LAND O'LAKES — In 1981, a year after helping build a sanctuary for St. Theresa Catholic Church in Spring Hill, the Rev. Harold Bumpus started work on his masterpiece, a pipe organ he would build from scratch.
He scoured the eastern United States for late 19th century organ pipes and pieces of wood from cabinet makers.
The result was a massive sound — the completed organ packed 3,200 pipes into 56 rows — a blasting, multidimensional exclamation point to the sermons of a man who preached simplicity and durability.
The Rev. Bumpus, who would later be named a monsignor, built a career on those very principles. He held degrees in classical languages, psychology, philosophy and organic chemistry; and earned a doctorate under theologian Joseph Ratzinger, the man now known as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
Monsignor Bumpus, who led parishes in several counties in the Tampa Bay area with wit and erudition, died July 5. He was 82.
His belief in constancy extended to breakfast, which for decades consisted of two eggs over easy, coffee and toast.
"He said Christianity was counter-cultural," said Doug Preyna, a friend, "because it requires us to give up cherished things, be responsible to an authority and to put ourselves last. From his perspective, this was a period characterized by our disposable cups, our disposable plates and our disposable relationships. And rather than try to work on anything and make it work, we want to get something bright and better and new."
Preyna, 43, met Monsignor Bumpus when Preyna was a student at the University of South Florida, where Monsignor Bumpus served as chaplain of the Catholic Student Center from 1983 to 1995.
"Through your life you hear a lot of homilies and so forth," said Kay Borkowski, whose husband, Frank Borkowski, served as USF's president from 1988 to 1993. "But there are some that really stick in your mind. His homilies were so well prepared and so appropriate for the day. That was what really impressed us."
He maintained a solid rapport with students, Borkowski and her husband said, despite standing fast with traditional views. (He was one of the few dissenting voices, for example, when the school added condom machines to its dormitories.)
Harold Bertram Bumpus was born in New Bedford, Mass., in 1931.
As a 19-year-old seminary student at Holy Cross College Seminary, he briefly considered marriage before losing interest.
Monsignor Bumpus was ordained in 1963, but his education was just getting started. He would teach and study at several colleges, including the University of Cambridge, Preyna said. In the meantime he tinkered at organ building, a hobby taken up in seminary.
He was incardinated into the Diocese of St. Petersburg in 1978, in the midst of a four-year run as chairman of philosophy and theology at what is now Saint Leo University.
In 1980 the diocese assigned him to St. Theresa Catholic Church, where he designed the new church with oak pews, granite floors and a tongue-and-groove cathedral ceiling. The church held bake sales to help raise the $40,000 Monsignor Bumpus needed to build the do-it-yourself organ valued at $300,000.
He left St. Theresa in 1983 to go to USF. He would also serve in Citrus Springs and Sun City Center, and was a longtime director of Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the diocese. In 1999, through Bishop Robert Lynch, he was given the title "reverend monsignor" by Pope John Paul II.
As a mentor and confidante, Monsignor Bumpus could offer a listening ear or a kick in the tail, Preyna said.
"He would say, 'Do you want to get serious about this thing? Great! Do you want to sit there and fool around? Don't waste my time.' "
Monsignor Bumpus drove a Ford for years but admired the craftsmanship of a Rolls-Royce. At his modest Land O'Lakes home he insisted on using only one plate, washing it between meals.
Extravagances included chocolate or the occasional trip to the Olive Garden.
Monsignor Bumpus died at home of natural causes. By his estimation, the organ he built by hand should last another 200 years.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.