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Bishop adds special blessing to open-air Mass


BRADENTON - Bruce I. Campbell said it was as if a guardian angel had led him to the spot.

Mass at DeSoto Memorial
Bishop Frank Dewane sings on Thursday morning at the Mass at the Hernando DeSoto National Memorial in Bradenton.

Maybe Hernando DeSoto felt the same way in 1539.

On Thursday, Campbell, an artist and federal employee from Washington, D.C., said he had been looking in the region for a house to buy for his retirement and was about to take I-75 north to Orlando to catch a flight home. He came to the Hernando DeSoto National Memorial to look around and stumbled upon the end of a Mass being celebrated there by Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice.

For Campbell, a Catholic, it was a miracle. He missed the Mass, of course, but was thrilled to see the bishop and get a look at the gorgeous scenery around the memorial.

"I was on my way back to 75 to get to Orlando to drop off my rental car. This is like divine intervention," he said. "My goal is to move down here."

On a beautiful morning that was not too hot, not too cold, with a strong sea breeze, Dewane marked the 25th anniversary of the diocese and the 1539 De Soto expedition that is thought to have landed in the area.

Mass at DeSoto Memorial
A group of very well-behaved students from St. Joseph Catholic School came to the Mass.

Among the people attending the Mass was a group of seventh- and eighth-graders from St. Joseph Catholic School, several of whom served as altar servers.

Bob Siccone, the principal of St. Joseph, said the students have met the bishop several times before.

"He's very visible, and he comes to our school quite frequently to celebrate the Eucharist with the children and just to talk to them," Siccone said. "We're also celebrating the Year of the Priest. The Holy Father has declared this the Year of the Priest."

The students who came to the Mass represent the highest grades in the school and they respond well to being invited, he added.

"I have a distinct advantage over some of you today," Dewane said at the beginning of his sermon during the Mass. "The scenery. The scenery isn't just out there, and some of you can see it. But the scenery here is also all of you here gathered at this memorial at this monument."

The men who landed on the shore were missionaries and men of faith, the bishop said, and their voyage was no "three-day, two-night pleasure cruise." "They were happy to come ashore, to be on land again," Dewane said.

Dewane gives communion to a student from St. Joseph's at the Mass.

The monument isn't just for the 12 priests who came on DeSoto's expedition, he said. "It's a monument for all the priests in the state of Florida, who have come since that time."

It's fitting to have a celebration, Dewane said, and the priesthood and a priest is a gift to the community of believers. "I ask you in this particular year, pray for the priests," he said. "Support them in their work."

After the Mass, the students were happy with the "field trip" and the Mass.

"It was interesting," said Alexander Callow, 12, a seventh-grader. He said he liked the music and that it was nice being outside with the breeze.

He prefers the bishop for his Masses. "He makes it very lively," Alexander said. "He gives a better Mass."

Alexis Barber, 14, an eighth-grader, liked it, too. "It thought is was really nice," she said, adding that having it outside brought her closer to nature.

Tracy Morris of Bradenton said it was a beautiful event.

"I came to see the children from St. Joe's school and just to take advantage of the bishop coming to this beautiful place that's in our backyard," she said. "I love being outdoors, and I think the bishop coming just makes it even more special. A little extra blessing helps."

Mass at DeSoto Memorial
Dewane, in the green robe, and priests from area parishes leave in the recessional after the Mass ended.

Ri-Ce Roddenberry of Bradenton said her son helped with the Mass.

"I have a son who is an altar server for the bishop," she said. "Whenever a bishop says a Mass, and it's right here in our hometown, that's a special opportunity to come to."

This was a great spot for an outdoor Mass, Roddenberry added.

"I thought it was one of the most peaceful Masses I've ever been to. We had some birds flying around --"

"Like they were on cue," Morris said.

"The environment just added to it," Roddenberry said. "I think they should have an Easter sunrise Mass here."

Campbell, the artist, said he just walked up the path to the memorial and saw the priest who was saying a Mass he attended a couple of days earlier. A real estate agent had told him there was a cross in the area, and he thought that he just had to see it before he left to go back to Washington.

"Isn't this gorgeous?" he asked.


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