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'Truly a blessing'

With those words, Bishop Noonan says goodbye to Miami - and the feeling is mutual

Wednesday, December 15, 2010
Ana Rodriguez-Soto - Florida Catholic

ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
Employees prepare greet Bishop Noonan with a revised version of the Mickey Mouse song.


ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
Payback for a prankster: Bishop Noonan wears his Mickey miter during the farewell lunch and roast thrown by Pastoral Center employees.
MIAMI — With two rip-roaring roasts, archdiocesan employees and fellow priests bid a fond, funny farewell to Bishop John Noonan, who will be installed as Orlando’s fifth bishop Dec. 16.

Mickey Mouse dolls abounded at a paella luncheon where Pastoral Center employees heard two of Bishop Noonan’s seminary classmates tell “tales out of school” about the prankster-loving Irishman.

“Disney World is going to be very appropriate, especially with the character of Pinocchio,” said Father Liam Quinn, pastor of All Saints Parish in Sunrise, referring to Bishop Noonan’s facial appendage.


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Bishop Noonan holds up a "symbol" of his new office in Orlando.
Father Quinn said he and Bishop Noonan became “lifetime friends” in the seminary and often traveled together throughout the U.S. and Ireland.

Road Runner would be another appropriate character, Father Quinn said, referring to Bishop Noonan’s tendency to speed. “John Noonan discovered the hover craft before the hover craft was invented,” since whatever car he drove seemed to fly a few feet off the ground.

Father Quinn alluded to the “scathingly brilliant idea” exclamation that runs through the 1966 Rosalind Russell film, “The Trouble with Angels.” He said Bishop Noonan was the classmate with “scathingly brilliant ideas” that would often land him and his classmates in trouble.

His motto should be, “It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission,” Father Quinn said. “How we ever got ordained, I don’t know.”


ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
Payback: Bishop Noonan puts on a gag-miter given to him by his classmate in the seminary, Father Federico Capdepon. Over the years, they have kept track of who was going bald faster, so the miter brings with it a full head of red curly hair - and some to spare.
Another classmate, Father Federico Capdepon, joked that he and Bishop Noonan have had a running contest about who is going bald faster. So Father Capdepon, pastor of St. Martha Parish in Miami Shores, gave Bishop Noonan an appropriate farewell gift: a miter with a full head of curly red hair attached.

To don it, of course, Bishop Noonan had to take off the miter made of Mickey Mouse ears which the Pastoral Center employees had given him — after greeting him with an adulterated version of the Mickey Mouse song that went something like this: B-I-S, H-O-P, N-O-O, N-A-N.

Even Archbishop Thomas Wenski played along, ad libbing during the homily at the Mass that preceded the luncheon that “Orlando is the diocese of Mickey Mouse but it’s no Mickey Mouse diocese.”

“You will also find that Orlando has more than money than we have here,” Archbishop Wenski quipped.

On a more serious note, he added, “You served me well,” even if it was only for the past six months. “I’m grateful to you and to (Auxiliary) Bishop (Felipe) Estevez for your collaboration and your friendship.”


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On behalf of all the religious in the archdiocese, Salesian Sister Yamile Saieh and Ileana Roque, his secretary, give Bishop Noonan the gift of a new coat, since the weather gets so much colder in Orlando than in Miami.
Bishop Estevez was rector of St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary in Boynton Beach when the future Bishop Noonan studied there.

In his remarks at the luncheon, he noted that “the Irish culture has enriched the entire province of Florida in a big, big way. There is no one who exemplifies that legacy better than John Noonan.”

“We send you off with the greatest love and the greatest admiration,” Bishop Estevez said.

Msgr. Seamus Doyle, now pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish in Miami Shores, and Bishop Noonan’s first pastor at St. Elizabeth of Hungary in Pompano Beach, also reminisced a bit about the newly-ordained assistant who became a close friend.

He recalled how Bishop Noonan’s mother, a nurse, had run a home in their native Limerick where mothers came to give birth. Every time he heard a newborn cry out, little John Noonan would leap for joy at the birth of another “baby brother or sister.”


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Bishop Noonan holds up one of the two goodbye cards signed by Pastoral Center employees.
“That’s why John Noonan sees everyone as a brother or sister,” Msgr. Doyle said. He added that, beginning with that first parochial assignment and continuing through today, “John was always available for everybody. He was available for everything.”

The evening roast, held after vespers at St. John Vianney College Seminary, kicked off with a David Letterman-style list of Top 10 reasons why Bishop Noonan was named to Orlando and continued with Bishop Estevez reading a letter from south Florida Catholics begging Bishop Noonan not to go.

Boisterously funny, the roast was written and emceed by Father Jose Alvarez, president of St. Brendan High School and dean of students at the seminary, where Bishop Noonan has lived and served, with a few interruptions, from 1989 until today.

When the laughter ended, the priests bid a tender goodbye to their fun friend, brother priest and beloved bishop.

“John Noonan loved the seminary and loved the archdiocese. He loved us the way an Irish farmer loves his farm,” said Father Robert Vallee, associate professor of philosophy at the seminary for more than a decade. “You make me want to be a better man and you make me want to be a better priest.”

Bishop Noonan turned serious as well.

“The seminary has been my home for 15 years,” he said. “What a wonderful privilege to be allowed to form our future priests. I thank the Lord for that great gift.”

Earlier, at the luncheon, Bishop Noonan picked up on the fact, mentioned by Archbishop Wenski, that the farewell celebrations were taking place Dec. 3, the feast of St. Francis Xavier, one of the founding members of the Jesuit order who went as a missionary to Asia.

As an Irishman, Archbishop Wenski said, Bishop Noonan “knows something of the missionary vocation.”

Bishop Noonan admitted that even as a child he had “a sense (of wanting) to go out into the world and preach the Gospel. I never dreamed I would be in Miami.” But just like St. Francis Xavier, who wanted to go to the Holy Land and ended up in India, “I ended up in Florida and am I happy!”

“You’re like the fabric of my life,” Bishop Noonan told archdiocesan employees, and by extension, the people of the archdiocese. “All of you played an important role in everything I did. It was truly a blessing.”

ANA RODRIGUEZ-SOTO | FC
Bishop Noonan sits between Archbishop Wenski, left, and Bishop Estevez during the roast that followed the vespers service at St. John Vianney College Seminary.

Comments from readers

MSGR. HERB PANTON - 12/16/2010 3:37 PM
Dear Bishop Noonan:

As I write,your installation ceremony/Mass should be in progress in Orlando. Even though I am way down here in exceptionally cool Jamaica, I feel a part of what is happening and I am there in more than spirit. It was really good living in the same house as you and getting to know you and All at St. John Vianney Seminary. Congratulations! any, many Prayerful Wishes for lots and lots of blessing in this challenging new beginning for you!
MARTA VARGAS - 12/16/2010 12:35 PM
BIS - HOP NOO -NAN! And a blessing indeed it has been, as it surely will be to the people of Orlando. You will be missed, as our prayers go with you for a wonderful day today as well as many blessings on your new journey!
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