Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center is a monastery and retreat house belonging the Congregation of the Passion (C.P.) The Congregation of the Passion, or Passionists, are a religious congregation of the Catholic Church founded by St Paul of the Cross in 1725. The mission of the Passionists is to preserve and make present the message that Jesus loves us, and his passion, death, and resurrection are the ultimate sign of that love. The Passionists do this by preaching in the community, and inviting members of the community to make a retreat at their monasteries and retreat homes.
Fr. Junesh Vakapadath Xavier, C.P. was born in Cochin, India, on 30th April 1982. He was the youngest of two sons born to the late Mr. VK Xavier and Mrs. Laila Xavier. In 1997, having completed 10th grade, he joined the Passionists. He knew the Passionists from his childhood because he lived in the same neighborhood. Since his childhood, he had acquaintances in the Passionist Community, and was inspired by the foreign Passionists who had come to work in the Passionist foundation in India.
Following his novitiate and profession of temporary vows in 2005, he completed his graduation in theological studies in Bangalore under Pontifical Salesian University and a Master’s degree in Christian Studies in Bangalore under Madras University. This was followed by a mission experience in the diocese of Bhagalpur, which is a mission diocese in Jharkhand, one of the poorer states of India. He values that experience as truly inspiring and humbling.
Fr. Junesh professed his final vows in 2009. He carried on his diaconate ministry in the diocese of Neyyatinkara, which is a mission diocese in Kerala. On 27th of April, 2010, he was ordained to the priesthood.
His first assignment was as Associate Pastor and Vocation Promoter in the Passionist Church of Our Lady of Velankanny, Palliport. From the first year of his priesthood, he also was engaged in mission preaching, campus ministry workshops and seminars, and preaching retreats for religious and seminarians. Before joining Our Lady of Florida, he was part of the Retreat Staff at St. Paul of the Cross Passionist Retreat Center in Pittsburgh, PA.
Rev. Melvin A. Shorter, C.P. Associate Director: is the first of two children of the late Edith and Melvin Shorter. He was educated in the public school system of Baltimore Maryland, graduating from Baltimore City College. He attended Coppin State College where he majored in Secondary Education. Upon graduation, he was employed by the Social Security Administration in Baltimore as a Career Development Specialist and later as a Personnel Relations specialist. He worked for the Administration until 1981 when he entered the Passonist Novitiate in Pittsburgh, PA.
In 1982 he took first vows as a Passonist and entered Catholic Theological Union earning a Masters of divinity with an emphasis on Word and Worship. Upon graduation, he was ordained in New York. His first ministry, Pittsburgh, PA, was Itinerate Preaching in Western PA.
After one year in Pittsburgh, he was asked to join four other Passonist to establish a Passonist presence in Greenville, N.C. He ministered in St. Gabriel’s parish. Also, while in North Carolina he continued doing Itinerate Preaching. In 1989, He joined the parish staff of St. Paul of the Cross Parish in Atlanta, GA and became pastor in 1990.
While in Atlanta, Fr. Melvin was elected to the Provincial Council as Consultor. He ministered in both ministries until 2004 at which time he was asked to join two other Passonist in a experimental project in Harlem, New York. In 2008, he joined the Passonist media ministry while continuing with Itinerate Preaching until 2010 when he was asked to join the Parish Staff at St. Joseph Parish in Paris France. St. Joseph’s parish is the only all English-speaking parish in all of France. The parish ministers to over forty different nations.
While in Paris, Fr. Melvin served on a commission that remembered the 9/11 tragedies on the commemoration of its tenth anniversary. He also served on a commission that celebrated the 200th Anniversary of the use of English in worship services in France. He also ministered with an ecumenical commission in Paris. This group met regularly in support of the many faiths that celebrated worship in English.
He served as one of several chefs who weekly provided a three-course, sit down, served lunch for the hungry. While in the Parish, he conducted Bible Study Groups, prepared families for Baptism and was chaplain to a group of Missionary Sisters of Charity.
Fr. Melvin is now assigned to Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center in North Palm Beach where he will continue his Itinerate Preaching and assisting on the Retreats as needed. He enjoys travelling, reading, films, theater and cooking.
