Homegrown bishop grateful for gift of priesthood
Reminding the world each day of “the saving acts of Jesus” is the greatest privilege of the priesthood – and one that Archbishop John Favalora still marvels at 50 years after his ordination.
“What a powerful thing the Lord left us in the priesthood and in the holy Eucharist that the priest makes present for us!” said New Orleans-born Archbishop Favalora, at a Nov. 20 Mass at St. Agnes Church marking his Golden Jubilee as a priest and his 25th year in the episcopacy.
“There is no greater event that has happened in the world than the coming of Jesus, the life of Jesus, for the salvation of the world,” Archbishop Favalora said. “At that Last Supper (Christ) designed it so we might never forget that and always praise the Father for that. He designed it so that human beings would be so bold as to speak in the name of the divine. At Mass, the priest does not say ‘This is Jesus’ body and blood.’ He says, ‘This is my body. This is the cup of my blood.’”
Attended Jesuit High
Raised the only child of Felix and Leona Favalora in the city’s Carrollton neighborhood, Archbishop Favalora, who retired in 2010 after serving 16 years as archbishop of Miami, attended elementary school at Mater Dolorosa and graduated from Jesuit High in 1954. He studied at St. Joseph’s Seminary in St. Benedict, La., Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, and the Pontifical Gregorian University and Pontifical North American College in Rome, before being ordained to the priesthood at St. Peter’s Basilica on Dec. 20, 1961.
Upon his return to New Orleans the following summer, Father Favalora was assigned assistant pastor of St. Theresa the Little Flower Parish and was later appointed secretary to Archbishop John Cody. He became vice-rector of St. John Vianney Preparatory School in 1964, becoming its principal in 1968. After a six-year tenure as pastor of St. Angela Merici, he was named director of the Office of Vocations in 1979, and served as rector/president of Notre Dame Seminary from 1981-86.
He was appointed by Pope John Paul II as the ninth bishop of Alexandria and the third bishop of St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1986 and 1989, respectively. His final appointment was as Miami’s archbishop, a post he held from 1994-2010.
Although he lives most of the year in his adopted home of Miami, Archbishop Favalora returns regularly to the Jefferson home of his late parents, always timing his autumn visit to fulfill a more than 20-year tradition of celebrating St. Agnes’ Thanksgiving Day Mass.
At his Golden Jubilee Mass he recalled how the present St. Agnes Church had not yet been built when he and his parents moved to the parish on New Year’s Day 1950. In later years, his parents would always sit in the church’s third pew.
“This church has been very, very special to me,” Archbishop Favalora said, noting that it was at St. Agnes that he celebrated his first Mass of Thanksgiving as a priest in July 1962. “When you look at those pictures of that first Mass, I assure you, that is me,” he chuckled, noting that his priestly mentors included longtime St. Agnes pastor, Msgr. Arthur Brue, whose chalice Archbishop Favalora used at the Nov. 20 Mass.
A ‘patient’ priest
Shirley Boudreaux, a St. Agnes parishioner, was mildly acquainted with the future priest when the two were in high school and planning Jesuit’s 1953 Sodality dance. But Boudreaux really got to know Archbishop Favalora when she and her husband moved next door to his parents’ Jefferson home in 1959. It was the beginning of an open-door policy between the two households that had the Boudreauxs calling the archbishop’s parents “Aunt Leona” and “Uncle Fel” and sharing meals.
“I walk in my kitchen and there is Archbishop, drying the dishes,” Boudreaux said. “I said, ‘Don’t do that.’ He said, ‘When I’m next door my mother and father won’t let me dry dishes, but I can do it here.”
Boudreaux notes that her friend of more than 50 years also does his own laundry, ironing and floor-scrubbing, and is a talented cook.
“Every Sunday he serves some type of gravy and pasta to his friends, and I get the pasta that’s left over. Tonight we’re gonna eat bruscialoni,” said Boudreaux, adds that Archbishop Favalora has always been a very approachable and patient priest.
“He’s very gentle. He listens. He makes friends. He takes time with children,” she said. “If you need help, he’s there.”
Msgr. Andrew Taormina, Archbishop Favalora’s friend of 58 years and pastor of St. Francis Xavier in Metairie, first heard of his fellow seminarian through his family, whose spaghetti factory supplied pasta products to the Harahan grocery of Felix Favalora.
“He’s always been a very good homilist and theologian,” Msgr. Taormina noted. “Lay people look upon (the Golden Jubilee Mass) as the priest’s personal celebration,but we priests look upon it as a celebration of gratitude that we were very fortunate to be called,” he said.
Archbishop Gregory Aymond, who concelebrated the Nov. 20 Mass, recalls being taught homiletics by Archbishop Favalora as a student at Notre Dame Seminary.
“Not only was he always prepared and taught very well, but he also lived what he taught,” Archbishop Aymond, said. “In many ways he was a mentor and a teacher for me far beyond the classroom.”
Archbishop Aymond said St. Agnes Parish is privileged to have “a homegrown boy” ordained to both the priesthood and the episcopacy.
“It really says a lot about him and his family, but it also says a lot about the Archdiocese of New Orleans – that we have been able, through faith and humility, to provide to the church good shepherds.”