Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins, Founder of St. Lawrence Catholic Church, Dies
Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins, founder and pastor of the St. Lawrence parish in Tampa for 49 years, passed away this morning (Aug. 24) at his rectory home.
TAMPA – Monsignor Laurence E. Higgins, founder and pastor of St. Lawrence Catholic Parish for 49 years, passed away early this morning(Aug. 24) at his parish rectory home. Msgr. Higgins was 87.
Msgr. Higgins served as pastor from 1958 to 2007, the longest tenure of any priest in the St. Petersburg Diocese. In June 2007, he retired as pastor while remaining as pastor emeritus and continuing his initiatives on behalf of the poor.
Details regarding the funeral, which will be held next week, will be announced shortly.
Born Sept. 3, 1928, in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland, to government administrator John Higgins and homemaker Philomena, Msgr. Higgins was the third-oldest of eight children (Eoin, Mary, Ruaidhri, Philomena, Maeve, Anne, and Margaret).
Msgr. Higgins was ordained a Catholic priest on June 21, 1953 at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, Ireland. Soon thereafter he was sent to the U.S. and assigned to the Florida Diocese of St. Augustine. He worked in Miami at Holy Family, Corpus Christi, and St. Mary’s Parishes before being transferred to the mission territory of the Tampa Bay area in 1958. Upon his arrival in Tampa, Archbishop Joseph Hurley gave Msgr. Higgins 20 acres of cow pasture at Hillsborough and Himes avenues along with a mandate: “Build a parish.”
The Parish was canonically established in 1959 with masses celebrated in barracks in Drew Park, in the auditorium at Hillsborough High School, in the chapel at Jesuit High School, and at the Wellswood Civic Center until the provisional church building was completed in 1961. As the Parish eventually grew to include 2,200 families, finances enabled the permanent church to be constructed and dedicated April 5,1981.
Over the years, Msgr. Higgins played a role in starting three more Catholic parishes in Tampa: Epiphany, Incarnation, and St. Paul. While still at St. Lawrence he served as interim pastor at St. Peter Claver from 1971-73 when then-President Jimmy Carter also appointed him to the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights for southern states.
As a priest Msgr. Higgins was appointed the Vicar General (second in command) of the Diocese of St. Petersburg from 1980-90 under the late Bishop Thomas Larkin. Previously he had served in the roles of Consultor (adviser) to the bishop and Vicar Fornane (supervisor of the clergy). In 1983 Pope John Paul II gave him the title of “Monsignor Prelate of Honor” and subsequently in 1988 “Protonotary Apostolic,” the highest rank of Monsignor. Msgr. Higgins has served as chaplain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rowdies and was frequently sought by Tampa Bay area media outlets to comment on controversial and church-related issues.
Msgr. Higgins gained a reputation as a good Samaritan and became a constant presence at civic and athletic events. His contributions to the community include serving on the board directors of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute Foundation, Judeo Christian Health Clinic, “Higgins Alcohol and Addiction Program” at USF’s Institute for Research in Psychiatry, Florida Treatment Center, Project Return, Gold Shield Foundation, MOSI, Crisis Center of Hillsborough County, Boys and Girls Clubs, Tampa and West Tampa Chambers of Commerce, Ybor City Development Corporation, the Outback Bowl, and many others.
He founded the Raphael Foundation in 1997 which supports programs for the disadvantaged such as MacDonald Training Center, Meals on Wheels, Judeo Christian Health Clinic, Abe Brown Ministries, and Trinity Cafe. He also established “Housing by St. Laurence,” which is dedicated to helping first-time home buyers and low-income families, and San Lorenzo Terrace I and II, a HUD project of retirement apartments for low-income seniors.
A celebrated member of the Tampa Bay community, Msgr. Higgins received numerous honors including the “Outstanding Service” Award from the Cuban Civic Club in 1974, the Sertoma Club “Service to Mankind” Award in 1986, the “Citizen of the Year” Award from the Tampa Civitans Club in 1994, the “Ethics” Award from the University of Tampa in 2000, the “Gonzmart Family Ambassador” Award from the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2004, the Jewish National Fund Tree of Life “Lifetime Achievement” Award in 2011, and the Tampa Bay Lightning “Community Hero” Award in 2016. He received an honorary law degree from Ave Maria School of Law in 2013.
Photos courtesy of St. Lawrence Catholic Church and monsignorlaurencehiggins.org.
Msgr. Laurence Higgins | St. Lawrence Catholic Church | Obituraries | TB Reporter
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