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]
Published May 7

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. Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning says Fortify Florida, the new state-sponsored app that allows students to report potential threats, is "disrupting the education day" because the callers are anonymous, many of the tips are vague and there's no opportunity to get more information from tipsters. "I have an obligation to provide kids with a great education," Browning said. "I cannot do it with this tool, because kids are hiding behind Fortify Florida." JEFFREY SOLOCHEK  |
    Vague and anonymous tips often waste law enforcement’s time and disrupt the school day, says Kurt Browning, president of Florida’s superintendents association.
  2. Former nursing assistant Falo Kane, 32, of Clearwater, faces seven counts of sexual battery of a physically helpless person. Clearwater police are now looking for more potential victims at other health care facilities. [CLEARWATER POLICE DEPARTMENT]  |  Clearwater Police Department
    Falo Kane is accused of assaulting six patients at four facilities since 2016. Clearwater detectives want to know if there are other victims.
  3. Tonight's LGBTQ Presidential Forum is hosted by Angelica Ross of FX's Pose. Twitter
    A live stream of the event and what to watch for as 10 candidates meet on stage in Iowa.
  4. A company called Flock Safety is selling automatic license plate readers to neighborhood associations to cut down on crime, and Tampa neighborhood Paddock Oaks is one of their customers. Pictured is a Flock camera on Paddock Oaks Dr. | [Luis Santana | Times] LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Atlanta-based Flock Safety has provided 14 area communities with high-speed, high-definition cameras for surveillance.
  5. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  6. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
  7. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  8. Lilly Beth Rodriguez, left, Laura Robertson and Linda Lamont work on a Habitat for Humanity house in north Pasco. [Times (2013)]
    The increase is expected to happen in the first half of next year. CEO hopes other nonprofits follow suit.
  9. Terry Spencer carries his daughter, Trinity, through high water on 59th Street near Stewart Road in Galveston, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, as heavy rain from Tropical Depression Imelda caused street flooding on the island. JENNIFER REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Although the amount of predicted rainfall is massive — forecasters say some places could see 40 inches or more this week.
  10. This April 2001 photo, which appeared in a newsletter from the West Point Grey Academy, shows a costumed Justin Trudeau, his face and hands darkened by makeup, attending an "Arabian Nights" gala. The academy is a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. (West Point Grey Academy/The Canadian Press via AP)
    A few Southern politicians responded to similar scandals recently with denials, apologies, and promises. Most of them have managed to stay in office.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement