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St. Paul's diplomat

Art at St. Timothy Church, Miami

MIAMI | St. Paul was a bold evangelist, theologian and church founder. But when friction arose in the infant churches, his go-to man was St. Timothy.

A member of Greco-Roman society but a firm Christian, Timothy became Paul’s colleague. He first accompanied Paul on missionary journeys, then went as his representative, then became a bishop in his own right – leading to martyrdom.

A native of Lystra, in Asia Minor, Timothy seemed groomed from birth to move between the Jewish world in which Christianity was born and the gentile world in which it was spreading. His father was a pagan, but his mother, Eunice, was a Jew who had accepted Jesus. It was likely her influence, and that of Timothy’s grandmother Lois, who shaped his early faith.

The results impressed Paul on his second visit to Lystra, and he took Timothy as an assistant. Along with Silas, a gentile convert, Timothy accompanied Paul to churches in places like Corinth, Philippi, Ephesus and Thessalonica – several namesakes of New Testament books.

Timothy’s people skills emerged in helping resolve church matters and urging members to keep the faith. Paul wrote glowingly letters of introduction for him.

“Our brother and God’s servant in the gospel of Christ,” he called Timothy when sending him to Thessalonica.

“I have no one like him, who will be genuinely anxious for your welfare,” Paul told the Philippians.

Paul and Timothy, however, were closer than teacher and student. Timothy was evidently a confidant, and Paul told the Corinthians he was “my beloved and fair child.”

In a letter to Timothy himself, Paul even advised him to drink a little wine “for the good of your stomach and your frequent illnesses.”

Paul also counseled Timothy to stand his ground when criticized by older people: “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” Church teachers still quote that verse to inspire younger members.

Paul’s last letter to his disciple, written from prison, was a gentle farewell, and perhaps a bit of advice to all believers: “I have fought the good fight; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Timothy had ample opportunity to follow his mentor’s guidance. He lived about three decades after Paul’s martyrdom, serving for 15 years as the first bishop of Ephesus. He and St. John are said to witnessed Mary’s Assumption into heaven.

As bishop of Ephesus, however, he set aside diplomacy during the sexually licentious Katagogian festival. A legend says he scolded Christians from taking part in a festival procession, drawing outrage from its pagan revelers. They beat Timothy and dragged him through the streets, then killed him either by clubbing or stoning him.

Because of Paul’s health advice, St. Timothy is the patron saint of stomach and intestinal disorders. His feast day is Jan. 26.

The Miami church named for him, thankfully, got a better reception when it was founded in November 1960. A local high school auditorium hosted the first Mass by Father Thomas O’Donovan, pastor of neighboring St. Brendan Church.

As St. Timothy parish grew, the members obtained a World War II-era barracks from the University of Miami, gutting and renovating it themselves. They also cleared away acres of trash, concrete and rusty wires from their land – and cut down grass that stood up to eight feet tall.

The neighborhood, though, welcomed the new parish in tangible ways. A grocery store donated the shelves, altar rail and showcases for the church gift shop. A fixture shop donated not only materials for the altar and a platform, but provided a crew to build it.

In other donations, a hotel donated a gold rug for the altar, and a Jewish neighbor provided blueprints for the confessionals.

Since summer 2019, the church has been pastored by Father Carlos E. Vega. The 6,549 members run various ministries for the needy, through group like Legati Christi, Feed the Heart and the St. Vincent De Paul Society.

St. Timothy School opened in 1961 with 195 students from first to fourth grade. A new home was built in 1962, with the church on the first floor and the school on the second.

The school won full accreditation in 1974. Today it has about 550 students.