Thursday, June 15, 2017
Ana Rodriguez Soto - Florida Catholic newspaper
MIAMI | Running into Blessed Sacrament Church one evening to catch the last Mass of the weekend, Susan Schulz met Father John McLaughlin. He assured her she wasn’t late. And where are you from? he asked.
They got to talking. She remembers thinking, “I really like this guy. This is a really cool priest. And two weeks later I was signing up at the parish.”
Schulz, who at the time worked for the city of Oakland Park, wound up volunteering for Father McLaughlin for the next 24 years, mostly doing secretarial chores and helping him plan events for the archdiocese’s retired priests. After he underwent open heart surgery, he asked her to be his health care surrogate.
“He said, ‘I need someone I can trust.’ And I said, ‘You got it’,” recalled Schulz. “I’m his friend and then his health care surrogate, but mainly I’m his friend.”
Father McLaughlin, 79, died June 14 after several years of declining health. He had been a priest of the Archdiocese of Miami for 51 years, during which he served as pastor at two parishes — St. Martha in Miami Shores and Blessed Sacrament in Oakland Park. At St. Martha, he was privileged to welcome the visits of two eventual saints: Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II.
Schulz described Father McLaughlin as a “gentle, humble man” who loved having fun and interacting with people. “He knew how to touch your heart and relate to what was going on in your life; and letting you know how much God loved you and that we are people of hope. Hope was his big word. We always have hope.”
She recalled his way of introducing himself to strangers.
“When he didn’t know somebody he would walk up to them and that’s how he always would start a conversation: Where are you from? We got some very strange answers sometimes but it broke the ice all the time,” Schulz said. “Can you imagine how busy that man is in heaven right now? How many people he is going to meet and ask, where are you from? He’s going to be a very busy priest in heaven.”
An only child, Father McLaughlin was born Jan. 9, 1938, in Quincy, Mass., to Irish-born John and Boston-born Helen McLaughlin. A year later, the family moved to West Palm Beach, where he attended Holy Name Church and St. Ann elementary and high school. After high school, he entered St. Thomas Seminary in Bloomfield, Conn. He completed his seminary education at St. John’s Seminary in Boston and was ordained for the Archdiocese of Miami May 14, 1966 at St. Mary Cathedral.
His first assignment was as parochial vicar at Immaculate Conception, Hialeah, followed by stints at St. Monica in Opa-Locka, Annunciation in West Hollywood, and Nativity in Hollywood. During those years, he also served as spiritual director at Msgr. Edward Pace High School, Miami Gardens, and Madonna Academy (since merged with Chaminade High School) in West Hollywood.
In 1973, he was appointed assistant supervising principal at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. Two years later, he became principal of Mary Immaculate High School in Key West (now closed), and parochial vicar at the now Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea.
He then served as parochial vicar at St. Patrick, Miami Beach, until July 1978, when he was named pastor of St. Martha. At the time, the church was housed in the converted Bikini Motel, on the 114th block of Biscayne Boulevard.
Father McLaughlin oversaw the construction of the new St. Martha about 20 blocks south, next door to the archdiocesan Pastoral Center. Both were dedicated in April 1983.
Mother Teresa quietly visited the church in 1986. A year later, on Sept. 10, 1987, St. Martha hosted Pope John Paul II’s meeting with the nation’s priests, part of his two-day stop in Miami.
Father McLaughlin remained at St. Martha until June 1993, when he was named pastor of Blessed Sacrament. He served there 10 years, until retiring from fulltime ministry in July 2003.
‘A floating church’
That’s when he took up two volunteer ministries that brought him much joy. One was serving as a chaplain on cruise ships, which he described as “almost like a church at sea, a floating church with a pastor.”
His duties included celebrating Mass and being available for the Catholic passengers and crew. He told the Florida Catholic in 2013 that he would tell them: “If you have been away from church a long time and you want to talk I will be sitting on the deck… A lot of people haven’t been to confession in a long time and I tell them you will never see me again. They can achieve something there that they maybe wouldn’t at home.”
When on land, Father McLaughlin volunteered for the less glamorous but equally important ministry to seafarers at Port Everglades, tending to the spiritual and sometimes physical needs of those who work on the cruise and cargo ships.
The other ministry he was passionate about was the ministry to retired priests.
“There’s nothing worse than for a retired priest to feel alone,” Father McLaughlin told the Florida Catholic in 2005. “He needs to feel that we care about him.”
With Schulz’s help, he rounded-up their names and contact information and strived to stay in touch.
“He fully believed in the fraternity of the priesthood,” said Schulz, noting that many priests, when they retire, “are forgotten.” The ministry organized luncheons to bring them together, “and they’d chit-chat, priest to priest. He always cherished that.”
The viewing for Father McLaughlin will take place Monday, June 19, from 5 to 8 p.m., with a 7 p.m. prayer service, at St. Gabriel Church, 731 North Ocean Blvd., Pompano Beach.
The funeral Mass will be celebrated Tuesday, June 20, at 10 a.m. at St. Martha, 9221 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. Burial will follow at Our Lady Queen of Heaven Cemetery in North Lauderdale.
Father McLaughlin is survived by cousins living in the Boston area and in Donegal, Ireland.
Father McLaughlin asked that donations in his name be made to the Archdiocesan Seminary Burse Fund for the education of future priests. Donations may be mailed to St. Gabriel Catholic Church, 731 North Ocean Boulevard, Pompano Beach, FL 33062.