Advertisement
  1. News

Catholic churches in Pinellas launch program to improve access to mental health services

Andy Shannon, director of campus ministry at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, was the keynote speaker at the program's launch.  [Diocese of St. Petersburg]
Andy Shannon, director of campus ministry at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, was the keynote speaker at the program's launch. [Diocese of St. Petersburg]
Published May 7, 2019

SAFTEY HARBOR — The Rev. Len Piotrowski asked the congregation to pray with him about several concerns during Monday morning's Mass at Espiritu Santo Catholic Church.

There was the unnerving United Nations report that human beings are threatening 1 million species with extinction. And of more immediate and less esoteric concern, Piotrowski asked for prayers for a new church program that connects counselors to Catholics and non-Catholics struggling with issues such as anxiety, depression and addiction and with challenges involving family, children and marriage.

Later Piotrowski explained that the initiative by Espiritu Santo and nine other Central Pinellas Catholic churches had been prompted by what clergy and religious brothers and sisters had seen.

"They observed and experienced a lot of people that were struggling in their lives,'' he said. "Sometimes they were struggling with anxiety or fear. Sometimes they were struggling with grief, or the pain of loss, a divorce, family programs, problems with children or teenagers and lack of communication skills in relationships. All of those things were causing great struggles, including some that were very serious, like depression or suicide in a family.

"Certainly we can pray for them ... but more than that, we can offer them counseling. It doesn't mean it will take the place of prayer or love. We want to show that love with concrete help."

Tangible assistance is being offered by professionally trained and certified counselors, therapists and psychologists at churches or other locations. Each counselor is independent and fees and insurance may vary, according to the program's brochure. Those seeking help are able to contact counselors directly.

The program to increase access to mental health services is rooted in the vision unveiled almost a year ago by Bishop Gregory Parkes, head of Tampa Bay's almost half-million Catholics. Titled "Courageously Living the Gospel," the goal has been to encourage parishioners "to think outside the walls" of their churches to minister to families, young people and those in need

Espiritu Santo in Safety Harbor, part of the Central Pinellas Deanery — a group of parishes — is working on the new counseling services program with Our Lady of Lourdes in Dunedin, St. Matthew in Largo, St. Ignatius in Tarpon Springs, St. Luke the Evangelist in Palm Harbor and St. Cecelia, St. Brendan, Light of Christ, All Saints and St. Michael the Archangel in Clearwater.

"We want to make sure we are giving the support people need. People do seem to be carrying more and more emotional baggage these days," said the Rev. Gary Dowsey, pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes.

"We just want to be a beacon of understanding and love. We want everyone to know that they are loved, whatever their needs are ... to know we're always there for them, as Christ would expect of us."

The program was launched in March at Light of Christ Church. Andy Shannon, director of campus ministry at Clearwater Central Catholic High School, was the keynote speaker.

"I did it because I want to show people that accepting ourselves allows us to love others and that means accepting our gifts and our challenges and limitations," Shannon said.

He said he encouraged those at his talk to spread the word about the counseling services and told them that he had sought help himself through the years.

"It's a challenge to open up your life and to be upfront with people,'' he said. "My part was just to be an example as someone who has benefited from this initiative, to show how therapy has benefited me to live a more whole and healthy life."

Seeking a professionally trained therapist or counselor "is not something to be frowned upon, but to be embraced," Shannon said.

Dowsey said his Dunedin parish has been offering counseling for several years to its families and school through the House of Mercy and Encouragement, a nonprofit organization founded by parishioner Dolores Mortimer. Mortimer said she opened the center to cope with her own grief. Her son, Timothy Mortimer, 22, and nephew, Michael Celidonio, 24, died in a traffic accident in 2005.

"After the boys died, it was very devastating," said Mortimer, a licensed mental health counselor. "I thought, what would I recommend for somebody in this situation, and I decided I would recommend they help other people."

She took her own advice. "There are so many out there who need help and so many people who don't have access to services," she said.

Other Pinellas County deaneries have also launched programs to help their communities. Parishes in St. Petersburg, Gulfport and St. Pete Beach will establish a Catholic Campus Ministry on the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg campus.

Congregations in Seminole, Pinellas Park, Largo and Indian Rocks are working with a St. Petersburg parish and another in Clearwater to help the homeless at Pinellas Hope.

"As Catholics, we want to serve anyone who is suffering," Piotrowski said. "What matters to us is that we are serving and we are helping and we are loving and we're making life better for everyone."

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Christy Arnett, 41, came from St. Petersburg and arrived in downtown Tampa early to beat the traffic at today's Gasparilla Parade of Pirates. Arnett got up at 4:30 a.m. to get her outfit together. [DENNIS JOYCE  |  Times]
    We were warned. Now the pirates are here. Stay with tampabay.com all day for the latest reports.
  2. Addison Davis, left, is the incoming superintendent of the Hillsborough County Public Schools. Harrison Peters, right, is the Hillsborough Chief of Schools and was a semifinalist for the superintendent job. Now he is close to being named superintendent in Providence, R.I. [Clay County School District, Hillsborough County School District]
    The Boston Globe says Peters is days from being given a superintendent position.
  3. “My body, my choice” was the rallying cry on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade in the state Capitol, where abortion rights activists decried a fast-tracked bill that would raise the bar for minors seeking abortions. (AP Photo/Aileen Perilla) [AILEEN PERILLA  |  AP]
    Abortion supporters worry about Florida’s move toward parental consent and what may follow.
  4. In this image from video, House impeachment manager Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., speaks during the impeachment trial against President Donald Trump in the Senate at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020. [AP]
    As Democrats finished their third day before skeptical Republican senators, Trump’s legal team prepared to start his defense, expected on Saturday.
  5. In this July 30, 2019, file photo, a Super Mario figure is displayed at a showroom in Tokyo. After months of being tight-lipped, Comcast executives on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020, said the fourth park at Universal Orlando would be based on characters from Nintendo. [KOJI SASAHARA  |  AP]
    Universal Studios is building theme parks based on Nintendo video games across the world. Orlando is set to get its Super Nintendo World in 2023.
  6. People climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge stop under flags flying at half-mast as mark of mourning and respect in Sydney, Australia, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, for three U.S. crew members of an aerial water tanker that crashed Thursday while battling wildfires in Australia. [RICK RYCROFT  |  AP]
    The deaths came during an unprecedented wildfire season that has left a large swath of destruction in Australia’s southeast.
  7. Delvin Ford, 22, of St. Petersburg, is facing a second-degree murder charge after his accomplice, Marquis Golden, was shot and killed by a Pinellas deputy Thursday night, Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says.  He says the men -- armed with an AR-15 and a handgun, shown right -- confronted the deputy. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    The deputy was confronted by two armed men in a St. Petersburg alley, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  8. Erica Allums poses for a portrait behind the counter at Banyan Cafe in St. Petersburg while she was still the owner. Now, she's in the process of taking over the MLK spot once again. [Times (2018)] [Tampa Bay Times]
    The Central Avenue location will continue to operate as normal.
  9. A for sale sign is seen in front of a home in the Westchase area of Tampa. CHRIS URSO  |  Times (2013)
    And a spike in cash sales suggests investors were active in the market.
  10. Leading the way up Seddon Channel during the 2014 pirate invasion is the Jose Gasparilla, escorted by a Tampa Police Department boat and surrounded by hundreds of private vessels. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Times 2014]
    As many as 100 law enforcement boats from some 20 agencies will keep an eye out for drunk operators and boats in trouble.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement