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Feature News | Monday, March 25, 2024

Mary Ross Agosta ends her 'era' in the archdiocese

Longtime communications and Safe Environment director leaving after 37 years

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MIAMI | An era has come to an end: After nearly 37 years of responding to crises, answering press inquiries, overseeing TV Masses and programs, the website, two newspapers and social media, Mary Ross Agosta is leaving her post as communications director for the Archdiocese of Miami.

The woman many call “the face of the archdiocese” is also leaving her contemporaneous position as director of Safe Environment — overseeing the office that conducts background checks and Virtus training for archdiocesan employees and volunteers — a responsibility she has fulfilled for 21 years.

Her last day is April 5, 2024. 

“We are all so sorry to see Mary go, and hopeful that she will be able to stay connected, even remotely for a while longer than her departure time,” said Sister Elizabeth Worley, archdiocesan chancellor for administration and chief financial officer.

Over a career that has spanned 50 years — since her start in television at Miami’s old WCIX-Channel 6 — Ross Agosta has earned respect and accolades from her co-workers, peers throughout the country, reporters in secular media, and archdiocesan bishops, priests and religious. 

Mary Ross Agosta


Mary Ross Agosta

“For Mary Ross Agosta, being communications director means much more than writing press releases, overseeing social media posts, or stemming the fallout from a crisis,” said Ana Rodriguez-Soto, who is retiring this March as editor of the Florida Catholic’s Miami edition and has worked with Mary for most of the past 37 years. “It means using all her energy and creativity to promote activities and events that enhance the image of the Archdiocese of Miami while at the same time helping the community.” 

To prove her point, Rodriguez-Soto cited Ross Agosta’s work during a single year, 2021; work which earned her a first runner-up nod as Communications Director of the Year at the 2022 Catholic Media Association Awards.

The year began with the arrival of the “Angels Unawares” sculpture to Miami

Ross Agosta “immediately got to work planning events that would highlight the connection between the sculpture and Miami’s history as a community of immigrants,” Rodriguez-Soto said, including obtaining permission to place it in Bayfront Park, with Miami’s Freedom Tower prominently in the background. 

“She made sure the media and City of Miami officials were on hand when the sculpture was blessed by Archbishop Wenski. And she worked with our Catholic Legal Services to arrange for a citizenship ceremony to be held right in front of the sculpture in Bayfront Park — again with lots of local media present,” Rodriguez-Soto said. 

Around the same time, after being contacted by Jackson Memorial Hospital, Ross Agosta volunteered herself and her two-person communications staff to reach out to parishes and create lists of elderly, immunocompromised, minority and even undocumented residents who would benefit most from the then-scarce supply of COVID-19 vaccines. 

Between February and April 2021, when the vaccines became widely available, the archdiocese helped over 1,000 people receive their first and second doses through Jackson Memorial Hospital — one of its most successful outreach efforts on COVID, according to Matthew Pinzur, Jackson’s vice president and chief marketing officer. 

In his thank you note, he wrote (emphasis his): “Your team was responsible for vaccinating a HUGE number of people through this program, and that would NOT have been possible without so much hard work on your end. We all really appreciate and value you as a partner.”

That June, immediately after the collapse of the Surfside condominium, Ross Agosta again sprang into action. She literally moved her staff into the offices of nearby St. Joseph Church, some of whose parishioners died in the disaster. Her goal was to free the pastor to comfort the families — and ease his burden with the media — while helping the media cover the tragedy.

“Through Mary’s mediation, the church parking lot became a de facto media lot,” Rodriguez-Soto recalled. “She arranged for local reporters to park their satellite trucks and do their stand-ups on site. She made sure all the reporters who wandered in — from the U.S. and abroad, print, radio and TV — had water and an air-conditioned space, in the school building owned by the parish, where they could file their stories or take a break.” 

Mary also enlisted the help of other local priests and accompanied them as they walked in a rainstorm through a larger media staging area, “bringing spiritual solace to the very reporters whose coverage had immersed them in the tragedy,” Rodriguez-Soto said.

Ross-Agosta would be the first to tell you that she thrives in crisis mode — which makes sense, given that a crisis is what first brought her to the archdiocese. She was working as communications director for St. Thomas University in the summer of 1987 when Miami’s second archbishop, Edward McCarthy, asked her to help with media outreach for the upcoming visit of Pope St. John Paul II in early September. 

The Chicago-based public relations firm that had been hired had not been up to the task. Local media were asking questions and getting no answers. Time was short. Ross Agosta recalls getting locked out of her office one of her first days on the job. But in the end, she helped the media get their stories, and in doing so established a relationship of trust that endures to this day.

Her first phone call after getting the archdiocesan job came from Jim Davis, then a religion reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and now a freelancer for the Florida Catholic. Davis recalled the moment in a letter he wrote in 2020 nominating Ross Agosta for the CMA’s 2021 award as Communications Director of the Year.

“She took a faltering P.R. effort for the upcoming visit of Pope John Paul II and made it a resounding success,” he recalled. “Since then, my admiration for her has only grown. She is respectful of the needs and time constraints of us writers. She also jumps in whenever we writers need it. When I was assigned an obit for a local priest, an official at his parish stonewalled me on getting the info I needed. Mary heard of it and, with one curt call, the barrier fell.” 