Brother Edward Hall, C.P. Associate Director : I am from Springfield, Massachusetts and entered the Passionist Congregation in 1962. Over the years I have served in many different positions. For twenty-five years I worked parish ministry as Director of Religious Education and Pastoral Associate in rural, inner city and at the University of Connecticut at Storrs parishes.
I have my undergraduate degree in nutritional biochemistry, graduate degree in business management and organizational behavior, and Doctorate in Ministry with a focus on applied theology. I also have a diploma from Harvard Law School where I spent a year studying mediation and negotiation.
With the Passionist leaving the parish in Baltimore, Md, where I worked in a homeless shelter and also Community Mediation of Baltimore, Fr. Paul invited me to join the community at Our Lady of Florida Spiritual Center.
Brother Augustine Paul Lowe, C.P. “ Brother Gus”: The third time is a charm! Being back at Our Lady of Florida for the third time brings back many memories of the early 70’s and late 80’s of the Retreat Center in North Palm Beach when I was previously assigned here. First of all, the area has grown so much since I was last assigned here and you can’t stop progress. Secondly, the grounds and buildings have never looked more beautiful than they do now.
The programs that are offered to people are varied with present day themes. The wonderful staff of the Passionists and lay staff are visual signs of the Church and that it is fully alive. I am very proud of the senior fathers in how they give and serve the retreatants for each of the programs. Being a Passionist is to pray, serve and help those in need. It is a joy to be here again.
I pray that if I met you when I was previously assigned here and you are still making retreats that you make an effort to find me and say hello when you are here.
History of Our Lady of Florida
At the beginnings of Our Lady of Florida in 1961-62, an attempt was made to discover if the Spanish explorer, Ferdinand DeSoto had passed along this way en route to what is now North Carolina. History tells us that he piously named some of his campsites after various titles in the Litany of Our Lady. The quest to find out if he had named a camp in this area was not successful. Eventually, the foundation was named Our Lady of Florida and its titular feast became the Immaculate Heart of Mary (at that time on August 22).
The land was a section of a large piece of territory (including what is now North Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens and parts of Lake Park) owned by Sir Harry Oakes, the Canadian gold entrepreneur. Later it was purchased from Oakes’ widow by the late John D. McArthur, the local insurance businessman, who developed much of the area. He told his people in 1959 to sell the property to the Passionists. The Passionists cleared the property, adding seven more acres by dredging, and shortly after put up the sea wall.
Dedicated in June, 1962 as a Passionist Monastery and Retreat House, Our Lady of Florida was closed in 1989 as the Passionists tried to cope with dwindling personnel and funds. On February 23, 1992 in cooperation with the Diocese of Palm Beach, Our Lady of Florida re-opened. It marked the beginning of a new phase of the then 30-year-old foundation: the first cooperative venture between the Passionists and a diocese in retreat house ministry. Under this new arrangement, the Passionists still own the property and will operate it as a Spiritual Center in collaboration with the Diocese of Palm Beach.
At one time, Passionist Retreat Houses in the U.S. served over 50,000 retreatants each year. Like the other Passionist Spiritual Centers in the country, Our Lady of Florida has had a great variety of spiritual exercises in its 50 plus years of service.
There are private retreats and group retreats for men and women of various parishes, for married couples and different singles groups, for Third Orders and Secular Institutes, for Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Baptists and other ecumenical groups, for Brothers and Sisters of many religious orders, for Marriage Encounters and Cursillos, as well as a series of Institutes, specialized programs, conferences, seminars, meetings and days of prayer.
Over the years, Our Lady of Florida has hosted a large number of clergy retreats, while being at the same time a favorite renewal and refreshment spot for many priests on private retreat. At various times the following dioceses have held spiritual exercises for their clergy at Our Lady of Florida: Palm Beach, Miami, Orlando, St. Petersburg/Tampa, etc. The first Protestant clergy retreat in the southeast U.S. was held here and it has become a favorite of the U.S. Armed Forces Chaplains. It is also a frequent oasis of spiritual renewal for many American bishops.
Between 2004 and 2012 the Passionist Order has re-invested the proceeds of the sale of a small parcel of their property which was sold in 2004. To date, the Passionists have reinvested over $12 million of those proceeds to complete the re-construction of the facilities. This will insure that Our Lady of Florida will continue its presence in serving the community for another fifty years!!
