stress position, at least for a while.

Morgan has spent the past few years overseeing fundraising and construction for Scholastica's new $1.3-million sanctuary, which was completed earlier this year. Before that building was completed, the congregation had met in the cafeteria at the Central Catholic School of Citrus County.

Both buildings sit on the same campus off County Road 490 (Homosassa Trail) between State Road 44 and Rock Crusher Road.

"I just need some time," Morgan said during a telephone interview Monday. "There comes a time when you need to step back."

Pastors have been known to become sick while overseeing major capital projects, Morgan said, and he was no exception: The stress of building a church has manifested itself in a stomach ailment.

In addition, Morgan has worked eight years without the benefit of a full-time associate priest. Thus, much of the church's administrative duties -- not to mention the flock's spiritual needs -- have fallen on his shoulders.

"There's nothing wrong with taking a step back and assisting a pastor," Morgan said.

Ordained a priest in 1984, Morgan came to St. Scholastica in 1992, taking the reins from the parish's founding pastor, the Rev. James Hoge.

In 1997, Morgan announced that St. Scholastica would begin building a permanent home. The building, which seats 600, was completed earlier this year.

Morgan said he came to love Citrus County and its people. During his tenure, Morgan saw Scholastica's parishioner base grow from 215 families to 900.

Among those parishioners are Ed and Ann Maher, who registered at St. Scholastica 21/2 years ago.

The Mahers, who came to Citrus County from the Chicago suburb of Naperville, were accustomed to worshiping in traditional surroundings. They had their pick of Catholic churches in Citrus. So why choose Scholastica?

"Because of him (Morgan) and the community of people he had built there," Ed Maher said.

"He is a very Christian, spiritual individual," Maher went on to say. "The parish is going to miss him tremendously, because he got it going. But I think he's doing the right thing for him."

Bob and Anne Cowley retired to Citrus County about 15 years ago. They were Scholastica parishioners before Morgan came along.

"He's a great homilist," Bob Cowley said. "He's great with the young children as well as the teenagers. He's really a person that can bring your religion right down to the short strokes of everyday living. He really takes advantage of the holidays, not just the holy days, and really kind of bends his homily around that, and talks about how a person might indeed live a Christian life despite all the vicissitudes."

Perhaps the best way to understand the void Morgan will leave is to consider what happened this past weekend.

Cowley heard that during the Sunday Masses, after word of Morgan's impending departure had spread, parishioners were prepared for the news. But when he was at church on Saturday, the message hit like a ton of bricks.

"There was silence. It was a shock," Cowley said. "It wasn't (only) all the women who were crying, either."

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