But “her greatest asset,” Davis said, “may be that she is known as a straight shooter. Whenever I covered Church scandals as the religion editor for the South Florida Sun Sentinel, she never hid behind ‘No comment.’ Rather, she was a vigorous — but always honest — advocate of the Church even in tough times.” 

2002 was another crisis year where Ross Agosta excelled as communications director. The sexual abuse crisis had exploded nationwide, with local media following up on lawsuits and accusations against archdiocesan priests. The U.S. bishops that summer published what has become known as the Dallas Charter, which resulted in the establishment of Safe Environment offices throughout the country. 

Ross Agosta worked to make the archdiocesan office a reality as well as ensure the archdiocese’s unfailing compliance with the dictates of the Charter every year since.

“I want to thank Mary for all the wonderful years we spent together, some of which were very dark years for the Church and for the archdiocese,” said Miami’s Archbishop emeritus, John C. Favalora, whose tenure lasted from December 1994 to June 2010. “We weathered them well thanks to her good talents and expertise. And she had the gift of making it all look easy for herself and for me. I will miss her good humor, her smile and her friendship.”

A New York City native, Ross Agosta moved to South Florida after a stint as a teacher in a Catholic school there. She recalled getting hired in 1974 at WCIX-6 — now WFOR-4 — as a “gopher,” then being asked, because of her educational background, to produce a children’s program. That’s when she became executive producer of “Duck, Duck, Goose,” work which earned her two local Emmys. She left WCIX in 1984.

In her role as archdiocesan communications director, Ross Agosta also oversaw the production of a local half-hour television program, Catholic Focus, which aired once a month on WFOR-4, along with the English-language television Mass for shut-ins which aired on Channel 10. Catholic Focus won seven consecutive Proclaim Awards from the U.S. bishops’ Catholic Communication Campaign, including several for “best half-hour religious television program.” Ross Agosta still serves as executive producer of the Spanish-language TV Mass which airs on the archdiocesan website and WLTV-23 every Sunday morning.

In 2004, the Suncoast chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted Ross Agosta into its Silver Circle, a recognition of individuals who have devoted 25 years or more to the television industry in South Florida.

In 2014, Ross Agosta also received the President's Medallion, the highest award given by the Catholic Academy of Communications Professionals (now part of the Catholic Media Association). 

Ross Agosta also served her community as council member and then mayor of the Village of Miami Shores, from 1995 to 2001.

“It was my honor and pleasure to serve three archbishops and to work on the media team for the three popes’ U.S. and Cuban visits,” she said. “Through some difficult times, I have been met with very happy and productive times, and I was part of a great team.”

Comments from readers

William VanderWyden - 04/03/2024 05:56 PM
Congratulations, Mary, on your wonderful career of dedication to the People of God in South Florida! We are stronger as Church because of your very competent leadership in communicating to us and clarifying to those in the larger community the message of our local Catholic Community. We commend you and thank you! You have blessed us.
James D Davis - 03/30/2024 08:36 PM
Mary, I have no idea how they’ll replace you. You have ably represented the archdiocese for nearly three decades, but you’ve done far more than that. You’ve also trained and mentored a generation of other Catholic information officers. And you’ve inspired and mustered many others, with your signature blend of savvy and panache. I am grateful and honored for having known you, and I'm sure that many others can say the same.
Kathy Kwok - 03/27/2024 07:24 PM
Mary: You will always be remembered. I love you. Kathy
Larrea Maria Elena OSF - 03/27/2024 06:39 PM
You are going to be missed. Your professionalism, care and dedication to our church goes beyond of expectations. Thank you for teaching us to care for the vulnerable and to protect all of us. Safe journey and blessing. Will miss you!
David M O'Leary - 03/27/2024 06:09 PM
Congratulations and best wishes for a healthy and happy retirement. David M. O'Leary
Belinda Murray - 03/26/2024 04:59 PM
Congratulations and Godspeed!
Lisa Pinto - 03/26/2024 10:29 AM
Mary!!! You have done so much good -- and have been a powerful influence on all of us, your colleagues, as you've found the silver lining in every cloud; made awesome lemonade out of lemons, and helped us to keep on keeping on, seeing and bringing the good in and out of every situation. Your eyes are always on possibilities. We will miss you terribly!
Juan del Sol - 03/25/2024 05:03 PM
I met Mary Ross Agosta in 1987/1988 when I was working for the late (+)Father Jose Pablo Nickse at St. Brendan Church. I recall Father's introduction; The Great Mary Ross Agosta of the Communications Dept. Mary, you have lived up to Father Nickse's introduction. Thank you and God bless you.
Vilma Angulo - 03/25/2024 04:08 PM
Mary, you’ve been our presence, voice, and inspiration in times of celebration as well as during difficulties. Thank you for your faithfulness to our Archdiocese. I will miss you! May God continue to bless you and those you love!
Carlota E. Morales, Ed.D. - 03/25/2024 01:09 PM
Thank you for the many years you served the community of Miami and the Archdiocesan schools. You were an anchor to many of us . Have a great and well deserved retirement, Carlota E. morales, Ed. D. Retired principal
Michael Carruthers - 03/25/2024 08:46 AM
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Michael Carruthers - 03/25/2024 08:45 AM
“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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