Born in West Palm Beach in 1950, Archbishop Thomas Wenski is truly a missionary priest in his own backyard.
After attending St. John Vianney Minor Seminary in Miami, St. Vincent de Paul Major Seminary in Boynton Beach, and serving as Bishop of Orlando, Wenski continued his spiritual leadership and service in Florida in 2010 when Pope Benedict XVI appointed him fourth Archbishop of Miami.
Having chosen the episcopal motto “Omnia Omnibus” which means “all things to all men,” Wenski demonstrates a clear appreciation for the diversity of South Florida.
“I thought that this quote from St. Paul in many ways illuminated my own path in my priestly ministry. Over the years I have worked with various ethnic and language groups — Hispanics, African Americans, Haitians, etc. I learned their languages, ate their food, listened to their music, to be ‘all things’ to all,” Wenski said.
Having been born and raised in Florida, Wenski has recognized that there is something special and unique about the Miami community.
“Miami has been called the ‘City of the Future.’ Our diversity of cultures, races, and languages is a harbinger of where our nation is headed,” Wenski said. “In other words, [Miami’s] ‘today’ is America’s ‘future.’”
The archbishop noted that although community of Orlando also exhibited some diversity, he was still able to see differences between Orlando and Miami.
“Facetiously, I could say that Orlando diocese has a whole lot more of back country roads perfect for riding a motorcycle,” said Wenski, who owns a Harley. “Orlando, like Miami, has a growing Hispanic and Haitian population — and, like Miami, it has lots of tourists. But, in many ways, the communities are very similar, though Orlando is a bit smaller.”
In his final column for the Orlando edition of the Florida Catholic newspaper, Wenski wrote, “I am told that South Florida has its challenges.”
He said that he not only already has faced those challenges, but has also witnessed the Miami community overcome them.
“When I arrived in Miami, the community was still reeling from effects of the ‘great recession’ and, of course, the Archdiocese was not unaffected,” Wenski said. “Nevertheless, in three years the Archdiocese, together with its parishes, has paid off more than $90 million in debt. This represents a significant turnaround.”
Although monetary contributions were a great achievement, the archbishop believes that the greatest and most rewarding experience has been immaterial.
“In Church life, it’s not about the money; it’s about the mission. At my installation as Archbishop in June 2010, I said that we have ‘to start afresh from Christ’ and I believe we’ve done that,” Wenski said. “One of the most rewarding things of the past three years has been the increase in number of young men studying for the priesthood. There are currently 60 men studying to be priests for South Florida — double from three years ago!”
Wenski has written that what is needed is “Christians with a backbone.”In a world that is continuously growing in its challenges and secularization, he hopes that youth of Miami will stay committed to the morals of their community.
“In a secularized world, no one can just be carried along in the practice of their faith. It has to be a personal decision, a personal commitment. In a world whose values are in contrast with values of religious faith and morals, there will inevitably be a ‘cost’ to be paid for discipleship. Without a backbone people will not pay the cost but will just drift away or conform themselves to the conventional culture.”
Wenski believes that Miami youth not only need to personally reflect, but also need to strengthen their ties to each other, strengthening the future of Miami by reinforcing the community.
“Young people have ideals and aspirations for the future, which they should not sell short. Don’t settle for mediocrity, but strive for excellence, even in building of a better future, a better world,” Wenski said.
Carolina Wilson, a native of Miami, is studying at the University of Notre Dame where she is the rising senior class president. She aspires to attend a journalism graduate program after graduation. She may be contacted by addressing email to firstname.lastname@example.org