Monsignor Laurence Higgins, a local force in Tampa's religious circles - as well as government and business - has died at age 87.
- Monsignor Laurence Higgins served as pastor at Tampa's St. Lawrence Catholic Church from 1958 to 2007
- Higgins was 87
- Higgins was a major influence in the political, business and sports worlds in Tampa
- St. Lawrence Church tribute to Monsignor Higgins
Higgins served as pastor at Tampa's St. Lawrence Catholic Church for 49 years. Monsignor Higgins died Wednesday morning at his rectory home at St. Lawrence Catholic Church.
Higgins served as pastor from 1958 to 2007, the longest tenure of any priest in the St. Petersburg Diocese. In June 2007 he retired as pastor while remaining as pastor emeritus and continuing his initiatives on behalf of the poor.
Visitation will be held from noon to 9 p.m. Aug. 29 and Aug. 30 at St. Lawrence Church. A funeral mass will be held Wednesday, August 31 beginning at 11:30 a.m. with graveside services to follow at Garden of Memories Cemetery, and a reception thereafter at St. Lawrence's Higgins Hall.
In recent months, Higgins had made it known that in lieu of flowers he hoped that those interested would make contributions to one of the organizations so important to him, including St. Peter Claver School, Cristo Rey Tampa High School, Abe Brown Ministries, or the Gold Shield Foundation.
Born September 3, 1928 in Magherafelt, Northern Ireland to government administrator John Higgins and homemaker Philomena, Higgins was the third-oldest of eight children.
Higgins was ordained a Catholic priest on June 21, 1953 at All Hallows Seminary in Dublin, Ireland.
Soon thereafter he was sent to the United States and assigned to the Florida Diocese of St. Augustine. He worked in Miami at Holy Family, Corpus Christi, and St. Mary's Parishes before being transferred to the mission territory of the Tampa Bay area in 1958.
Upon his arrival in Tampa, Archbishop Joseph Hurley gave Higgins 20 acres of cow pasture at Hillsborough and Himes Avenues along with a mandate: "Build a parish."
The Parish was canonically established in 1959 with Masses celebrated in barracks in Drew Park, in the auditorium at Hillsborough High School, in the chapel at Jesuit High School, and at the Wellswood Civic Center until the provisional church building was completed in 1961.
As the Parish eventually grew to include 2200 families, finances enabled the permanent church to be constructed and dedicated on April 5,1981.
Over the years Higgins played a role in starting three more Catholic parishes in Tampa: Epiphany, Incarnation, and St. Paul.
While still at St. Lawrence he served as interim pastor at St. Peter Claver from 1971-73 when President Jimmy Carter also appointed him to the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights for southern states.
As a priest Higgins was appointed the Vicar General (second in command) of the Diocese of St. Petersburg from 1980-90 under the late Bishop Thomas Larkin.
Previously he had served in the roles of Consultor (adviser) to the bishop and Vicar Fornane (supervisor of the clergy). In 1983 Pope John Paul II gave him the title of "Monsignor Prelate of Honor" and subsequently in 1988 "Protonotary Apostolic," the highest rank of Monsignor.
Higgins has served as chaplain for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Rowdies and was frequently sought by Tampa Bay area media outlets to comment on controversial and church-related issues.
Higgins gained a reputation as a good Samaritan and became a constant presence at civic and athletic events.
His contributions to the community include serving on the board directors of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute Foundation, Judeo Christian Health Clinic, "Higgins Alcohol and Addiction Program" at USF's Institute for Research in Psychiatry, Florida Treatment Center, Project Return, Gold Shield Foundation, MOSI, Crisis Center of Hillsborough County, Boys and Girls Clubs, Tampa and West Tampa Chambers of Commerce, Ybor City Development Corporation, the Outback Bowl, and many others.