Recently, I sat down with Archbishop Thomas Wenski to discuss the 60th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Miami — and its future.
I learned the Archdiocese is alive and well, “and growing,” Wenski said, who expects people to keep moving to South Florida from throughout the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America. “Already, Florida is the third largest state in the union, and we keep growing … and so will the Archdiocese.”
Wenski, with his gentle manner, is one of he most beloved men in South Florida. Born in West Palm Beach, he is the son of a Polish father and an American mother. He is Archdiocese of Miami’s fourth archbishop, having served since 2010. Before becoming the archbishop, Wenski served as an auxiliary bishop for six years. In 2003, he went to Central Florida as the Bishop of Orlando.
Until 1958, there was only one diocese in Florida, in St. Augustine, serving the entire state. South Florida at the time, was largely a tourist area. But in little less than a year, on New Year’s Eve in 1958, everything changed with the Cuban Revolution and the newly established communist regime. Cuban immigrants flooded Florida’s shores by the thousands seeking freedom. Many of the new arrivals were unaccompanied children. Miami became ground zero for the new immigrants. And the new Miami Diocese became their guardian angel.
It was under the direction of the diocese’s first archbishop, Coleman F. Carroll, that Catholic Charities (led by Monsignor Bryan Walsh) helped care for and place more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children. Most of the children who were part of Operation Pedro Pan were later reunited with their parents.
Fernando Figueredo, Ph.D., was one of those Pedro Pan children. Now the executive director for Career and Talent Development at Florida international University, he was 10 when he arrived in the United States, spending a year in an orphanage in Philadelphia.
As the number of Cuban immigrants increased, the number of local Catholics grew, and in 1968 the Diocese of Miami was elevated to the rank of archdiocese (serving eight counties with 85 parishes, 10 missions and 164 diocesan priests), and two new dioceses were created in Florida — Orlando and St. Petersburg.
By 1983, when the Archdiocese of Miami celebrated its 25th anniversary, the eight-county archdiocese included more 896,000 Catholics and was the fastest growing archdiocese in the nation.
Fast forward to 2018, and the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Miami Diocese and the 50th anniversary of the Archdiocese of Miami.
What’s in store for the Archdiocese of Miami’s future? Wenski said that while some government decisions have affected the archdiocese, such as the end of the “wet foot-dry foot” policy, “we will continue to grow,” he said.
“During the ‘wet foot-dry foot’ era, we processed 20,000 Cubans a year,” Wenski said. “So far, only 3,000 were processed this year.”
Wenski said that despite an anti-immigrant era during the 1980s, Miamians “have learned that immigration doesn’t threaten us.
“Miami is still the city of the future. Here, we don’t see immigrants as a threat, and we are a good argument as to why we should not roll up the welcome mat. We’ve proved that we can live together. Immigrants become very American. They bring with them a new energy.”
Wenski said the Miami Archdiocese is trying to recruit new priests. “We want good quality candidates. We have about 57 men now studying for the priesthood. Our goal is to attract good men, and train them well.”
Wenski said he also wants to bring people in their 20s and 30s to the church. “We want to make sure we learn how to speak their language, so we are reaching out to them.”
In the past five years, the archdiocese has built several new churches, Notre Dame of Haiti in Little Haiti, and Our Lady of Guadalupe in Doral. “And we are looking at other areas to build,” Wenski said. Naranja, for example, has a lot of outreach going on.
Wenski is truly a “people’s priest.” He learned Spanish to communicate with the Cubans and Creole to communicate with the Haitians.
“We don’t help people because they are Catholic,” Wenski said. “We help people because we are Catholic. In the ‘60s, we welcomed Cubans; the Haitians in the ‘80s; the Colombians in the ‘90s, and now the Venezuelans are coming. We celebrate Mass in a dozen languages each week, plus we celebrate Mass in sign language, too,” he said.
“Basically, we will do what we have been doing for the past 60 years,” Wenski said. “We will continue to announce the Gospel. A world without God is a world without hope or a future. The role of the church is to witness the hope. We have to invite people to know that because God matters, they matter. ”
Temple Israel’s new rabbi
Temple Israel of Greater Miami will welcome a new senior rabbi on June 1. She is Rabbi Amy L. Morrison, who since 2011 has served as a rabbi at Temple Beth Sholom in Miami Beach.
Morrison is a native of East Lansing, Michigan, and has a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan; a master’s degree in Hebrew Letters; and was ordained in 2008 at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.
She is well known in South Florida for her outreach to Miami’s diverse, multigenerational community. She is especially known for her youth, young adult and LGBTQ programming, and her special focus on older-adult enrichment.
Prior to coming to Miami Morrison served two years as rabbi at San Francisco Jewish Home for the Aged, as well as serving many years as dean of Jewish Life at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, North Carolina.
Lighthouse dedicates playground
The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired, at 601 SW Eighth Ave., recently dedicated the new Charles J. and Olga Nielson Family Playground.
The new playground will provide a creative and safe outdoor environment for MIami Lighthouse Learning Center for Children, where enrollment in three years has quadrupled from 15 students to 60 in the upcoming academic year.