Our Founder Paolo (Paul) Danei was born at Ovada, Province of Alessandria in NW Italy on January 3rd 1694. Brought up in a pious Christian family, his early life was characterized by a number of courageous and hardly run-of-the-mill options. At 18 he decided he’d live a holy and perfect life. In 1715 he enrolled in the Venetian forces engaged in a holy crusade against the Ottoman Turks. However, just before setting out, he came to realize God was calling him to something quite different.
In 1718 he renounced a substantial inheritance as well as marriage as he sought to deepen his spiritual experience and better determine his life’s true vocation. And so, in 1720, vested in a rough black tunic and barefoot, and begins a long and solitary period of intense reflection, meditation and penance, in the course of which he clearly comes to see he’s being called by the Spirit to proclaim God’s immense love and mercy revealed to us through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Hence his future religious title, “Paul of the Cross”. Between the 2nd and 7th December of that year he writes down his Rule for a future Passionist Congregation.
Two years later he withdrew to a hermitage on Monte Argentario, close to Orbetello, together with his brother John Baptist. During the next few years he moved to various places in central and southern Italy as he patiently awaited the pontifical approval of his new Institute.
Ordained a priest in 1727, he begins an intense itinerant missionary activity at parishes in different parts of Italy and, in 1737 he opens the very first Passionist community (known as a “retreat”) on Monte Argentario.
At long last, in 1741, Pope Benedict XIV approves his Rule for the new Congregation. Very soon afterwards Paul takes in new companions and founds a string of retreats and his Congregation begins to grow and thrive. Paul never ceases to preach, covering many parts of the country, all the while counseling and directing souls through an incredible number of letters.
Toward the end of his days, in 1771, he founded the first monastery for Passionist nuns at Tarquinia, in the province of Viterbo. Paul of the Cross breathed his last on October 18th 1775 at his General House of Saints John and Paul in Rome where he had shortly before gone to live. Pope Pius IX declared Paul a saint the 29th June of 1867. His relics lie in an amazingly beautiful chapel dedicated to him adjacent to the basilica of Ss. John & Paul. Many consider him the greatest mystic of the 18th Century.
The Passionist vocation The Passionist Family was founded, as we saw above, by St. Paul of the Cross, who passed on to his followers the challenge to communicate to the world God’s infinite love for us all, as manifested in the Passion and death of his Son.
With a special vow to promote the living memory of the Passion of Christ, Passionists, faithful to their holy Founder’s charism, reside in fraternal communities where their members are dedicated to prayer and the ministry, principally but not only in the form of itinerant mission preaching, retreats, spiritual direction and chaplaincies, as well as staffing a good many parishes. They strive to live simply in a spirit of poverty, thus reminding people that an inordinate desire for possessions can be overcome through the far greater joy of giving.
Well aware that the Passion of Jesus continues in the world of our day, the sons of St. Paul of the Cross are ever intent upon sharing in the anxieties and problems of their brothers and sisters in the world, particularly the poor and the marginalized who constitute so many o the “crucified” of our age.
The Passionists wear a black habit with a sign on their breasts in the shape of a heart surmounted with a cross and the words “IESU XPI PASSIO” (The Passion of Jesus Christ) inside, beneath which are the three nails of the crucifixion. This sign is a reminder of the special legacy of St. Paul of the Cross: that his Congregation should keep alive the memory of the sufferings of Jesus and promote true devotion to his Passion in the hearts of the faithful.
What do Passionists do? Following their Founder’s example, the Passionists dedicate themselves to evangelizing – and even re-evangelizing – the faithful, especially among the poor and those excluded from society in the more neglected areas, as also among those who presume to deny the existence of God in their lives.. This ministry of the Word is exercised most specifically in the preaching of parish missions and spiritual exercises.
The Gospel message is proclaimed not only in churches for it is also taken to peoples’ homes, the schools, hospitals, the armed forces, the prisons and even to open public places. In many places one sees erected, at crossroads and outside churches, a large wooden cross with the Passionist sign attached, a loving reminder of missions preached there by members of the Passionist Congregation.
Passionists also go out as missionaries to distant lands, especially to under-developed areas of the world. Also some important Catholic shrines, as well as parishes and centers for spirituality, are staffed by Passionists.